Japan has strict gun control laws and a low crime rate. The nation experiences approximately 200 gun-related violent crimes each year, which, compared to the United States, is extremely low. The robbery rate in Japan is 1.4 per 100,000 population, compared to 220.9 in the United States. Analysts disagree about the nature of the relationship between Japanese gun control policy and that nation's crime rate. While some advocate the introduction of similarly stringent legislation in the United States to curb crime, others observe that the success of Japan's gun control policies cannot be separated easily from Japanese traditions that emphasize social control.
Japanese law prohibits ownership of handguns and rifles. Sportsmen are allowed to own shotguns for hunting and other gun-related sporting activities, but acquiring such a weapon requires undergoing a prolonged licensing process. Applicants must attend classes, take a written examination, and pass a shooting test. They must undergo mental testing and submit an affidavit to police certifying their mental competence to own a firearm. Police run background checks on applicants and their relatives to make sure they have committed no crimes. Police officials are granted extensive discretion to deny a license to anyone they suspect of being a danger to others.
Firearms owners are required to store weapons in a locker and to inform police of its precise location in the home. Ammunition must be kept locked in a separate place. In 1971, the Japanese government prohibited any transfers of rifles, but allowed current licensed owners to keep their weapons. When an owner dies, relatives must surrender the rifle to police. Violation of the handgun prohibition can result in severe punishment. The maximum penalty for possessing a handgun is 10 years in prison and a fine roughly equivalent to $8,000. Even though shotguns and air rifles remained legal, the number of licensed weapons declined by nearly a quarter during the 1980s.
While most analysts admit that Japanese gun control policies have been successful, they have attributed that success to several causes. The police, who generally are held in high regard, have been granted extensive search and seizure powers. Twice each year police make visits to all Japanese homes to gather various types of information. They check on gun licensees to determine if a gun has been stolen, how securely the gun is stored, and the emotional stability of the owner. The Japanese justice system does not ensure protection against police searches, and the right of habeas corpus is not nearly as stringently enforced as in the United States. Police are efficient in clearing criminal cases. Due to this efficiency, no compelling need exists for Japanese citizens to own firearms for self-defense. For instance, Tokyo has been labeled the safest city in the world.