The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shocked the nation of 125 million where gun violence is very rare compared to other G7 nations.
Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the democratic world, with strict regulations in place when it comes to gun ownership. According to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research firm based in Geneva, Japan is also one of the few countries where civilian gun ownership is declining, in a world where the total number of firearms civilian fire seems to be increasing, according to the latest data available since 2017.
Japan’s gun and sword law was enacted in 1958 and revised several times, with the last revision in 2008.
In Japan, according to regulations, civilians are not allowed to own handguns, military rifles, machine guns, large caliber firearms, imitation firearms, as well as hunting weapons and certain air guns without specific authorisation.
According to the law, specific types of weapons such as shotguns, air guns, firearms for research/industrial purposes or firearms for competitions are allowed. However, even possession of these is granted only after rigorous examination such as drug tests, written tests and background checks.
Upon possession, owners are required to provide additional information on how they plan to store the firearm and have their firearm inspected annually. Gun owners in the country must reapply and requalify for their gun license every three years, as per law and state agencies are required to keep records of storage and movement of all firearms under their control. The maximum penalty for illegal possession of a firearm in the country is 15 years in prison.
A conspicuous firearm in a public place has long been banned in Japan, but carrying a concealed firearm in a public place is permitted, provided it has a valid permit. The minimum age to own a firearm in Japan is 18.
FIREARMS OWNERSHIP IN JAPAN COMPARED TO THE G7
Compared to other G7 countries, Japan has very restrictive gun regulations and a very low gun death rate. About two-thirds of all crimes committed with firearms are committed by organized criminal groups.
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Ranked second among G7 countries, Canada, compared to Japan, has a relatively high number of firearms with about 34.7 firearms per hundred people, according to data from gunpolicy.org.
JAPAN IS NEAR ZERO GUN DEATHS
Data from gunpolicy.org shows that in a country of 125 million people, fewer than 10 people die each year from gun violence, largely because other than the police and military, no one in Japan can legally purchase a handgun or rifle.
This is less than a fraction of the gun violence deaths that occur in other G7 countries.
When looking at gun policies, another important metric to look at is the rate of suicide in relation to guns, according to Dr. Mohsen Naghavi, professor of health sciences at the University of Washington. He told CTVNews.ca in a Zoom interview on Friday that suicide metrics show just how accessible guns are to the general public.
In Japan, due to the strict rules and regulations, it is difficult to own a gun. Even though Japan’s suicide rate is relatively high, gun-related suicides are almost negligible, Naghavi added.
Naghavi said another important step is determining what type of weapon is available to the general public. He said that Canada has many hunting weapons, but in the United States there are fewer in comparison (per capita) and the use of automatic weapons and handguns is high.
Annual handgun homicides in Japan totaled 11, a very small fraction, compared to the United States (6,368) and Canada (143) in 2013, the most recent year available on gunpolicy.org.
According to a 2022 report from the University of Washington, the United States has always been a clear outlier when it comes to gun violence deaths. The report showed that while the United States had more than four firearm homicides per 100,000 people in 2019, Japan had nearly zero.
Compared to the rest of the G7 countries, the rate of firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population is highest in the United States, at 12.09%, with Japan recording the lowest of 0.01% in 2019.