Jul 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Shinzo Abe's assassination: Why gun violence is so rare in Japan

Photo of Shinzo Abe speaking
Japan's then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media on Aug. 24, 2020. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left the world reeling on Friday as people grappled with how the shooting happened in a country with strict gun laws and one of the lowest homicide rates.

Why it matters: Gun violence in Japan stands in stark contrast to the U.S., with only one firearm-related death in all of 2021, the New York Times reports.

  • Japan's National Police Agency reported a total of 10 shootings in 2021. In contrast, there were roughly 45,000 firearm-related deaths last year in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive.
  • Since 2017, there have been 14 gun-related deaths in Japan, a country of 125 million people and the world's first to impose gun laws, according to the BBC.

Private citizens in Japan are not allowed to own handguns; only licensed hunters and target shooters can buy shotguns or air rifles, NPR reports.

  • Though there are some exceptions for younger gun athletes, a person must be 18 to own a firearm.
  • Japanese law also prohibits people from possessing a gun if they have declared bankruptcy, per NPR.
  • A gun permit application process includes a gun safety test; a written test; background checks on family, work and criminal records; and a medical certificate signing off on the person's mental health, the Washington Post notes.
  • Police have discretion to deny a license to anyone they reasonably suspect may present a danger to other people.
  • As a result, not many people undertake the lengthy process, per CNN.

The big picture: Police have said the gun at the scene of the shooting appears to be homemade. Abe sustained two gunshot wounds and died shortly after 5 p.m. local time.

  • The suspected shooter, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, has been arrested, per NHK. The former Japanese Navy member reportedly wanted to kill Abe due to discontent unrelated to political differences.

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