Prime Minister John Howard recently said he would do anything it took to prevent Australia from acquiring an American “gun culture”.
One wonders whether he thinks a Japanese gun culture is acceptable. Guns have been strictly controlled there for many years, with handguns virtually banned. Yet Japan is experiencing a burgeoning black market in handguns with some estimates suggesting the country has up to 50,000 illegal guns.
A report in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun claims the police are befuddled:
Illegal guns flourish, say befuddled police
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN Two fatal street shootings by gangsters within a week–one in Nagasaki and the other in the Tokyo area–have shattered the illusion that Japan is a country largely free of gun-related crime.
One estimate says there are 50,000 illegal guns in Japan.
The problem, police say, is that it is getting harder to know where to find the weapons.
Almost all are believed to be in the possession of crime syndicates, which have smuggled them from abroad in violation of the gun-control law.
Although police continue their attempts to crack down on illegal firearms, the number they confiscate has fallen markedly in recent years.
In 2006, police seized just 458 guns. In 1995, they recovered 1,880–nearly four times as many.
Officials at the National Police Agency say it is getting tougher for police to gather intelligence on illegal guns because many gangs are strictly prohibiting their members from talking with investigators.
The ban was spurred after the 1992 introduction of the anti-gangster law. The law allows police to crack down on organized crime syndicates when the percentage of their members with criminal records surpasses a specified amount.
Another factor, they say, is a revision of the firearm control law in 1993 that made gun possession a serious crime. That prompted crime syndicates to begin using people without apparent links to their activities to hide their guns.
In January, police searched an apartment in Osaka’s Yodogawa Ward to investigate a resident who had been using electricity without paying for it. They were stunned at what they found.
Stashed inside the apartment were a .38-caliber revolver sitting on a shoebox near the front door, as well as a .32-caliber automatic pistol and 21 bullets.
In another example illustrating the proliferation of firearms, police unexpectedly found four guns and 44 bullets in a desk drawer during their search of a real estate business in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward in November. Police had been investigating insurance fraud by gangsters who had supposedly been involved in a traffic accident, but had no reason to suspect they would find guns.
“Guns are being hidden in places that we would not previously have expected,” an investigator acknowledges.
An apartment in Tokyo has turned into an “armory” for an organized crime group, according to sources close to the organization. One gangster, who has visited the apartment, says, “It looks like a regular one-room apartment at first glance, but when I opened a door that was structurally altered, I found a concealed door behind which dozens of pistols and some machine guns were stored.”
While police are finding fewer illegal guns, members of gangs say that the demand for them is growing.
“We are seeing an increase in the demand for guns and are prepared to supply,” says a senior member of a gang in the Kansai region with a chuckle. “The fall in the seizures only points to police incompetence.”
A Smith & Wesson, a U.S. pistol used in the shooting of Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Itoh, is typically sold for around 700,000 yen with five to 10 bullets.
The figure typically jumps to 1 million to 1.2 million yen when a conflict erupts between organized crime groups.
Behind the growing demand for guns is the push by the Yamaguchi-gumi, the country’s largest crime syndicate, based in Kobe, into Tokyo in search of more money.
The move triggered a clash between the Yamaguchi-gumi and its main rival, the Sumiyoshi-kai, based in Tokyo. As a result, the leaders of the latter group have made it a requirement that all of their members carry a gun, gangsters say.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, with 39,700 members, accounts for almost half of the Japan’s gangster population.