Jake Adelstein of The Japan Times, interviewed a retired Detective of the Kanto region with 25+ years experience pursuing violations of the Firearms Control Law.
In Japan,obtaining a firearm is nearly impossible and owning or selling one is illegal. Shooting a firearm? Possibly life in prison. The police do discern that people kill and not the gun, however the gun makes it easier so they banned possession of small arms in 1965. The police try to catch and imprison any violators, long before they can pull a trigger.
Japan does allow the possession of hunting rifles, shotguns and air rifles (for sporting purposes), however there are strict checks and restrictions involved with them.
You have to bring your rifle in every year for inspection. You have to pass a drug test. You can’t have a criminal record. A doctor has to certify you’re mentally and physically healthy. You have to actually go to the firing range and show that you can use the weapon. If you have any sort of issue, we’re going to take away your firearms. Sometimes, police officers even go to the neighborhoods where a gun owner lives and interview neighbors to make sure the owner isn’t causing problems or having issues with his spouse
The police also focus on Nemuri-Ju (sleeping guns). Guns that are legally possessed but the owner is too old to fire them properly, then the firearm is confiscated.
The fewer guns that are out there, the safer Japan is. That’s how we look at it
In 2008, a white-collar worker in Shikoku, tried to renew his shotgun registration with a forged medical certificate. After extensive checking, the police discovered the deception, he was arrested and his shotgun was confiscated.
According to the National Police Agency’s 2012 White Paper on Crime, in 2011 there were 246,783 licensed firearms in Japan, and 122,515 licensed owners out of a population of more than 126 million. In the same year, 27 people were denied permission to own a weapon, and 95 others had their permits taken away. Compare these figures with 2009 — when there were 299,939 licensed firearms and 142,294 licensed owners — and it’s clear these numbers are falling. So, too, are the number of shootings and gun deaths.
In Japan, only the cops and Yakuza have guns. In the past, the public did not mind as most shootings were between fellow gang members. They were thinning themselves down. However recently due to more strict laws training with firearms is nigh impossible so recent shootings have more stray bullets.
A huge turning point on the war against gangs with guns was back in December 26, 1997. The police acted on a tip and cornered a gang boss, Kaneyoshi Kuwata. They roadblocked his convoy of Mercedes cars, searched all of the cars and found a pistol. They were able to charge Kaneyoshi as an accomplice on gun possession charges, he went to jail for seven years.
Under current laws, if a low-level yakuza is caught with a gun and bullets that match, he’ll be charged with aggravated possession of firearms and will then face an average seven-year prison term. Simply firing a gun carries a penalty of three years to life.
Not even the police are exempt from scrutiny. When the police practice shooting their firearms, they are given an allotment of bullets. After their practice, every casing must be accounted for. If one goes missing, the entire station is in a panic.
The gun laws are so strict in Japan, they a person can be charged with a crime even after death.
A few years ago, an officer on duty used his gun to kill himself — clearly non-designated usage, so that’s a crime. He was charged posthumously to publicly show that even the dead can’t get away with breaking the firearms laws, and to shame his family. It may seem like overkill but it drives home the point.
There is a downside to this reaction to firearms. By shunning people from them, there is a lack of respect for the firearm. When I was in college, I was studying Japanese. I volunteered for a program to assist Japanese foreign exchange students. My job was to help facilitate their exposure to American Culture. Part of that was taking them places to experience American Culture. I took them to a local indoor pistol range. The first two guys rented revolvers. One of them immediately picked it up and pointed it at the other and asked him to take his picture. I immediately grabbed the barrel and pushed it down to the ground. The store employee was flabbergasted. I had to explain to him that they were Japanese exchange students and did not have proper firearm safety lessons. These kids never grew up around firearms so they do not have the proper respect for how dangerous they can be. I grew up with hunting rifles and shotguns in my parents’ house. Even my years in the Boy Scouts taught me some firearm safety. These guys had nothing. After I explained the firearm safety rules, they enjoyed shooting the pistols and revolvers at the range.