The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan may look like a rebuke to the country’s known strict gun laws.
But there is another point of view: the shooting is a reminder of the success of these restrictions, and perhaps even emphasizes them.
Experts who study gun laws emphasize that even the most stringent measures cannot completely deprive a person of the capacity for violence. Rather, restrictions, if successful, can reduce both the severity of this violence and create obstacles that make it less frequent.
The details of the shooting in Japan seem to show exactly how.
The shooter appears to have used crude homemade weapon from electrical tape and metal tubes. Such a weaponknown as zip guns or pipe guns, can be assembled from materials from most hardware stores, making them functionally impossible to track or prevent.
If the shooter’s ability to create and use such a device shows that gun restrictions cannot completely eliminate violence in society, then it also demonstrates that such measures tend to make violence rarer and less lethal.
Compare this attack to recent mass shooting in Uvalda, Texas, where a high-powered AR-15 rapid-fire rifleman killed 19 children and two teachers. Another attacker used a similar rifle to quickly kill 10 at the Buffalo grocery store. Another one last week killed seven parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
All of these shooters acquired weapons legally. These are just some of the more than 300 mass shootings in the United States this year alone. one account.
But in Japan, such weapons cannot be bought legally, and it is not much easier to acquire them illegally. Even simpler weapons such as pistols are effectively prohibited.
The few legally purchasable weapons, mostly hunting rifles, can only be acquired after a vetting and training process so onerous that Japan has one of the lowest rates in the world. firearms proficiency level: one gun for every 330 inhabitants.
This figure includes an estimate of the number of weapons in illegal possession in Japan, which are considered rare in part because restrictions have nearly wiped privately owned firearms from the country, leaving criminals with fewer guns to buy on the black market. Even the country’s infamous organized crime syndicates largely abandon weapons.
American ownership, by contrast, is 1.2 guns per inhabitant, or 400 times that of Japan.
As a result, a would-be shooter in Japan is almost forced to resort to unusual and sophisticated methods, such as creating homemade weapons similar to those apparently used to kill Mr. White. Abe.
The creation of such weapons takes time and experience. The smoke from the shooting site suggests that the munitions, which are also tightly controlled in Japan, may also have been homemade. Working with a homemade explosive stuffed in a metal pipe would also put its creator at personal risk.
These are significant obstacles compared to how easy it is to walk into a gun shop and buy a weapon that will reliably fire a large amount of rounds and will not explode in the shooter’s hand. This may be one of the reasons shooting is extremely rare in Japan. In most years, fewer than 10 gun deaths occur in the country compared to tens of thousands in the United States. Since 2017 Japan records 14 gun deathsin a country of 125 million people.
And a makeshift gun is much less effective than a mass-produced weapon, in some ways more like an 18th-century homemade bomb or musket (but without range) than a modern gun. Often, he can only fire one shot, or even two, before the cumbersome reloading process is required. And its precise range may be only a few feet.
As a result, an American-style shooter can, almost on a whim, arm himself with firepower to kill large numbers of people before the police can react, targeting victims even hundreds of yards away.
But the Japanese shooter may need long and dangerous training to build his weapon. They must then hide it within a few steps of their prey and squeeze out what may be their only shot before they become effectively defenseless and a passer-by overpowers them.
This seems to be exactly what happened in Nara, the Japanese city where Mr. Abe was assassinated.
Gun restriction skeptics often argue that other factors must explain the low levels of gun violence in Japan or its frequency in the United States.
But, despite all the cultural and political features of these two societies, both of them clearly fit into an unchanging global trend that has been repeatedly established in independent studies. Countries with stricter gun laws have fewer guns in circulation, both legal and illegal. And the fewer guns there are in a country, the fewer gun homicides, mass shootings, or political assassinations.
Highlighting this connection, a handful of countries that significantly pulled up once-liberal gun laws such as the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Norway have greatly reduced gun violence and mass shootings.
Activists argue that tightening gun laws not only saves lives, but also allows society as a whole to live in greater comfort and safety, even if it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of violence.
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Abe’s murder seem to highlight the difference between working in a society where gun violence is common and one where it is virtually non-existent.
mr. Abe traveled with little security. As is common in Japanese election campaigns, he mingled freely with the voters, keeping little distance between himself and the crowd.
The ease with which a lone shooter could carry a tape-wrapped device to Mr. White. Abe, once one of the world’s most powerful leaders, may be causing some in Japan to rethink this openness.
Japan experienced severe political violence during the rise of fascism in the early years of the 20th century, indicating that it is hardly immune. But after the end of World War II, he saw only a dozen or so political attacks. Most wanted knives Few were fatal.
From today’s perspective, this long record of relative safety may appear to be broken. But, even if Mr. Abe’s rise may cause the effects of this assassination to linger in Japanese society, the perception of Japan as a safe country has recovered from past attacks. It includes mortal wound deputy in 2002, ultra-right extremists or murder by gunshot mayor in 2007 by a criminal group. It also includes cases of mass violence, such as the 2016 knife attack, which killed 19 people and 1995 sarin gas attack extremist sect that killed 13 people.
To those outside of Japan, the assassination may seem inconsistent with claims that Japan has been particularly successful in combating gun violence. If his weapons measures worked, why was the former leader shot dead in broad daylight?
In the early 2010s, when Americans were engaged in a bitter debate about gun control after mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary Schoolthe world provided a similar moment of seeming contradiction.
In China, which also has strict gun laws, there have been a number of seemingly random knife attacks on schoolchildren. Attacks that go on claim about a dozen lives Every year. Is this proof, some Americans have asked, that gun restrictions, having failed to stop terrorist attacks in China, have been ineffective against such violence?
But zoom out and the contrast between China and the United States becomes instructive. Gun restrictions in China have hardly stopped people from resorting to indiscriminate violence. But compared to American mass shootings, Chinese knife attacks, on average, seem about a tenth less deadly.
And then they happen at all: the international media reports two or three such incidents a year in China, compared to hundreds of mass shootings in the United States. In this sense, the relative death toll is about 1,000 to one.
mr. Abe’s murder may be an even stronger contrast: it was shocking—and indeed, only the shooter could have committed it—precisely because even the fear of gun violence is so rare.
It’s an exception that could shock Japan for years to come, but it also serves as a reminder of the thousands of gun homicides that, by comparison to American figures, never happen there at all.