The news that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot in broad daylight on Friday shocked not only Japan but the entire world, which has come to associate the nation with a relatively low crime rate with strict crime control. weapons.
Japan, with a population of 125 million, had just 10 weapons-related criminal cases last year, resulting in one death and four injuries, according to police. Eight of those cases were gang-related. Tokyo had zero weapons incidents, injuries or deaths during that same year, although 61 weapons were seized there.
Much remains unclear about the motive and identity of the suspect in Friday’s attack, who was detained at the scene. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot while campaigning in Nara, western Japan, for his ruling party’s candidates and later died in hospital. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for Sunday.
Although Japan’s major universities have shooting clubs and the Japanese police are armed, most Japanese go through life without ever touching, or even seeing, a real gun.
Stabbings are more common as a fatal crime. And so the debate over the right to bear arms is a distant topic in Japan and has been for decades.
“The Japanese are in shock,” said Shiro Kawamoto, a professor at the School of Risk Management at Nihon University in Tokyo.
The campaign event where the attack took place drew a large crowd of people, making security a challenge, Kawamoto said.
“This serves as a wake-up call that gun violence can occur in Japan, and security to protect Japanese politicians needs to be re-examined,” he said. “Assuming that this type of attack will never happen would be a huge mistake.”
Adding to the complexity were reports that the gun used in the shooting could have been homemade, meaning existing gun controls could be ineffective.
Speculation already abounds that Abe’s security personnel may face serious questions. But such an attack is rare in Japan, making relatively light security the norm, even for former prime ministers.
The last time a high-profile shooting occurred was in 2019, when a former gang member was shot at a karaoke bar in Tokyo.
Under Japanese law, the possession of firearms, as well as certain types of knives and other weapons, such as crossbows, is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also illegal.
Those wishing to own firearms must go through a strict background check, including clearance from a doctor, and declare information about family members. They must also pass tests to show that they know how to use firearms properly. Those who go through and purchase a weapon must also purchase a special locking system for the weapon at the same time.
Getting past all those obstacles will allow that person to shoot at clay targets. Hunting requires an additional special license. Even police officers rarely resort to firing their pistols.
The weapon used in the attack on Abe was likely a “handmade” firearm, according to NR Jenzen-Jones, director of Armament Research Services, a firm specializing in weapons research.
He compared the likely weapon to a Civil War-era musket, in which the powder or propellant is separately loaded into the bullet projectile.
“Firearms legislation in Japan is very restrictive, so I think what we are seeing here, with what is likely to be a muzzleloader, is not just an attempt to circumvent firearms control, but also the strict ammunition control in Japan. ” he said.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.