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Assassination of Shinzo Abe: The Rarity of Gun Violence in Japan

In 2021, just one person died of gun violence in Japan, compared to 45,034 gun deaths in the US in the same year.

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"Gun violence is very, very rare," Satona Suzuki, a lecturer in Japanese history at SOAS University of London told The Washington Post.

In Japan, the horrifying killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, 8 July, in the city of Nara has sent shockwaves across the country, and not just because he was one of the most important figures in the history of post-Imperial Japan.

In 2021, according to the country's National Police Agency, just one person died of gun violence in Japan. On the other hand, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 45,034 firearm deaths in the US in the same year.

While the police had earlier suspected that a shotgun was used by arrested suspect Yamagami Tetsuya, the head of Japan’s hunters’ association Dainihon Ryoyukai reportedly said that the weapon used in the attack was a self-modified gun.

Sasaki Yohei told Japanese media house NHK that the sound of the firing does not match that of a shotgun and that the amount of smoke spread after the shooting is too much for it to be an ordinary gun.

Gun violence in the country is extremely uncommon as there are strict laws on gun ownership. Let's look at the statistics.

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Comparative Data: Guns in Japan and the US

There were 3,10,400 civilian-owned guns in Japan in 2019, according to the latest data from gunpolicy.org. That's 0.25 guns per 100 people.

And this number has been dropping every year. Here are the stats from 2014-2019.

2019: 3,10,400
2018: 3,14,265
2017: 3,17,868
2016: 3,21,310
2015: 3,25,221

The number of civilian-owned guns per 100 people in Japan have remained pretty much the same.

2019: 0.25
2018: 0.25
2017: 0.25
2016: 0.25
2015: 0.26

Contrastingly, in the US, there were 3,93,347,000 civilian-owned guns in 2017, which is 120.5 guns per 100 people, according to the latest comprehensive report by Small Arms Survey. By the way, the US topped the worldwide list in that criteria, and India came second with 71,101,000 civilian-owned guns.

The US and Japan are worlds apart when it comes to gun deaths as well. Below is the comparative data about the gun deaths between 2014 and 2018 in both the countries.

In 2021, just one person died of gun violence in Japan, compared to 45,034 gun deaths in the US in the same year.

Based on the latest comprehensive reports published by gunpolicy.org,  Small Arms Survey, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

(Graphic: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

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Getting a Gun in Japan

The first step is to attend a class on gun laws and gun safety. If they can sit through those classes, then they have to pass a written exam.

If the applicant makes it past that stage, then they have to deal with a lot of paperwork that asks for details about family, education, and employment. It even asks them to show proof that they are not depressed or an alcoholic.

Then there is a full-day training course at shooting ranges where they learn how to use guns and how to hit a target. They have to pass a shooting test after that, with an accuracy of at least 95 percent.

Then they apply for a gun permit, and if it is issued, they can go and buy a gun.

But it's still not over. They have to still talk to the police about why they want a gun in the first place. This is when the inspection and registration also happens. Only the person to whom the gun is registered can fire that gun, no one else.

There's completely separate process about the gun owner's gun locker. It must, according to the rules, be affixed to a wall and have three locks to ensure no one else can open it. There is also a metal chain inside for extra protection.

The ammunition is supposed to be kept in a separate safe. Most gun owners in Japan usually comply with all the aforementioned processes and regulations.

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What is Behind This Anti-Gun Sentiment in Japan?

"Japanese people naturally don’t like to fight. Japan was defeated and nuclear bombs were dropped during World War II, so people are sick of violent solutions," Nobuo Komiya, a professor of criminology at Rissho University, told The Washington Post.

Anti-war sentiment in Japan, due to the country's history before and during the Second World War, is one of the key reasons why gun culture is limited.

This is also supplemented by the fact that Japan has a pacifist constitution. Article 9 (drafted during post-war US occupation) states that the country's "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be sustained," and that "the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

Shinzo Abe kept advocating a reinterpretation of that provision, but he had failed to amend the constitution in this regard during his tenure as PM.

(With inputs from Washington Post, NPR, Pew, gunpolicy.org and Small Arms Survey.)

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