The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in full light of the day on Friday shocked a world that has come to associate Japan with relatively low crime and strict gun control.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot in the back while campaigning in the city of nara for parliamentary candidates. He died in a hospital, two days before the elections.
The suspect apparently circumvented the nation’s ultra-strict gun regulations by building his own weapon. Police said the 15-inch (40-centimeter) device was homemade, and one expert compared it to a muzzleloader. Authorities seized similar weapons when they raided the suspect’s nearby one-bedroom apartment.
The motive of the man, who was arrested at the scene, is unclear.
Fatal gun violence is virtually unheard of in JapanY most Japanese go through life without ever touching, or even seeing, a real weapon. Stabbings are more common in murders.
Major universities have shooting clubs and the Japanese police are armed, but gun ownership rights have been a distant topic for decades. Even the police rarely resort to firing their pistols.
With a population of 125 million, the country had just 10 gun-related criminal cases last year, resulting in only one death and four injuries., according to the police. Eight of those cases were gang-related.
The densely populated capital of Tokyo had zero gun incidents, injuries or fatalities during that same yearalthough 61 weapons were seized there.
“The Japanese are in shock,” said Shiro Kawamoto, a professor at the School of Risk Management at Nihon University in Tokyo.
“This serves as a wake-up call that gun violence can happen in Japan, and security to protect Japanese politicians needs to be re-examinedKawamoto said. “Assuming that this type of attack will never happen would be a huge mistake.”
Abe’s security team may face serious questions. But because such attacks are rare in Japan, relatively light security is the norm, even for former prime ministers.
The last high-profile shooting occurred in 2019, when a former gang member was shot at a karaoke bar in Tokyo.
Under Japanese law, possession of firearms is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also illegal. The same rules apply to some types of knives and other weapons, such as crossbows.
People who wish to possess firearms must go through a strict background check, including a doctor’s clearance, and declaring information about family members. must also pass tests to show that they know how to use weapons correctly. Those who stop by and buy a gun should also buy a special locking system for her at the same time.
Passing those obstacles will allow the license holder to shoot at clay targets. Hunting requires an additional license.
The weapon used in the attack on Abe was likely a firearm. “handmade”according to NR Jenzen-Jones, director of Armament Research Services, a firm specializing in weapons research.
He compared the gun to a musket in which the powder is loaded separately from the bullet.
“Firearms legislation in Japan is very restrictiveso I think what we’re seeing here, with what is probably a muzzleloader, is not just an attempt to circumvent firearms control, but also the strict ammunition control in Japan,” he said.
The safety of politicians in Japan
The truth is that the shooting death of the former Japanese prime minister has generated doubts about the protection of high-profile figures in a country where political violence and gun crime are extremely rare.
Dignitaries in Japan often travel with modest security teams primarily focused on direct physical threats rather than being protected by heavily armed personnel prepared for firearm attacks seen in places like the United States.
Officials from the Nara prefectural police department told reporters that the request for security at the event was “sudden” and that the department would investigate whether security was sufficient and take appropriate action.
Nippon Television quoted Nara police as saying that Abe was protected at Friday’s rally by an armed specialist police officer and a few other local officers. Nara police declined to say how many police officers were in charge of Abe’s security.
When he was shot, Abe was standing at an intersection outside a train station, speaking to a crowd of hundreds as buses and vans passed behind his exposed back on the road where the shooter appeared.
Several commenters said that the security around the former prime minister should have been stronger.
“Anyone could have hit him from that distance,” Masazumi Nakajima, a former Japanese police detective, told Japanese television. TBS. “I think the security was too weak.”
“The person must be covered from all directions”Koichi Ito, a VIP security specialist, told the national broadcaster NHK. “If these kinds of things are not carried out 100%, it is not good.”
Japanese officials, including former prime ministers, are protected by a special branch of the Tokyo police. Armed plainclothes officers known as SP, or Security Police, go through a rigorous selection, including experience in hand-to-hand combat. As usual, they stay close to the politician they protect to guard against direct physical threats.
Abe’s assassination was the first of a sitting or former Japanese prime minister since the 1990s. 1930 during the days of pre-war militarism in Japan.
former prime ministers saito Makoto Y Takahashi Korekiyo were killed the same day 1936while then Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated in 1932.
Paul Nadeau, who has been to campaign events with Abe in the past, said that campaign speeches like the one on Friday are “almost intimate events.”
“The public is close, they usually fill a square in front of the train station”, said Nadeau, who previously worked for a LDP official and is now an adjunct professor at Japan’s Temple University in Tokyo.
Iwao Horii, an LDP member who was standing next to Abe when he was shot, said preparations for the event were not unusual with about 15 party staff in charge of crowd control and security by local police.
All major parties announced the suspension of election campaign activities after the shooting.
A ruling party source told the agency Reuters under condition of anonymity, despite Abe’s high profile, the level of security provided to him had likely declined since he left office in 2020.
Nara police declined to comment on whether a former prime minister would receive less protection than a sitting lawmaker, citing security reasons.
Grant Newsham, a retired US Navy officer and former diplomat at the Japan Strategic Studies Forum, said that I would expect more caution and somewhat stricter protection from high-ranking politicians in Japan after the assassination.
“Questions about security will be asked. Clearly, security would have been much tighter for, say, (Prime Minister Fumio) Kishida.”added Robert Ward, senior fellow for Japanese Security Studies at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“But proximity to voters is a characteristic of Japanese campaigns. I have been to campaign rallies and the public is close. Maybe this will change. If so, that would be a shame.”
(With information from AP and Reuters)
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