Overview:

The former Japanese Prime Minister's shocking assassination doesn't discredit Japan's gun control success.

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On July 8th, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated by a gunman while giving a political speech in the city of Nara. Abe had become a towering figure not only in Japanese politics but in international affairs. He held the title of Prime Minister longer than anyone else in Japan’s post-war history, and met with Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump. The gunman who shot and killed the former Prime Minister used a homemade firearm that was held together with duct tape, and reportedly held a grudge over his family’s financial situation. The assassination is detestable, and the killer’s actions have been condemned by many leaders across the globe, including President Biden. Japan’s gun control laws are notoriously strict, especially compared to the United States. Some American political commentators have pointed to the Abe assassination as a sign that gun control doesn’t work. But one incident, no matter how shocking, does not discredit Japan’s low rates of gun violence compared to the United States. 

The CDC keeps track of the statistics on gun-related injuries in the United States. In 2020, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries, with just over half of that number being suicides. About 43%, or 19,384, were murders. America also has a major problem with mass shootings. A mass shooting is defined as a shooting where over four people are injured or killed, not including the shooter. As of June 2022, there were already 300 mass shootings, with at least four mass shootings happening each week during the year. 

According to the World Health Organization, in 2018 Japan only had nine deaths from firearms. Not 900 or 9,000. Nine.

This type of gun violence is so common in America that it has almost become background noise. Americans have become numb to gun violence, and the Republican Party has fiercely resisted any efforts to reduce access to firearms. In Japan, this entire conversation is very different. Japan regulates access to firearms in a much stricter fashion than Americans, and the result is levels of gun violence that are magnitudes lower. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018 Japan only had nine deaths from firearms. Not 900 or 9,000. Nine. In the same year, the United States reported 39,740 firearm deaths. Japan is a country of 125 million, meaning that America is roughly 2.5 times its population size. However, the United States has over 4,400 times the amount of firearm-related deaths. 

Japan regulates firearms through its Firearm and Sword Possession Control law, first passed in 1958. The law says that “no-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords.” Anyone seeking a firearm license must pass a written test, a shooting range test, get a mental health evaluation, and undergo a background check. Every three years, this license must be renewed. 

Andrew Gordon, a professor of history at Harvard University, who focused on Japanese history, says that Japan doesn’t have the same gun culture as the United States. “Basically people don’t have guns or think having a gun is an important thing to do unless they’re into hunting or shooting clay pigeons, which are about the only reasons you could be authorized to have a gun unless you’re a policeman.”

Japan’s success with gun control is exemplified by its low level of firearm deaths compared to the United States. Former Prime Minister Abe’s assassination, while shocking and saddening, does change these statistics. Rather, it highlights how rare gun violence is in Japan, and how bizarre it is when it actually happens. Gun violence is not inevitable. Japan has shown that it can be greatly reduced through taking concrete policy decisions aimed at restricting the proliferation and ownership of firearms.

In Japan, a firearm death is shocking and horrifying news. In America, a firearm death is just another day in the week.

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.