The attack on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was especially shocking because it involved a gun — a type of crime that is extremely rare in a country with some of the most stringent laws around buying and owning a firearm.

In Japan, 10 shootings that contributed to death, injury or property damage were reported in 2021, according to statistics from the country’s National Police Agency. Of those gun-related episodes, one person was killed and four others were injured. The figures do not include accidents or suicides.

Japan’s firearms law states that, in principle, firearms are not permitted in the country. There are exceptions for guns used in hunting, but the process of getting a license is time-consuming and expensive, so very few people go through the hassle of owning a firearm.

A person must pass 12 steps before they are allowed to purchase a firearm, starting with a gun-safety class and then passing a written exam administered three times a year. A doctor must sign off on the gun buyer’s physical and mental health. Other steps include an extensive background check and a police inspection of the gun safe and ammunition locker necessary to store firearms and bullets.

In 2020, there were roughly 192,000 licensed firearms in the country, with the vast majority being shotguns and hunting rifles, according to the police agency. That is fewer than the number of registered guns in Alabama, which has a population about one-20th of Japan.

It’s not clear how the rules around Japan’s gun ownership pertained to the suspect in the Abe shooting. The gun involved appeared to be homemade, based on videos and photos.


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