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    Michael has caught some flak (so to speak) over his posting about gun control and how to compare the shootings of students at Virginia Tech and of the mayor of Nagasaki here in Japan. I think he’s absolutely right. (Hey, it happens sometimes.)

    If guns were completely illegal in the U.S., and the government did everything possible to collect all of the guns, the VA Tech student would still have found a way to get a gun and shoot up the campus.

    All right, yes, that’s speculative, and it’s phrased a bit sententiously. But it has the ring of truth because we know now that Cho was planning this kind of thing for a long time and was obsessed with the military. Henry Lewis may no more know how to get an illegal gun than I know how to get drugs in Roppongi, in the sense that neither of us is interested or would know where to begin. But people who are interested figure out a way to find out.

    Does gun control work in Japan? Difficult to say, because there are many other factors that make society function as it does. Japan is much more homogeneous and self-policing than immigrant-rich societies such as the United States. Another thing I’ve definitely noticed in talking to Japanese friends is that the idea that citizens might have the right to defend themselves from agents of their own government if they get too high-handed isn’t one that crosses their mind very frequently. They also don’t think often about situations in which the police or other authorities may not be around to help them and they must see to their own defense. Part of that is that Japanese people are acculturated to like being under authority, part of it is that Japanese people tend to be suspicious of an individual who wants to go it alone, and part of it is that the post-war Japanese government did a lot of things the citizenry is rightfully grateful for. Japanese people–this is my narrow individual experience talking, but I don’t think it’s aberrant–are unusually ready to believe that the victim of a crime by a stranger is at fault for getting himself into a sticky situation rather than staying in safe, known spaces.

    And let’s not forget that Japan doesn’t lack for lunatics who kill multiple victims. They tend to be serial killers rather than spree killers–gun control probably does have something to do with that–but their victims are just as dead.

    Added later: Unsurprisingly, Connie has a thing or two to say about this, too.

    14 Responses to “Guns”

    1. Fenneke says:

      Since here in Holland the gun laws are very strict, and the murder rate is much lower (about 10% or even less of that of the States) I always assumed that the two were related. But as mr Moore showed in his movie Bowling for Columbine, Canadians have access to guns just as easily as Americans, yet their crime rate is much lower… So much for my convenient assumption :S

    2. Zak says:

      I used to frequent a restaurant in Kyushu run by an ex-Yakuza guy (proving that you can still cook really well with 9.5 fingers). He told me a couple times that the reasons for various murders etc. given by Yakuza over the news were always wrong–there was always a different meaning, usually a message they were trying to send.

      So, I think this Yakuza’s “confession” of killing the mayor because he was mad about damage done to his car is totally bogus. For some reason they wanted to kill this (leftist, righ?) mayor, probably to scare some other people, and this guy volunteered for some reason to do it.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Fenneke, I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. I’m all for gun rights, because I think the trade-offs involved in allowing people to project force to defend themselves are worth it. But it’s an insult to common sense to say that there aren’t some crimes of opportunity that are committed because there’s a handy gun around. (Of course, you could say the same thing about pieces of lead pipe or kitchen knives.)

      In the U.S., if you factor out inner-city crime, the murder rate isn’t much higher than for other developed countries. I don’t say you should factor it out because people in the inner city aren’t as real as affluent or suburban types. I only raise the point because people tend, when the topic is gun rights, to talk about violence “in our society” as if they were exposing the sick underlayer of Middle America. The places that account for most gun homicides are places that are in deep trouble in most other ways: poverty, unstable family structures, low-quality education systems, and all that. I grew up in the ’70s, when the police in most places had essentially thrown people in the inner city to the wolves, with predictable results.

      Murder rates have been falling steadily for over a decade in the States, though. Better policing is part of it; so is economic progress. Murder rates have been rising in the U.K. and, I think, most of the E.U. London and New York may have converged by this point, though I haven’t read anything to that effect. I don’t know about the Netherlands.

      Zak, you wouldn’t expect someone who’s (1) Japanese and (2) a gangster to be straightforward about his motives, would you?

    4. Zak says:

      No, I wouldn’t. And yet all the media coverage I’ve seen of this just kind of swallows this statement whole without questioning it.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, you don’t get much deeper digging in those circumstances from reporters here.

    6. Benny says:

      The point here, to me, is gun culture.

      Having a much lower number of guns in a society not only reduces the rate of opportunistic gun crimes (as someone already said), and presents barriers to premeditated gun crime, but most likely inculcates a different attitude towards guns.

      That Americans need guns to protect themselves from their government is a paranoid fallacy. Americans need guns to protect themselves from other Americans. Ones with guns.

      That said, the Cho case has more to do with an angry, mentally-unstable young man wanting revenge on people. Guns were just the means to an end.

      But strange how it’s always guns. Can you remember the last time a psychopathic loner blew up his classroom with a homemade bomb? Or poisoned the soup? They are always obsessed with guns.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:


      “That Americans need guns to protect themselves from their government is a paranoid fallacy. Americans need guns to protect themselves from other Americans. Ones with guns.”

      There are a lot of reasons it’s not as simple as that. Every citizen of the U.S. knows that our country wouldn’t exist as it does if the then-colonists hadn’t been willing to take up arms against an unjust government. It’s in our historical memory and very sense of national identity.

      I don’t think anyone today believes either federal or local governments are oppressing their citizens in any direct, principled way; but the potential for abuse of force on the part of the government is never far from our consciousness, either. (Think Waco, Ruby Ridge, or the current spate of no-knock raids connected with the War on Drugs.)

      Another complicated aspect of the issue of “gun culture” is the way trends in crime developed after World War II. Violent crime began to mushroom in the 1950s. (The increase was publicized in the early ’60s because the crunched numbers weren’t available until they were a year or two out of date.) Choose just about anything happening in American society then, and you can find a researcher somewhere who argues it was a major factor in the increase in the crime rates. Suburbanization contributed by making house ownership available to people of modest incomes outside urban areas–neighborhoods with high rates of property ownership by residents tend to have less crime. The police presence in high-crime areas went down. Changes in family structure had an effect somehow, though no one can agree how.

      The result is that even law-abiding citizens who don’t live in remote mountain cabins have had it impressed upon them time and again that the authorities cannot necessarily come to their aid in time to guarantee safety for them or their property. Gun crime is only a component of that.

      I do think the way a lot of spree killers glorify guns is suggestive. A gun allows you to project deadly force several feet beyond yourself, which must feel exhilarating if you feel small and impotent as a human being. Interestingly, Japan has traditionally romanticized the sword, and many of the country’s most climactic crimes have involved stabbings or slicings.

    8. Michael says:

      I’m just amazed you agreed with me on something!!

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      Hello? We both go for guys, honey. That’s a point of agreement that would be considered significant everywhere I’ve ever lived except New York.

      But yeah, I guess I do tend to link you when I have something to argue about. Maybe you’re just fun to wrestle with.

    10. Connie says:

      Paranoid? Right, because history is just empty of examples of a government playing reindeer games with the population.

    11. Michael says:

      Maybe you’re just fun to wrestle with

      Now THAT would be hot, if you don’t mind my saying. I’ll give you my address. Atlanta is not a real expensive trip!

    12. Sean Kinsell says:

      Michael! I don’t mind sauciness, but there are innocent housewives around here.

      Speaking of whom, Connie, it never ceases to amaze me how many people, when confronted with the question of what good, honest citizens should do if their government turns unconscionably corrupt and adversarial, furrow their brow for several beats and say, “Well, you could call for elections, or I guess there would need to be a coup from within the government.” They honestly don’t seem to believe that sovereignty ultimately lies with the people.

    13. Robohobo says:

      Sean – This article explains why gun confiscation is a really, really bad idea. There have to be some weapons around to defend from exactly this type of absolutist behavior.

      NRA Article

      And glad to see you read The Mrs. Her other half ain’t bad either. Bit cranky tho’.

      Benny – “But strange how it’s always guns. Can you remember the last time a psychopathic loner blew up his classroom with a homemade bomb? Or poisoned the soup? They are always obsessed with guns.”

      Benny, dude, what cave you been living in? Iraq? Heard of it? The jihadis now spice their car bombs with chlorine gas! The last time that was done is WWI!

      Last I checked it is pretty much proven by stats that when the weapons are confiscated the crime rate rockets. Gun crime does not go down, it goes up. [If the guns are illegal then of course the criminals will not have them, right?]

      And you cannot legislate for crazy.

      The Hobo

    14. Sean Kinsell says:

      Robohobo, I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting the du Toits on their home turf. Much fun.

      Oh, and Benny, what Robohobo just said jogged my memory re. your soup comment. There was actually a very famous case in Japan in the ’90s in which a woman killed a bunch of people by poisoning the curry served at a public event. You just never know how those weirdos are going to strike.

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