The Japanese Failure of Gun Control

Itcho Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan, was shot and killed by a member of the Yakuza.

Japan has the most strict form of gun control that exists in the “democratic” portion of the world. This is an example of how the law-abiding populace is not effectively protected by gun control, because criminals will find alternative routes to reaching their chosen goal.

Meanwhile, yes, gun crime is low in Japan. This is what is sacrificed (quotes from Dave Kopel’s article in the Asia-Pacific Law Review, 1993):

In practice, the special law for weapons searches is not necessary, since the police routinely search at will. They ask suspicious characters to show them what is in their purse or sack.[34] In the rare cases where a policeman’s search (for a gun or any other contraband) is ruled illegal, it hardly matters; the Japanese courts permit the use of illegally seized evidence.[35]


‘Home visit is one of the most important duties of officers assigned to police…’ explains the Japanese National Police Agency. In twice-a-year visit, officers fill out Residence Information Cards about who lives where and which family member to contact in case of emergency, what relation people in the house have to each other, what kind of work they do, if they work late, and what kind of cars they own.[37] The police also check on all gun licensees, to make sure that no gun has been stolen or misused, that the gun is securely stored, and that the licensees are emotionally stable.[38]


After the arrest, a suspect may be detained without bail for up to 28 days before the prosecutor brings the suspect before a judge.[42] Even after the 28 day period is completed, detention in a Japanese police station may continue on a variety of pretexts, such as preventing the defendant from destroying evidence. Rearrest on another charge, bekken taihö, is a common police tactic for starting the suspect on another 28 day interrogation process. ‘Rearrest’ may (p.30)occur while the suspect is still being held at the police station on the first charge. Some defendants may be held for several months without ever being brought before a judge.[43] Courts approve 99.5 per cent of prosecutors’ requests for detentions.[44]

Criminal defense lawyers are the only people allowed to visit a suspect in custody, and those meetings are strictly limited.Even that access will be denied if it hampers the police investigation. While under detention, suspects can be interrogated 12 hours a day, allowed to bathe only every fifth day, and may be prohibited from standing up, lying down, or leaning against the wall of their jail cells.[45][46] Amnesty International calls the Japanese police custody system a ‘flagrant violation of United Nations human rights principles’. In the months while a suspect is held prisoner, the defense counsel may see his or her client for one to five meetings lasting about 15 minutes each.

The confession rate is 95 per cent.[47] As a Tokyo police sergeant observes, ‘It is no use to protest against power’.[48]The Tokyo Bar Association states that the police routinely ‘engage in torture or illegal treatment’. The Tokyo Bar is particularly critical of the judiciary for its near-total disinterest in coercion during the confession process. ‘Even in cases where suspects claimed to have been tortured and their bodies bore physical traces to back their claims, courts have still accepted their confessions’.[49] Suspects are not allowed to read confessions before they sign them, and suspects commonly complain that their confession was altered after signature. The police use confession as their main investigative technique, and when that fails, they can become frustrated and angry.

In Japan, the legal system is, in effect, an omnipotent and unitary state authority. All law enforcement administrators in Japan are appointed by the National Police Agency and receive their funding from the NPA. Hence, the police are insulated from complaints from politicians or other citizens.[50] There is hardly any check on the power of the state, save its own conscience.

In 1981, the D.C. Appellate Court ruled in Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d, that “a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen.” The story is as follows: in 1975 two men broke into a house shared by three female roommates and a child. Two of the women hid on the roof and called the police. The police arrived and knocked on the front door, but when no one answered they left. The women called the police again and were told that help was on the way. The women on the roof were caught when they shouted to who they thought were the returned police – but the slip of paper on which the women’s request was made was lost in the shuffle, and the police did not arrive. The women were raped and beaten for fourteen hours.

In Warren, the women contacted the police for help. Help was not provided. The Court ruled then, as it had ruled before, that police cannot be held accountable to individuals. The practical scope of such a responsibility is impossible. Further, if such a responsibility were to be acknowledged, a later step would be to sue individual police officers for crimes that criminals commit against victims. That situation would be ridiculous and impossible to manage. The Court was right. We cannot demand such coverage from government and government-provided security forces.

Nonetheless, we Americans are told two conflicting policies: we really shouldn’t try to protect ourselves, but the police aren’t really responsible for our safety. Society and government cannot have it both ways!

Therefore, individuals must be allowed to protect themselves. The alternative is to sacrifice nearly all other due process rights, as is done in Japan. Even when such sacrifices of human rights are made, however, the murder of Mayor Ito of Nagasaki proves that the system is insufficient to protect the most basic right: that of the pursuit of life.

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