If you want to buy a gun in Japan you need patience and determination. You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95 percent.
There are also mental health and drugs tests. Your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. Then they check your relatives too – and even your work colleagues. And as well as having the power to deny gun licences, police also have sweeping powers to search and seize weapons.
That’s not all. Handguns are banned outright. Only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.
The law restricts the number of gun shops. In most of Japan’s 40 or so prefectures there can be no more than three, and you can only buy fresh cartridges by returning the spent cartridges you bought on your last visit.
Police must be notified where the gun and the ammunition are stored – and they must be stored separately under lock and key. Police will also inspect guns once a year. And after three years your licence runs out, at which point you have to attend the course and pass the tests again.
This helps explain why mass shootings in Japan are extremely rare. When mass killings occur, the killer most often wields a knife.
And that’s better, because reasons. And it also glosses over the arson massacres. The September 2001 Myojo 56 Building fire that killed 44, the October 2008 Osaka movie theater fire that killed 16, and (understandably since this piece was first published in 2017) the July 2019 Kyoto Animation attack that killed 36 and injured 33. No, the Japanese don’t have many mass killings, but it’s not because they don’t have guns.
The result is a very low level of gun ownership – 0.6 guns per 100 people in 2007, according to the Small Arms Survey, compared to 6.2 in England and Wales and 88.8 in the US.
“The moment you have guns in society, you will have gun violence but I think it’s about the quantity,” says Overton. “If you have very few guns in society, you will almost inevitably have low levels of violence.”
Not necessarily so. The UK has very few guns in society, and has been the most violent nation in Western Europe. They’re trying to ban knives there now.
Henrietta Moore of the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London applauds the Japanese for not viewing gun ownership as “a civil liberty”, and rejecting the idea of firearms as “something you use to defend your property against others.”
Somehow, I don’t think that reasoning would fly in major U.S. cities at the moment.
But for Japanese gangsters the tight gun control laws are a problem. Yakuza gun crime has sharply declined in the last 15 years, but those who continue to carry firearms have to find ingenious ways of smuggling them into the country.
“The criminals pack the guns inside of a tuna so it looks like a frozen tuna,” says retired police officer Tahei Ogawa. “But we have discovered cases where they have actually hidden a gun inside.”
So, the ownership rate is somewhat higher than 0.6/100 then? RTWT, but the next time someone says “nobody’s trying to take your guns,” tell them to fuck off.