Making Abe's Death More Jarring: That a Gun Was Used

Gun violence is practically zero in Japan
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2022 9:46 AM CDT
Japan Had 9 Gun Deaths in 2018. The US Had 39K
A man prays after placing flowers at a makeshift memorial where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot in Nara, Japan.   (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

One theme that keeps emerging in coverage of Shinzo Abe's fatal shooting in Japan is that gun deaths are rare in Japan. But just how rare they are—and how strict the nation's gun laws are—might still come as a surprise:

  • Comparison: Japan had a total of 9 deaths from firearms in 2018, compared to 39,740 in the US that year, according to research by Australia's Sydney School of Public Health cited by CNN.
  • Low rate: Japan has a population of 125 million people and one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world, per the Guardian. As in, close to zero. Its rate of gun homicides per 100,000 people was 0.02 in 2019, compared to 4.2 for the US, according to a University of Washington survey this year.

  • Ownership: The same low rates apply to gun ownership. A study in 2017 found that 377,000 guns were held by civilians in Japan, a rate of 0.25 per 100 people, according to the Geneva group Small Arms Survey. By comparison, the US rate was 120 guns per 100 people. The BBC notes that mass killers in Japan are more likely to use a knife than a gun.
  • The laws: The main reason gun ownership is so low in Japan is that the nation has extremely strict laws, as the BBC explains. Handguns are outlawed, with only shotguns and air rifles allowed. But even then, prospective owners must pass a written test, a shooting-range test (with 95% accuracy), and clear an exhaustive and time-consuming background check in which even relatives and co-workers are probed. What's more, police inspect civilian guns once a year and make sure owners have them properly locked away, separate from their ammunition. Licenses expire after three years.
  • Culture: Beyond the strict laws, gun ownership is simply not seen as part of the culture. Abe's killing is "not only rare, but it's really culturally unfathomable," Nancy Snow of the International Security Industrial Council tells CNN. "The Japanese people can't imagine having a gun culture like we have in the United States. This is a speechless moment. I really feel at a loss for words." Another example of this: Police officers in Japan rarely use guns and train more with bamboo swords than firearms, notes the BBC. Officers are generally expected to get a black belt in judo.
  • Suspect: The 41-year-old suspect in Abe's shooting was in Japan's navy for three years, and thus had weapons training, notes Insider. Early reports suggest his weapon was homemade.
(Read more Shinzo Abe stories.)

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