As we Americans confront our latest episode of innocent civilians being slaughtered by some nut-job with legal guns, a few folks have wondered aloud again about whether there’s a way to reduce these episodes.One of the ideas, not surprisingly, is to have tighter gun-control laws.
As ever, this idea has been met with a barrage of Second Amendment-related bullets, many of which boil down to the idea that we need guns to “protect ourselves” from people like the Colorado shooter.
In theory, this sounds like a compelling point. But despite the fact that guns are freely available everywhere in America, no one ever seems to have one handy when some psycho opens fire. Or the guy with “protection” fires back, misses the shooter, and hits other innocent people instead. Or the guns end up killing the kids and spouses of the people who bought them for “protection.” Or something. Anything but the “protection” they’re supposed to offer.
Another anti-gun-law argument that pops up occasionally is that we need the guns to protect ourselves from the government.
That might have been a reasonable argument back in 1791, when the government had a few muskets and Americans had a few muskets, so it was a fair fight. But any Americans who think that having a semi-automatic weapon around the house these days is going to “protect” them from the combined might of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have bigger things to worry about than the availability of guns. (Like their sanity.)
In any event…
It’s worth noting that there’s one country that does have extremely tight gun-control laws.
And that country is not known for episodes of mass-slaughter of civilians at the hands of some wacko.
And it’s really not known for gun-related deaths.
Because there pretty much aren’t any.
That country is Japan.
Guns are really, really hard to get in Japan.
As a result, not many people are killed with guns in Japan.
In 2008, Max Fisher of the Atlantic reports, about 12,000 Americans were killed with guns.
How many do you think were killed in Japan that year?
(Yes, that’s 11. Not 11,000. 11.)
And as Fisher points out, 11 gun deaths made 2008 a bad gun-death year in Japan. In 2006, 2 people were killed with guns.
Fisher also explains what you have to do to get a gun in Japan:
Japanese tourists who fire off a few rounds at the Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club would be breaking three separate laws back in Japan — one for holding a handgun, one for possessing unlicensed bullets, and another violation for firing them — the first of which alone is punishable by one to 10 years in jail. Handguns are forbidden absolutely. Small-calibre rifles have been illegal to buy, sell, or transfer since 1971. Anyone who owned a rifle before then is allowed to keep it, but their heirs are required to turn it over to the police once the owner dies.
The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)
To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.
Even the most basic framework of Japan’s approach to gun ownership is almost the polar opposite of America’s. U.S. gun law begins with the second amendment’s affirmation of the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” and narrows it down from there. Japanese law, however, starts with the 1958 act stating that “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” later adding a few exceptions. In other words, American law is designed to enshrine access to guns, while Japan starts with the premise of forbidding it.
Gun control is a complex subject in America, especially with such wide-ranging population-densities, cultures, and so forth. And I certainly don’t think there’s one “right” answer to how we can reduce the armed-psycho-blows-away-innocent-people problem.
But judging from Japan, maybe tighter gun-control laws would help, at least a bit.
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