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One month after Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito was shot to death by a gangster, a former gangster holed himself up in his house in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture. He shot and injured his two children and a policeman and killed a member of the police special assault team (SAT). These incidents underline the need to strengthen control of gangs, which are believed to be in possession of a large number of guns.

The Nagasaki gangster told police that he had obtained the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson from another gangster about 10 years earlier. The Nagakute man is believed to have hidden his gun in his house. In April, a gangster holed himself up in Machida, Tokyo, and fired a Makarov, a Russian military handgun.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of shooting incidents declined from 158 in 2002, to 139 in 2003, to 104 in 2004, to 76 in 2005 and to 53 in 2006 — the smallest number since 1988. In 2006, 19 people were injured or killed, the smallest number since 1994. But from Jan. 1 through May 16, 2007, 28 shooting incidents occurred, double the figure for the same period of 2006. The number of people injured or killed tripled from three to nine.

The number of guns confiscated by police declined for three consecutive years to 458 in 2006, about a quarter of the peak of 1,880 in 1995. But this figure should be taken cautiously given the recent rise in shooting incidents. The NPA fears that those involved have started using more clever methods in smuggling, hiding and selling guns. In other words, the police’s ability to locate guns may have weakened.

Police should use every legal means to search places related to gangs so that they can find and confiscate guns, because they are the groups most likely to possess guns. It may be high time that police acted on the assumption that a large number of guns have already spread in Japanese society. Police also should scrutinize what went wrong with their operation in Nagakute, where it took more than five hours to rescue an injured policeman, and the life of an elite SAT member was lost.

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