Eric Talmadge, Associated Press
Though its gun ownership rates are tiny compared to the United
States, Japan has more than 120,000 registered gun owners and more than
400,000 registered firearms. So why is there so little gun violence?
"We have a very different way of looking at guns in
Japan than people in the United States," said Tsutomu Uchida, who runs
the Kanagawa Ohi Shooting Range, an Olympic-style training center for
rifle enthusiasts. "In the U.S., people believe they have a right to own
a gun. In Japan, we don't have that right. So our point of departure is
Treating gun ownership as a privilege and not a right leads to some important policy differences.
First, anyone who wants to get a gun must
demonstrate a valid reason why they should be allowed to do so. Under
longstanding Japanese policy, there is no good reason why any civilian
should have a handgun, so - aside from a few dozen accomplished
competitive shooters - they are completely banned.
Virtually all handgun-related crime is attributable
to gangsters, who obtain them on the black market. But such crime is
extremely rare and when it does occur, police crack down hard on
whatever gang is involved, so even gangsters see it as a last-ditch
Rifle ownership is allowed for the general public, but tightly controlled.
Applicants first must go to their local police
station and declare their intent. After a lecture and a written test
comes range training, then a background check. Police likely will even
talk to the applicant's neighbors to see if he or she is known to have a
temper, financial troubles or an unstable household. A doctor must sign
a form saying the applicant has not been institutionalized and is not
epileptic, depressed, schizophrenic, alcoholic or addicted to drugs.
Gun owners must tell the police where in the home
the gun will be stored. It must be kept under lock and key, must be kept
separate from ammunition, and preferably chained down. It's legal to
transport a gun in the trunk of a car to get to 1 of the country's few
shooting ranges, but if the driver steps away from the vehicle and gets
caught, that's a violation.