What United States Could Learn from Japan’s Anti-Gun Policies

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Japan is recognized as one of the safest places on the planet. This is mainly due to the fact that it is the only developed country that has very few cases of gun violence per year. Japan has very strict anti-gun laws or policies that are seriously regulated or implemented.

Unlike in the United States, it seems no one in Japan has access to guns, considering that the number of gun owners is infinitesimally small. It is incomparable to the United States where every 1 in 4 persons owns a gun; in Japan, although unofficially, the ratio could be every 1 in 100,000 people owns a gun.

Japan’s Anti-Gun Policies

There is somewhat historical perspective to the issue of gun control in Japan. In the 17th Century, gunsmiths were restricted from producing many guns during the Tokugawa Period. Hence, this made it almost impossible for people to get guns and the number of gun owners then was drastically reduced. Act 1958 of Japanese Law forbids Japanese citizens from holding a handgun, possessing unlicensed bullets and violating the law by firing the arm. This Law is reinforced in 1971 with handguns absolutely forbidden and purchasing, selling and transferring small-caliber rifles were proclaimed to be illegal and punishable up to 10 years in jail.

In 2008, the United States witnessed 12, 000 homicides related to firearms, while the figure for Japan in the same period was just 11. In 2006, only two people died by gunshot in Japan, but it became a national emergency when the number suddenly rose to 22 in 2007. There was a national outcry against gun violence everywhere, on TV, radio, public discussions and so on. This had propelled the National Police Agency of Japan into immediate action and was able to bring the number of gun violence down to 11 in 2008. But the number of Americans who died only from accidental discharge of firearms in 2008 was 587!

How could the United States learn from Japan’s effective gun control system? First, America needs to realize that losing thousands of its beautiful citizens to gun violence every year is not the new normal. Second, American politicians must put aside partisan politics and work together to fashion out laws and policies that will not only prevent unnecessary gun-related deaths, but also create a comfortable environment for their perpetual implementation. There is no doubt that American people deserve better, and a better situation should be measured by the number of innocent lives saved from trigger-happy shooters

Gun ownership in the United States

Almost outlawing gun ownership in Japan makes it difficult for a group of lobbyists to press the country’s lawmakers for gun rights. Unlike in the United States where the National Rifle Association holds sway on the politicians by utilizing the service of the lobbyists that would fight for their interests. And it is not uncommon to have gun issues featured in some local political campaigns in the United States. All these cheap publicity for gun ownership increases its popularity among Americans to the point that owning a gun has virtually become a “culture thing”. Japanese people will be scared to death to see someone open-carry a gun in the public place as it is allowed in some US States.

All the practices outlined above lead to loose gun control policies in the United States. And the repercussion has been quite alarming. Take for instance, the deadly shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado points to the fact that guns change hands quite effortlessly in the US, from the firearms dealers to the buyers. Out of the world’s 23 “rich” countries, murders from gun violence in the United States is almost 20 times that of the remaining 22 countries.

As many Japanese are averse to owning guns, even Yakuza, the mafia-like Japanese gangs abhor the use of guns. Though the only types of guns Japanese can buy are shotguns and air rifles. No heavy assault rifles as you can find in some homes in the United States. As a matter of fact, Japanese police don’t carry guns around every time. You can only see them with pistols or handguns whenever they are on special patrols. This doesn’t mean that the laws in Japan also forbid them from carrying firearms because of their duties, but it is very rare that a Japanese police officer will shoot at a suspect first before arresting him or her for further interrogation.

The process of obtaining guns in Japan is very cumbersome, that alone could discourage a loony from acquiring firearms. It involves series of procedures: First, you have to attend a class all-day on how to properly use a gun, write and pass a test. Second, you will have to take and pass shooting range class. Third, you must be able to prove your mental fitness by going straight to the hospital for a mental test. You will be required to file that test with the police. Fourth, you must pass a background check to confirm that you don’t belong to any extremist group, gang or criminal organization. After undertaking these four procedures, you will then become a proud owner of a gun in Japan. Don’t forget to intimate the police about the whereabouts of the gun in your house or alert them when you are going to use the gun outside your home. Incidentally, it means your gun is perceived as a dangerous possession, and police must keep an eye on it every time. The fact is that not everybody can be patient enough to go through all these time-consuming processes. That may, in part, be the reason why there are very few gun owners in Japan.

The right to bear arms

From the perspective of law, gun ownership in the United States is closely connected to the Second Amendment which affirms the “right of the people to keep and bear arms”. On the other hand, the Japanese anti-firearms law, 1958 Act states that “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” and add some exceptions to it later. It is glaring from the two laws that one sees gun ownership as an integral right of every American citizen while in Japan consideration is given to safety first. What can the United States gain from here? Safety should be considered first instead of apportioning the right for every American to carry a gun.

There are always going to be some conservative people who will be quick to point out that owning a gun reduces crime. Or some people even believe that Adolf Hitler could have been stopped from starting the World War II if majority of Germans at that time had owned a gun. However, it is quite surprising to realize that without guns scattered in every corner of the country, Japan still ranks as the nation with the lowest crime rate in the world! In other words, guns are not needed to keep a country safe.

America should approach its gun problem with a state of emergency. People of questionable characters who own guns should be encouraged to sell them or return them to firearms seller. Those who falsely obtain firearms should be prosecuted. And those who legally own guns should be advised to use them with discretion. Owning a gun is not necessary the main problem in the United States, but using it to commit crime or taking innocent people’s lives is the major headache US leaders must seriously address.

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