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It is a widespread notion and misconception that Japanese people can't own guns, and that guns are illegal in Japan. While it is true that Japan has rather strict gun laws, a history of disarmament, shooting and hunting is something that commonly triggers mixed reactions among Japanese citizens.
Currently, Japanese citizens are allowed to own regular rifles, shotguns and handguns, and must demonstrate a legitimate need for owning a firearm. These would include hunting, personal protection, sport-shooting, pest control or collecting.
While urban dwellers often see guns as being negative, traditional Japanese families and those living in rural areas of Japan see training and shooting with a firearm as the "way of the ancestors" and a reminder of the warrior spirit of Japan.
The overwhelming majority of Japanese use guns for hunting, pest control, collecting and target shooting. About 19% of respondents to a gun survey stated that they would use their guns for self-defense if they ever had to. Some rural Japanese families teach their children that a gun is strictly to be used for hunting wild game and controlling pesty animals, never to take one's life. Some people have been ostracized by their families for using a gun in self-protection.
Out of a population of approximately 110,000,00 people, there are 8,523,242 guns in Japan, and an estimated 6,000,452 license gun owners, not including police officers.
History of gun laws
During the Tokugawa period in Japan, starting in the 17th century, the government imposed very restrictive controls on the small number of gunsmiths in the nation, thereby ensuring the almost total prohibition of firearms. Japan, in the postwar period, has had gun regulation which is strict in principle. Gun licensing is required, and is heavily regulated by the National Police Agency of Japan.
The weapons law begins by stating "No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords", and very few exceptions were allowed. However, citizens were permitted to possess firearms for hunting and sport shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure. This include thorough background checks, police interviews with references, months-long waiting periods, loads of paperwork as well as a layout of the house plan. Owners had to notify the police of where the gun was located in their house.
In order to buy a regular rifle or a shotgun, a citizen must apply for a Firearms License (Japanese: 銃器ライセンス). The minimum age to apply for Firearms Licenses is 18. Applicants must go through a background check and provide mental examinations. They must also demonstrate a legitimate need to own a firearm, these would include hunting, target-shooting, self-defense or pest control. They must then take a gun class and pass the Firearms Discipline Course (Japanese: 銃器調教コース). A person is also required to provide a third-party reference in which the police will interview. After this, a there is a three-week waiting period, and the person is then issued a Firearms License.
Small Arms License
A Small Arms License (Japanese: 小型武器ライセンス) is required for people wishing to purchase handguns. In order to apply for a Small Arms License, a person must have a Firearms License. The minimum age for a Small Arms License is 21 years old, and this generally is a stringent process. The the person must go through a thorough background check, mental and physical examinations, interview a police officer and provide five family references that the person is sane enough to hold a pistol. There is a two-month waiting period.
Storage and usage laws
In Japan, when not in use, a firearm must be stored in a vault or a safe. It must contain a trigger lock, and the ammunition must be separated from it.
Weapons can be used for target-shooting, hunting, collecting and self-protection. People using their rifles to hunt must acquire permissions from a landowner or a county ranger. Self-protection is legal, as long as the person was doing it in good faith and not personal reasons, and did not take part in instigating any situation. It is a common misconception that self-defense is illegal in Japan. Children, under 19 or 21 are allowed to use firearms as long as they are under supervision from a person who is of legal age.
Carrying laws in Japan depend solely on the type of gun being carried. Long guns can only be carried loaded for hunting and survival purposes. They can only be carried loaded while performing the activity or session, and before or afterwards, they must be unloaded.
As for conceal-carry for personal protection, licenses are issued for handguns only. Citizens apply for a Handgun Carrying Permit (Japanese: 拳銃運ぶ許可). In order for this, the person must be a legal holder of a Small Arms License. They must also demonstrate that they do not pose any danger to the public by carrying a loaded handgun, and must have a minimum of three third-party references.
Government premises are off-limits for gun owners, Buddhist temples and churches also have the right to restrict and prohibit people from carrying guns.
Usage statisticsThe Japanese government did a gun survey in 2014, asking Japanese citizens what reasons they had for using a firearm. About 59% of the people who took the survey stated that they used guns for hunting, about 65% stated that they use it for both hunting and target shooting. About 19% stated that they'd use a firearm for self defense. A majority, about 61% of Japanese citizens answered that they would not ever use a gun to take another person's life - even if defending themselves.
The reason for this is because of many traditional Japanese ethics that denouncing killing people all in general. This is also the after effects of Japan's old gun control system.
For example, Dave Kopel visited Japan to observe it's gun culture and interviewed three different gun owners from different parts of the country. Hideki Maki, a rural landlord who owns a World War II-era Arisaka, a .22 Calibur bolt-action and a Mauser 98 said that he teaches his children to use guns strictly for hunting wild game and pest control, not self defense and stated that hand-to-hand combats exist for that. However, Hibiki Masaru, the owner of a sushi bar and a tea shop provided a different view, saying that there is nothing evil about self-defense. Masaru owns a revolver which he keeps in his holster, as well as a concealed shotgun that he refused to show interviewers. Manami Hikaru, a 22-year old female who lives in the city of Nagoya stated that she uses firearms for target shooting, and feels uncomfortable using it for actual self-defense.