In part by forbidding almost all forms of firearm ownership, Japan has as few as two gun-related homicides a year.
I’ve heard it said that, if you take a walk around Waikiki, it’s only a matter of time until someone hands you a flyer of scantily clad women clutching handguns, overlaid with English and maybe Japanese text advertising one of the many local shooting ranges. The city’s largest, the Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club, advertises instructors fluent in Japanese, which is also the default language of its website. For years, this peculiar Hawaiian industry has explicitly targeted Japanese tourists, drawing them away from beaches and resorts into shopping malls, to do things that are forbidden in their own country.
Waikiki’s Japanese-filled ranges are the sort of quirk you might find in any major tourist town, but they’re also an intersection of two societies with wildly different approaches to guns and their role in society. Friday’s horrific shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater has been a reminder that America’s gun control laws are the loosest in the developed world and its rate of gun-related homicide is the highest. Of the world’s 23 “rich” countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. With almost one privately owned firearm per person, America’s ownership rate is the highest in the world; tribal-conflict-torn Yemen is ranked second, with a rate about half of America’s.
But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world’s least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.
Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.