Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
(This article was also published
Feudal Japan made possessing a sword without membership in the Samurai class
a death penalty offense. Today, Japan has some of the lowest crime rates and
some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. And the Victim Disarmament
crowd often espouses adopting the Japanese-style laws to "put a stop to crime
and violence" here in America. Since these people tend to be the same people who
claim to support individual rights, I thought it would be good to see WHAT it is
they are supporting. So, let us look at the socity that the victim disarmament
groups hold up as the prime example of why we, in America, need to ban guns "for
our own good". Japan.
First, to make the anti- crowd happy, let's show what Japan's current laws
"The only type of firearm which a
Japanese citizen may even contemplate acquiring is a shotgun.
are permitted to possess shotguns for hunting and for skeet and trap
(p.27)shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing
Without a license, a person may not even hold a gun in his or her
The licensing procedure is rigorous.
A prospective gun owner must first attend classes and pass a written
Shooting range classes and a shooting test follow; 95 per cent pass.
After the safety exam, the applicant takes a simple 'mental test' at
a local hospital, to ensure that the applicant is not suffering from
a readily detectable mental illness. The applicant then produces for
the police a medical certificate attesting that he or she is mentally
healthy and not addicted to drugs.
The police investigate the applicant's
background and relatives, ensuring that both are crime free. Membership
in 'aggressive' political or activist groups disqualifies an applicant.
The police have unlimited discretion to deny licenses to any person
for whom 'there is reasonable cause to suspect may be dangerous to
other persons' lives or properties or to the public peace'.
Gun owners are required to store
their weapons in a locker, and give the police a map of the apartment
showing the location of the locker. Ammunition must be kept in a
separate locked safe. The licenses also allow the holder to buy a few
thousand rounds of ammunition, with each transaction being registered.
Civilians may also apply for licenses
to possess air rifleslow-power guns that are powered by carbon
dioxide rather than by gunpowder.
Civilians can never own handguns.
Small calibre rifles were once legal, but in 1971, the Government
forbade all transfers of rifles. Current rifle license holders may
continue to own them, but their heirs must turn them into the police
when the license-holder dies.
Total remaining rifle licenses are 27,000.
Even shotguns and air rifles, the two legal types of firearm, are
becoming rarer and rarer, as few people find it worthwhile to pass
through a burdensome gun licensing process. The number of licensed
shotguns and air rifles declined from 652,000 in 1981 to 493,373
Sounds a little extreme to those of us who love
freedom, but let's take the next step. Let's see HOW they enforce
these laws. From the same link,
"Illegal gun possession, like
illegal drug possession, is a consensual offense. There is no
victim to complain to the police. Accordingly, in order to find
illegal guns, the Japanese police are given broad search and seizure
powers. The basic firearms law permits a policeman to search a
person's belongings if the officer judges there is 'sufficient
suspicion that a person is carrying a fire-arm, a sword or a knife'
or if he judges that a person 'is likely to endanger life or body of
other persons judging reasonably from his abnormal behavior or any
other surrounding circumstances'.
Once a weapon is found, the policeman may confiscate it. Even if the
confiscation is later admitted to be an error, the firearm is sometimes
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.
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.
And legal rules aside, Japanese, both criminals and ordinary citizens,
are much the more willing than their American counterparts to consent
to searches and to answer questions from the police.
'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.
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.
The close surveillance of gun owners
and householders comports with the police tradition of keeping close
tabs on many private activities.
For example, the nation's official year-end police report includes
statistics like 'Background and Motives for Girls' Sexual Misconduct'.
The police recorded 9,402 such incidents in 1985, and determined that
37.4 per cent of the girls had been seduced, and the rest had sex
'voluntarily'. The two leading reasons for having sex voluntarily were
'out of curiosity' for 19.6 per cent, and 'liked particular boy', for
18.1 per cent.
The fact that police keep records on sex is simply a reflection of
their keeping an eye on everything, including guns. Every person is
the subject of a police dossier.
Almost everyone accepts the paradigm
that the police should be respected. Because the police are so esteemed,
the Japanese people co-operate with their police more than Americans do.
Co-operation with the police also extends to obeying the laws which
almost everyone believes in. The Japanese people, and even the large
majority of Japanese criminals, voluntarily obey the gun controls.
There is no right to bear arms in
Japan. In practical terms, there is no right to privacy against police
searches. Other Western-style rights designed to protect citizens from
a police state are also non-existent or feeble in Japan.
After the arrest, a suspect may be
detained without bail for up to 28 days before the prosecutor brings
the suspect before a judge.
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.
Courts approve 99.5 per cent of prosecutors' requests for detentions.
Criminal defense lawyers are the only
people allowed to visit a suspect in custody, and those meetings are
strictly limited. 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. 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.
Amnesty International calls the Japanese police custody system a
'flagrant violation of United Nations human rights principles'.
The confession rate is 95 per cent.
As a Tokyo police sergeant observes, 'It is no use to protest against
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.
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'.
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.
There is hardly any check on the power of the state, save its own
What does the breadth of police
powers have to do with gun controls? Japanese gun controls exist in
a society where there is little need for guns for self-defense.
Police powers make it difficult for owners of illegal guns to hide
them. Most importantly, the Japanese criminal justice system is based
on the Government possessing the inherent authority to do whatever it
wishes. In a society where almost everyone accepts nearly limitless,
unchecked Government power, people do not wish to own guns to resist
oppression or to protect themselves in case the criminal justice
Extensive police authority
is one reason the Japanese gun control system works. Another reason
is that Japan has no cultural history of gun ownership by citizens.
Can you imagine any American Civil Liberties
associatiom even the ACLU itself (a notably anti-gun organization
itself) that would tolerate these police powers? PLEASE NOTE that
these powers are not limited solely to firearms. Household visitation
is for EVERY Japanese household, not just where a gun license has been
issued. Now, Japan has a violent history. As you can read for yourself,
Japan has had a long and violent love affair with swords, considering
them the soul of a warrior, and allowing a Samurai warrior to kill
peasants out of hand. Prior to the introduction of the gun, peasants
were not completely disarmed, but they were primarily armed with
spears for the frequent and bloody internecine wars the various lords
engaged in. Then, Japan was introduced to firearms. Again, from the link.
"Guns arrived in Japan along with
the first trading ships from Portugal in 1542 or 1543. Confident of
the superiority of Japanese civilisation, the Japanese dubbed the
Western visitors namban, 'Southern barbarians'.
The Portuguese had landed on Tanegashima Island, outside Kyushu. One
day the Portuguese trader Mendez Pinto took Totitaka, Lord of
Tanegashima for a walk; the trader shot a duck. The Lord of Tanegashima
made immediate arrangements to take shooting lessons, and within a month
he bought both Portuguese guns, or Tanegashima as the Japanese soon
The Tanegashima caught on quickly
among Japan's feuding warlords. The novelty of the guns was the main
reason that the Portuguese were treated well.
Oda Nobunaga noted that 'guns have become all the
rage...but I intend to make the spear the weapon to rely on in
battle'. Nobunaga was worried about how long15 minutesit took
to prepare a gun shot, and how weak the projectile was. The Portuguese
guns, among the best of their era, were matchlocks (ignited by a match),
and Japan's rainy weather made the gun's ignition system unreliable.
Despite some initial problems, the
Japanese rapidly improved firearms technology. They invented a device
to make matchlocks fire in the rain (the Europeans never figured out
how to do this), refined the matchlock trigger and spring, developed
a serial firing technique, and increased the matchlock's calibre. They
also dispensed with pre-battle introductions.
Superior quality guns were produced; during the 1904 Russo-Japanese
war, 16th century matchlocks were converted to modern bolt-action and
So, how did they go from fascinated with firearms
to almost none? read on, my friends.
"Yet as Japan grew more pre-eminent
in firearms manufacture and warfare, she moved closer to the day when
firearms would disappear from society. The engineer of Japan's greatest
armed victories, and of the abolition of guns in Japan, would be a
peasant named Hidéyoshi.
Starting out as a groom for Lord Nobunaga, Hidéyoshi rose through
the ranks to take control of Nobunaga's army after Nobunaga died. A
brilliant strategist, Hidéyoshi finished the job that Nobunaga began,
and re-unified Japan's feudal states under a strong central government.
Having conquered the Japanese,
Hidéyoshi meant to keep them under control. On 29 August 1588,
Hidéyoshi announced 'the Sword Hunt' (taiko no katanagari) and banned
possession of swords and firearms by the non-noble classes. He
The people in the various
provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any
swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms or other arms. The
possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection
of taxes and tends to foment uprisings... Therefore the heads of
provinces, official agents and deputies are ordered to collect all
the weapons mentioned above and turn them over to the Government.
Although the intent of Hidéyoshi's
decree was plain, the Sword Hunt was presented to the masses under
the pretext that all the swords would be melted down to supply nails
and bolts for a temple containing a huge statue of the Buddha. The
statue would have been twice the size of the Statue of Liberty.
The Western missionaries' Jesuit Annual Letter reported that
Hidéyoshi 'is depriving the people of their arms under the pretext
of devotion to religion'.
(p.33)Once the swords and guns were collected, Hidéyoshi had
them melted into a statue of himself.
The historian Stephen Turnbull
Hidéyoshi's resources were such
that the edict was carried out to the letter. The growing social
mobility of peasants was thus flung suddenly into reverse. The ikki,
the warrior-monks, became figures of the past...Hidéyoshi had deprived
the peasants of their weapons. Iéyasu [the next ruler] now began to
deprive them of their self respect. If a peasant offended a samurai
he might be cut down on the spot by the samurai's sword.
The inferior status of the
peasantry having been affirmed by civil disarmament, the Samurai
enjoyed kiri-sute gomen, permission to kill and depart. Any disrespectful
member of the lower class could be executed by a Samurai's sword.
Hidéyoshi forbade peasants to
leave their land without their superior's permission and required
that warriors, peasants, and merchants all remain in their current
After Hidéyoshi died, Iéyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate, which
would rule Japan for the next two-and-a-half centuries. Peasants
were assigned to a 'five-man group,' headed by landholders who were
responsible for the group's behaviour. The groups arranged marriages,
resolved disputes, maintained religious orthodoxy, and enforced the
rules against peasants possessing firearms or swords. The weapons laws
clarified and stabilised class distinctions. Samurai had swords; the
peasants did not."
So, we have established that first, feudal tyranny
was a necessary startiing point for Japan's victim disarmament culture.
Second, an unquestioning submission to government interference in
private life is a must. And last but certainly not least, acceptance
of police powers that are intolerable to most Americans. From the
looks of things, to me, at least, there is no real way to successfully
adopt the Japanese gun ownership model without also adopting Japan's
cultural respect for government "authority" combined with a near total
loss of individual freedoms such as privacy, no warrantless searches,
and a severe restriction on police powers.
Japan, despite being nominally a democracy, is
actually a tyranny. It is a Constitutional monarchy (much like England)
with even less power for the monarch, but far MORE power for the
government. It is my opinion that short of a centuries long (and
massively oppressive) program of societal reprogramming, a Japanese-style
gun control system could never be successfully implemented here. Nor
would it result in the lower crime rates of Japan. For the simple fact
that no American will tolerate the massive amount of police intrusion
into our lives the Japanese consider perfectly tolerable. As Japanese
scholars themselves note (from same link):
"The Japanese historian, Nobutaka Ike,
observes in modern Japan a 'preference for paternalism'.
An American historian writes: 'Never conquered by or directly
confronted with external forms of political rule (except for the
occupation), they remained unaware of the relative, fallible nature
of authority. Authority was a "given", taken for granted as an
unalienable part of the natural order'.
A Tokyo University historian describes 'an assumption that the state
is a prior and self-justifying entity, sufficient in itself. This
results in a belief that...the state should take precedence over the
goals of other individuals and associations...'.
The differing meanings of the phrase
'rule of law' highlight the contrast between American and Japanese
views of authority. In America, observes Noriho Urabe, 'rule of law'
expresses the subordination of Government to the law. In Japan, the
'rule of law' refers to the people's obligation to obey the
Government, and is thus 'an ideology to legitimize domination'.
The Japanese individual's desires are
'absorbed in the interest of the collectivity to which he belongs',
whether that collectivity be the nation, the school, or the family.
There is no theory of 'social contract', and no theory that individuals
pre-exist society and have rights superior to society.
The strongest sanctions are not American-style punishments, but
exclusion from the community.
When Japanese parents punish their children, they do not make the
children stay inside the house, as American parents do. Punishment
for a Japanese child means being put outside. The sublimation of
individual desires to the greater good, the pressure to conform, and
internalised willingness to do so are much stronger in Japan than
We, in America, do NOT, as a rule accept this
concept of government being our infallible boss. Upon reading the
entire article linked, and following many of the included links in
said article, I can see no way to successfully implement Japanese-style
gun control methods in America. And it CERTAINLY cannot be done if any
shred of the Bill of Rights remains intact. Not that I, of course,
have any desire to do so!