Sunday, December 6, 2015

Two high profile gun rampages within a week.  A lot has been said.  Every once in a while, when one of these makes the news overseas, my Japanese friends ask me to explain what the hell is even going on.  I do my best, I don't know how well my answers work for them.  My friends ask me these questions because mass shootings really do not happen in Japan.  Japan does have the occasional knife rampage, vehicular homicide, and gangland shootings, but not the kind of seemingly random events of violence we Americans deal with.   They do have very strict weapons control.  Almost nobody in Japan owns a gun and the police rarely carry them.  But that does not mean that Japan has no interest in weaponry.
          In the post mass shooting discussions, sometimes people will point to Japan as an example of a country with strict weapons control (not just guns, weapons in general) and a very low rate of violent crime.  The most common rejoinder is some pablum about cultural differences.  Well, no.  I think people who dismiss Japan’s example of low violent crime rates as cultural differences are just trying to end the conversation, based on an assumption that the salient difference is that somehow Japanese people aren’t violent or just do not want guns.  I can speak from experience that Japanese people often do want to shoot guns.  You see, in Hawaii, which is a very popular destination for Japanese tourists, there are shooting ranges that specifically cater to Japanese clientele.  I don’t mean Hawaii’s large number of Japanese-Americans, I mean people from Japan who want to shoot real guns. 
Anyway, That is not my personal experience.  I know about those shooting ranges from reading about them and from stories told to me by people who have been to Hawaii.  I have never been there.  Or to a shooting range.  My personal experience with Japan and guns comes from buying groceries.  BB guns are popular hobby in Japan.  The hobby is so popular Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores sell bb guns that are realistic replicas of real gun designs.  And I do mean realistic.  The law doesn’t require model guns have bright orange muzzles.  A bb gun sold in Japan can look exactly like a real weapon.  I suspect plenty of them even feel like the real thing.   No one bats an eye at this.  Except me I suppose.  I never did get used to that.  So, the market indicates that Japanese people want to shoot and own guns, and will spend their money on the means available to them.  But the strict laws limited private arms ownership in Japan remain in place with no one challenging them, so the polity has agreed to a trade off.  Ownership of actual guns in Japan is near impossible, and it is actually easier to remove a sword from the country than to move one within Japan.  
             Japan’s low rate of crime is due to policies that make carrying out violence more difficult because the tools one would need are simply not available in that country.  You may be wondering about swords now.  Well, Japan has strict sword control as well.  Steel swords that can hold an edge and be used to hurt a person are legal to own, but strictly regulated and subject to a nationwide registry, and often prefectural and municipal registries.  Yakuza do sometimes use swords in crimes; usually specifically to threaten people rather than cause harm.  One more thing, if I don’t mention it, someone will: you see “katanas” for sale in gift shops all over Japan.  Those are not real swords.  Gift shops can freely sell swords made of zinc and aluminum because those metals are too soft to hold an edge.  You can’t use a gift shop sword as a weapon.  It would break, and probably take more damage than it could inflict. 

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