Why Japan owes its gun laws – and its lack of gun violence – to the U.S.
▶ Watch Video: Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world and lowest rates of gun violence
Tokyo — As the U.S. gun control debate intensifies, some Americans are looking overseas for ideas on how to prevent mass shootings. Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world. There were more than four firearm homicides in the U.S. per 100,000 people during 2019, compared to almost zero in Japan.
As CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, Japan’s strict laws on private gun ownership have surprising origins in the United States. She met Raphael, a well-known Japanese YouTuber who decided to take skeet shooting lessons. Despite being ex-military, he had to jump through all the same hoops that any Japanese civilian must clear to get a gun license.
There’s mandatory training. You have to pass a written exam, plus a physical and mental health evaluation. Even then, the police will go and ask your family and friends whether you have any violent tendencies.
All said and done, Raphael told CBS News it took him a year to get his license, during which time the police even interviewed his wife.
Japanese police do carry handguns, but they’re the only ones who can have them, and they’re rarely drawn.
The Ozawa gun shop in Tokyo only opens on afternoons. Giving Palmer a tour, owner Katsumi Fukuda showed off a photo that he’s particularly proud of. It shows the buck he shot in northern Japan with a rifle – one of only three types of guns that a civilian can own in Japan.
Air guns are also allowed, Fukuda said, and shotguns. And that’s it.
Fukuda told Palmer there are also very strict controls on the ammunition civilians can buy. When a gun owner runs out of rounds, they need explicit police authorization to buy more.
So does the gun shop owner and hunter think his nation’s laws go too far?
Not a bit.
Like most Japanese people, Fukuda supports the regulations as the price for living in a country with almost zero gun violence.
In a striking bit of irony, Japan owes its strict gun laws largely to the United States.
When the U.S. occupied Japan after World War II, it disarmed the country. Americans shaped the legislation that took firearms out of the hands of Japanese civilians.
To this day, that means getting hurt or killed by a gun in Japan is an extremely long shot.