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Rare Shooting Incident in Japan

Following the shooting of a former Prime Minister last year, should we expect a trend in

increased shooting incidents in the gun-banned country?

By: Julie Harada

Photo by Arjan Richter. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Initial reports of gunshots were made on October 31st at 13:10 inside Toda Chuo General Hospital in Toda City, Saitama Prefecture. According to the Saitama prefectural police, two were injured: a male doctor and a male patient. Both are expected to make a full recovery. The suspect left the hospital by motorbike to the Warabi post office where they opened fire, causing people to flee. Two women who worked at the post office could not escape and were barricaded by the suspect. One woman was released upon negotiation between the suspect and the police while the other women managed to escape on her own. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department dispatched the Special Investigations Team or “SIT”, a specialized unit trained to handle hostage situations. The Special Investigations Team were able to detain Tsuneo Suzuki, aged 86, in the post office. Prior to the hospital shooting, it was reported that Suzuki set fire to his apartment building.

According to the Toda-city Board of Education, around 4,600 students in 18 Primary and Secondary schools in Toda city had to stand by in schools until 4pm in response to the shooting. Afterwards the students were escorted home in groups by teachers.

Upon interrogation, investigators found that Suzuki was dissatisfied with the treatment he received at the hospital, causing him to pull out his gun. An owner of a home appliances shop claims to have known Suzuki for the past 20 years and was often hired by Suzuki to fix his appliances. He stated that Suzuki used to pay well over the expected amount, served cool drinks in the summertime, and was always kind and generous. He revealed his shock and cannot believe Suzuki was capable of such a crime.

Due to the Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law; handguns are completely prohibited in Japan. Consequently, Japan has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. “In 2018, Japan, a country of 125 million people, only reported nine deaths from firearms – compared with 39, 740 that year in the United States, according to data compiled by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney”. The majority of the gun violence that does occur is linked to organized crime groups. For example, in 2018 six out of the nine deaths from firearms were linked to organized crime. However, last year on July 8, 2022, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated while speaking at a campaign rally. The incident sparked outrage across the country, as for most of the population it was their first time being affected by gun violence.

Photo by Chatham House, London. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dr. Nancy Snow, a Director of the International Security Industrial Council, said the shooting would change Japan forever. “It’s not only rare, but it’s really culturally unfathomable” she told CNN.

Investigators report that Suzuki claims he has been in possession of the handgun for many years. It has become evident that Suzuki was involved with organized crime in the past. Considering the assassination involving the Prime Minister last year and the most recent shooting, it is easy to form the assumption that gun crime is becoming more frequent in Japan. However, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, firearm-related incidents have been decreasing for the past 3 years.



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