The assassination shocked a nearly gun-free Japan.

The assassination shocked a nearly gun-free Japan.

The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a campaign rally in western Japan was especially hard to fathom because it involved a gun — a type of crime that is extremely rare in a country with some of the most stringent laws on buying and owning firearms.

Gun violence is almost unheard-of in Japan. There was only one firearm-related death in all of 2021. Since 2017, there have been 14 gun-related deaths, a remarkably low figure for a country of 125 million people.

Expressing a common reaction, Erika Inoue, 25, a designer in Tokyo, said the gun violence was hard to process.

“The shooting part is confusing,” she said. “There are guns? In Japan?”

Japan’s firearms law states that, in principle, guns are not permitted in the country. There are exceptions for guns used in hunting, but the process of getting a license is time-consuming and expensive, so very few people go through the hassle.

A person must pass 12 steps before purchasing a firearm, starting with a gun-safety class and then passing a written exam administered three times a year. A doctor must sign off on the gun buyer’s physical and mental health. Other steps include an extensive background check and a police inspection of the gun safe and ammunition locker required for storing firearms and bullets.

The shooting was all the more shocking because before Friday, even the idea of a political murder seemed like a relic of a long-gone era.

Tempers rarely run high in Japan’s famously sedate politics. Parliamentary debates usually do not move beyond cat calls and faux outrage, and even the ultra-right-wing groups that regularly prowl city streets in black vans, blaring political propaganda, are viewed as more of a nuisance than a threat to public safety.

Police protection at political events is light, and during campaign season, voters have plenty of opportunities to interact with the country’s top leaders. Videos showed the man suspected of shooting the former prime minister walking unobstructed in proximity of him and firing a handmade gun.

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