Following the horrific mass shootings in the United States, social media is rife with discussions on gun laws and regulations. Friday morning's news of the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by a gunman has brought the issue of strict laws on gun ownership to light. How could this happen in a country with only one firearm-related death in all of 2021? Since 2017, there have been 14 gun-related deaths in Japan, a remarkably low figure for a country of 125 million people. Compare that to the 45,222 people who died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. in just one year (2021).1
Republican Congressional candidate Lavern Spicer has chimed in on this shocking assassination by tweeting, "How did Shinzo Abe get assassinated when guns are banned in Japan? Liberals, care to explain?" Her tweet was shared by thousands. We find this claim to be misleading and inaccurate.
Firstly, guns are not banned in Japan but are regulated by very strict gun ownership laws.
This backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations explains how guns are regulated in Japan...
Gun control advocates regularly cite Japan’s highly restrictive firearm regulations in tandem with its extraordinarily low gun death rate. Most years, fewer than one hundred Japanese die from gun violence in a country of 125 million people. Most guns are illegal in the country and ownership rates, which are quite low, reflect this.
Under Japan’s firearm and sword law [PDF], the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns, guns with specific research or industrial purposes, or those used for competitions. However, before access to these specialty weapons is granted, one must obtain formal instruction and pass a battery of written, mental, and drug tests and a rigorous background check. Furthermore, owners must inform the authorities of how their weapons and ammunition are stored and provide their firearms for annual inspection.
Some analysts link Japan’s aversion to firearms with its demilitarization in the aftermath of World War II. Others say that because the overall crime rate in the country is so low, most Japanese see no need for firearms.
Secondly, by asking "liberals" to explain, Spicer is suggesting that gun laws don't prevent gun violence, since those who identify with "liberal" political beliefs tend to support stricter gun control measures. However, the simple fact that this act of violence is so rare in Japan supports the idea that gun control in Japan is working. Yes, culture is one reason for the low rate, but gun regulation is a major one, too. The result is a situation where citizens and police seldom use guns. The fact that the shooter of Shinzo Abe most likely used a "homemade gun"2 to get past laws restricting the sales of firearms and ammunition, proves that guns are harder to obtain in Japan.
According to a recently published article on Vox, gun regulations in other countries reflect a significant difference in recorded instances of gun violence.
No other high-income country has suffered such a high death toll from gun violence. Every day, more than 110 Americans die at the end of a gun, including suicides and homicides, an average of 40,620 per year. Since 2009, there has been an annual average of 19 mass shootings, when defined as shootings in which at least four people are killed. The US gun homicide rate is as much as 26 times that of other high-income countries; its gun suicide rate is nearly 12 times higher.
The following excerpt published in The Guardian by reporters Cait Kelly and Justin McCurry compares gun violence in U.S. and Japan and other high-income countries.
A 2022 report from the University of Washington revealed that, while the US had more than four firearm homicides per 100,000 people in 2019, Japan had almost zero. Comparing high-income countries in the World Bank with the rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 people, the US had 4.2, Australia had 0.18 and Japan 0.02, the report found.
In 2013, the country hit a record high for gun crime, with 40 criminal cases of guns being fired, but it has followed a downward trend since.
There are also strict laws about how many gun shops are allowed to open – in most of the countries’ 47 prefectures, a total of three gun shops can operate in each prefecture.