Guns and freedom

Really interesting piece in the Atlantic about Japan’s gun culture–  basically the mirror opposite of ours:

But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world’s least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally…

Even the most basic framework of Japan’s approach to gun ownership is almost the polar opposite of America’s. U.S. gun law begins with the second amendment’s affirmation of the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” and narrows it down from there. Japanese law, however, starts with the 1958 act stating that “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” later adding a few exceptions. In other words, American law is designed to enshrine access to guns, while Japan starts with the premise of forbidding it. The history of that is complicated, but it’s worth noting that U.S. gun law has its roots in resistance to British gun restrictions, whereas some academic literature links the Japanese law to the national campaign to forcibly disarm the samurai, which may partially explain why the 1958 mentions firearms and swords side-by-side.

As the article points out, there are, of course, vast cultural and historical differences between our nations.  But it certainly is interesting to see the opposite extreme in a country in which I don’t think any serious person would argue does not have “freedom.”  Maybe guns were important to freedom in the brand new USA (though, certainly a highly debatle point),  but most definitely not in the modern world.  Love this little anecdote/factoid at the end of the piece:

After all, the U.S. constitution’s second amendment is intended in part to maintain “the security of a free State” by ensuring that the government doesn’t have a monopoly on force. Though it’s worth considering another police state here: Tunisia, which had the lowest firearm ownership rate in the world (one gun per thousand citizens, compared to America’s 890) when its people toppled a brutal, 24-year dictatorship and sparked the Arab Spring.

In contrast, I recall reading that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had very high rates of civilian gun ownership.  In short?  Guns and freedom– not really all that much of a relationship going on there.   Love your guns, sure, but let’s not pretend that somehow freedom is at stake in the matter.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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