In Japan, the possession or import of firearms, as well as certain kinds of knives and other weapons, is illegal without a special licence.

Although major universities in Japan have riflery clubs and Japanese police are armed, most Japanese go through life without ever handling, or even seeing, a real gun.
Although major universities in Japan have riflery clubs and Japanese police are armed, most Japanese go through life without ever handling, or even seeing, a real gun. (Issei Kato / Reuters)

News that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been shot dead in broad daylight shocked not only Japan but the entire world, which has come to associate the relatively low-crime nation with strict gun control.

Japan, with a population of 125 million, had just 10 gun-related criminal cases last year, resulting in one death and four injuries, according to police. 

Eight of those cases were gang-related. Tokyo had zero gun incidents, injuries or deaths during that same year, although 61 guns were seized there.

Stabbings are more common as a fatal crime. And so the debate over the right to bear arms is a distant issue in Japan and has been for decades.

Adding to the complexity of the case were reports that the weapon used in Abe's assassination may have been homemade, meaning that existing gun controls could be ineffectual.

READ MORE: Ex-Japanese PM Shinzo Abe assassinated in shooting

'Wake-up call'

“This serves as a wake-up call that gun violence can happen in Japan, and security to protect Japanese politicians must be re-examined,” said Shiro Kawamoto, professor at the College of Risk Management at Nihon University in Tokyo. 

“To assume this kind of attack will never happen would be a big mistake.”

Speculation is already rife that Abe’s security personnel may face serious questions. But such an attack is extraordinary in Japan, making relatively light security the norm, even for former prime ministers.

Under Japanese law, possession of firearms, as well as certain kinds of knives and other weapons, like bowguns, is illegal without a special licence. Importing them is also illegal.

Those who wish to own firearms must go through a stringent background check, including clearance by a medical doctor, and declare information about family members. 

They must also pass tests to show they know how to use firearms correctly. Those who pass and purchase a gun must also buy a special locking system for the weapon at the same time.

Passing all those hurdles will allow that person to shoot at clay targets. Hunting requires an additional special licence. Even police officers rarely resort to firing their pistols.

The last time a high-profile shooting occurred was in 2019, when a former gang member was shot at a karaoke venue in Tokyo.

READ MORE: Former Japan PM Abe's death: World leaders react

Source: TRTWorld and agencies