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So, America, This Is How Other Countries Do Gun Control

The UK, Australia, Japan and Germany have all taken measures to reduce gun homicides. Can the US learn anything from them?


14 March 2016

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Japan has what may be the closest any country comes to "zero-tolerance" of gun ownership – a policy that experts say contribute its enviously low rates of gun crime. As of 2011, legal gun ownership stood at 271,000, according to police records, in a country of 127 million people.

There were six reported gun deaths in Japan in 2014, according to the National Police Agency. In 2006 just two people were killed in gun attacks; when the number rose to 22 in 2007 it prompted a bout of national soul-searching.
In his seminal 1993 paper for the Asia Pacific Law Review, whose conclusions still hold true more than 20 years later, David Kopel described Japanese gun control laws as "the most stringent in the democratic world".

The 1958 law on the possession of swords and firearms states: "No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords." Among the few exceptions are shotguns, but here too, the restrictions would cause outrage among American gun owners.

Before they can even lay hands on a shotgun for hunting and sport shooting, prospective owners must attend classes and pass written and practical exams. They must then undergo psychological assessments to determine they are fit to own a firearm. Police background checks are exhaustive and even extend to the gun owners' relatives.

The aim, according to Kopel, is to make possession of a shotgun so complex and drawn out that few people believe it worthwhile applying for one.

Civilian ownership of handguns is banned. The few violations reported in the media usually involve members of the country's many crime syndicates who have managed to smuggle them in from abroad.

But Japan was not always a low-crime, gun-intolerant nation. Guns quickly became the weapon of choice for feuding warlords after Portuguese traders introduced them to the country's south-west in the early 1500s. Over time, Japan improved the design and performance of firearms and began mass producing them.

The beginning of the end of widespread gun ownership came when the feudal warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) unified Japan, then disarmed the peasant population by banning civilians from owning swords and firearms in 1588.

"The shogunate banned them because they were fearful of the consequences of having guns in hands of an angry populace," said Robert Whiting, author of Tokyo Underworld. The quid pro quo, Whiting added, was that the general population's safety would be assured provided they paid their taxes.

The notion that gun ownership should be limited to the authorities survived Japanese militarism and carried through to the postwar period. Japanese police officers did not begin carrying pistols until 1946, with the permission of the US-led occupation authorities.

Despite sporadic outbreaks of gun violence, Japan's yakuza crime syndicates are reluctant to build up caches of firearms. Threatening a rival with a gun is often seen as an "unmanly" departure from the yakuza's traditional code of honour, to which even modern-day mobsters try to adhere, according to Whiting.

Kopel says Japan's gun laws do not necessarily prevent criminals – especially the yakuza – from acquiring guns. But, he added, even gangsters "see themselves as within the social system, in a broad sense. Even when breaking the law, they still play by certain rules of society."…

ID: N453

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