Hours after arrest of 41-year-old murder suspect Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe With the help of a homemade pistol, police searched Tetsuya Yamagami’s home on Friday and found a small arsenal of homemade weapons, so-called zip guns.
Moments after the killer fired the fatal shots, as Abe delivered his campaign speech, the video showed a bulky weapon more than a foot long with two metal barrels and a wooden board with some sort of trigger mechanism. A puff of smoke billowed from the cannon after a loud bang as the gunner unloaded the barrels.
“We’re doing a forensic examination, but obviously everything looks homemade,” the police chief of Nara, the city in western Japan where the murder took place, told reporters at a press conference.
These weapons are much cruder than weapons considered homemade in the United States, including 3D printed firearms and lower receivers assembled in metal workshops.
The metal barrels of the weapons believed to have been used in the attack on Abe were wrapped in black duct tape.
A similar crude weapon was discovered during a search of Yamagami’s home, and so far there is no evidence that it was licensed under Japan’s strict regulations.
Japan has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the world. In 2021, only one person died and four were injured in 10 shootings across the country. Much of the shooting was linked to Japan’s notorious organized crime syndicates, according to the national police.
It is very difficult to get weapons in Japan.
Homemade firearms are not new, and parts can be easily purchased and, with some machine shop skills, made, says Steve Gordon, a retired LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics officer. Zipper pistols appeared in prisons around the world, and during World War II, members of the resistance in the Philippines created shotgun-like pistols.
“Almost anything can be done in a metal shop,” Gordon explained. “It’s just metal and alloy parts.”
Thanks to 3D printing, online manuals, and manufacturers willing to sell pre-made parts, the once-difficult task of building weapons has become much easier.
“From all the smoke… it looks like homemade or very bad ammunition,” Gordon said of the weapon after watching video of the attack on Abe. Some firearms experts on Friday speculated that wiring on the suspect weapon meant it could have been designed to fire an electric blast.
Such weapons are rarely seen in the United States due to the wide availability of off-the-shelf firearms. Prisoners in some US prisons have built primitive zip guns as weapons over the years. An Angola prison in Louisiana displays homemade firearms as a threat warning.
Firearms made from 3D-printed parts and so-called ghost pistols, which are assembled at home and cannot be traced, have become featured in crimes across the country.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in a report released last year that detectives have linked ghost weapons to 24 murders, eight attempted murders and dozens of assaults and armed robberies since January.
The report says the department seized 863 ghost pistols in the first half of 2021, up nearly 300% from the 217 seized during the same period in 2020.
But it’s not just in Los Angeles. In 2020, California accounted for 65% of all ghost weapons seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to prosecutors.
Ghost pistols are usually made from 3D printed polymer parts and can be assembled using kits at home. They are often relatively inexpensive. Because they are not manufactured by licensed manufacturers, they lack serial numbers, making them impossible to trace.
Perpetrators who are banned from owning firearms due to previous offenses are increasingly turning to ghost weapons, according to LAPD homicide investigators.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new state law last week allowing law enforcement to seize such weapons under firearms and domestic violence restraining orders. Newsom previously signed legislation requiring sales of firearm precursor parts through a licensed retailer. but this law will not come into force until 2024.