by DAVID B KOPEL
In October 1992, in Louisiana, a Japanese exchange student named Yoshihiro Hattori went into the wrong house on the way to a Halloween party. The homeowner’s wife screamed for help and the homeowner drew his .44 pistol and yelled for the student to ‘freeze!’ Not understanding the American idiom that ‘freeze!’ means ‘Don’t move or I’ll shoot’, the student continued advancing towards the homeowner. The homeowner pulled the trigger and shot him dead. While the incident initially attracted only brief attention in the national American press, the shooting horrified Japan; hundreds of thousands of Japanese have signed petitions calling for the United States to implement gun prohibition, and Hattori’s parents have announced plans to begin working with the American lobby, Handgun Control Inc.
To many Japanese, and to many Americans, it is simply incomprehensible that the United States has not implemented strict gun controls or prohibitions along the Japanese model. Gun control in Japan is the most stringent in the democratic world. The weapons law begins by stating ‘No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords’, and very few exceptions are allowed. Gun ownership is minuscule, and so is gun crime. As gun crime in other nations increases, many advocates of gun control urge that Japan’s gun control policy be imitated.
But before other nations, particularly the United States, decide that Japanese-style gun control is the magic elixir for the disease of gun violence, it is necessary to understand more fully what Japanese gun control is. Exactly what kinds of controls on guns are imposed by the police? How do the controls fit into the context of the overall relationship between the people and the Government? How has Japan, which earlier was a violent nation with large numbers of guns, become almost totally disarmed and come to have such a low violent crime rate? Why do the Japanese comply with stringent controls, when much milder controls have met such intense resistance in America and other Western nations? And what effect have Japanese gun controls had on suicide?
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