Japan’s gun restrictions don’t fully explain its low crime rate


The improvised weapon that an assassin used to assassinate former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday suggests both the impact and limitations of strict gun laws that make legal possession of firearms nearly impossible. If it had been easier to buy a gun in Japan, the killer probably wouldn’t have resorted to a homemade, jerry-rigged device made of two metal tubes tied together with electrical tape. At the same time, the incident demonstrates that no amount of legislation can prevent someone from getting a gun if they are determined to do so.

Abe’s killer built a double-barreled weapon that was about 16 inches longcapable of firing two shots without reloading. The New York Times reports that “it is not known what type of ammunition was used”. But in a video of the assassination, “two gunshots can be heard, about two and a half seconds apart, with a deep connection that suggests they came from a cartridge like those fired from a shotgun. commonly used by civilian fighters”. The Guardian reports that police found “several similar homemade weapons” at the killer’s home.

Although less reliable and less accurate than factory-made firearms, these weapons can be easily done with materials commonly available at hardware stores. A larger investment is required for more satisfactory results. But even without prefabricated parts, RaisonAs JD Tuccille notes, a CNC mill like the Ghost Gunner 3 “can turn a block of raw metal into an AR-15 receiver”. People can also “use widely available designs to make a gun with 3D printers,” with results somewhere in between the other two options.

“Japan has exceptionally strict regulations that prohibit the average citizen from obtaining a factory-made firearm,” the official said. Time Remarks. “Civilian ownership of firearms, except those used for hunting purposes, is generally prohibited by the nation’s gun and sword control law.”

Time journalist Max Fisher suggests that the assassination, which might look like a failure of Japanese-style gun control, “is a reminder, and perhaps even highlights, the success of these restrictions.” He notes that the attack was shocking not only because of the high-profile target, but also because gun violence is extremely rare in Japan, where civilians possessed a valued 377,000 registered and unregistered firearms in 2017, or about 1 for every 300 people. The US ratio at the time was estimated at around 1.2 per capita, or 400 times higher. Taking into account arms sales since then, the current US ratio is even higher.

This comparison reflects a stark difference in public policy, but it also reflects a stark difference in the facts that policy makers must contend with. Even setting aside the Second Amendment constraints on gun control in the United States, the fact that Americans already own more than 400 million guns means that copying Japan’s approach is not not a feasible option.

This reality also means that politically possible options – including wildly popular proposals such as “red flag” laws, banning certain types of firearms or magazines, and expanding background checks on buyers firearms – will only have a marginal impact on access to firearms in the country. United States. Moreover, this impact will be mostly felt by peaceful and law-abiding Americans, as criminals are highly motivated to obtain guns and have many extralegal means catch them.

With these points in mind, what does Japan’s experience tell us about the effectiveness of gun control? “The country experiences fewer than 10 gun deaths nationwide in most years, compared to tens of thousands in the United States,” Fisher writes. “Since 2017, Japan has recorded 14 gun-related deaths, in a country of 125 million people.”

Fisher overestimates the annual number of firearm homicides in the United States, which over the decade 2011 through 2020 on average about 10,500. But he’s certainly right that people kill each other with guns much more often in the United States than in Japan. And not just with guns.

In 2017, Japan was the first lowest homicide rate: 0.2 per 100,000 people, against 5.3 per 100,000 in the USA. Nearly 11,000 of the more than 15,000 murders recorded in the United States that year, or about 73%, firearms involved. Even if none of these gun killings had occurred, in other words, the homicide rate in the United States would still have been more than seven times that of Japan. And given gun substitution, even the impossible feat of eliminating all civilian-held guns would leave an even greater gap between the two counties.

The relative prevalence of firearms is clearly not enough to explain the huge difference in lethal crimes between Japan and the United States. This is also apparent from comparisons between Japan and other countries with strict gun laws. The homicide rate in Australia, Germany and the UK, for example, are several times higher than the homicide rate in Japan, although they are still only a fraction of the US rate. In Russia, which has gun laws much stricter than those faced by Americans, homicides are even more common than in the United States.

Japan’s gun restrictions do not explain why killings with alternative weapons, including knives and blunt objects as well as homemade firearms, are so unusual in this country. Japan’s remarkable tranquility clearly goes far beyond the gun regulations its lawmakers have decided to impose.

“The pressure to conform and the internalized drive to do so are much stronger in Japan than in America,” said David Kopel, a gun policy expert at the Independence Institute. Noted three decades ago. Kopel argued that “the spirit of conformity provides the best explanation for Japan’s low crime rate”.

Japan stands out in another way: its suicide rate is relatively high. In 2019, the rate in Japan was 14.6 per 100,000 peoplecompared to 13.9 per 100,000 in the United States10.5 per 100,000 in Canada8.5 per 100,000 in the UKand 4.6 per 100,000 in Greece. In terms of suicide, the scarcity of firearms in Japan does not seem to have had the desired effect.

Anyway, the desire to defend Japan’s gun restrictions after Abe’s assassination, while predictable in the context of the American gun control debate, are irrelevant when it comes to practical political discussions. The same “spirit of conformity” that Kopel considered important in explaining Japan’s low crime rate, he suggested, “also explains why the Japanese people accept strict gun control.” By contrast, he said, “a gun ban in America similar to Japan’s would be alien to our society, which for over 300 years has had the strongest gun culture in the world.” He argued that “Japanese gun laws are part of a philosophy of authoritarian government that is fundamentally at odds with American traditions of freedom.”

Whether or not you accept this analysis, more than 400 million facts on the ground greatly complicate the practical lessons that US policymakers can draw from Japan. Neither these facts nor the constitutional constraints imposed by the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendments can be ignored, no matter how much American gun control enthusiasts might claim otherwise.


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