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 are. (Link)
The only type of firearm which a Japanese citizen may even contemplate acquiring is a shotgun. Sportsmen are permitted to possess shotguns for hunting and for skeet and trap (p.27)shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure. Without a license, a person may not even hold a gun in his or her hands.
The licensing procedure is rigorous. A prospective gun owner must first attend classes and pass a written test. 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 rifles--low-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 in 1989.
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 not returned.(p.29)
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 power'. 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 conscience.
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 system fails.
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.(p.31)
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 called them.
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. Lord 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 long--15 minutes--it 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 performed admirably.
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 decreed:
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.(emphasis added)
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 writes:
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 post. 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 MacArthur 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 in America.
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!