Why comparing gun violence here to Japan is stupid

(AP Photo/Philip Kamrass, File)

Japan and the United States don’t have a lot in common. Culturally, we’re quite different, though not necessarily incompatible. After all, while legions of Americans consume bits of Japanese culture as if it were the greatest thing ever, other legions in Japan do the same thing with American culture.

But there are profound differences between the United States and Japan.

You wouldn’t really know that if you saw this story going on about their low rates of gun homicides.

As the U.S. gun control debate intensifies, some Americans are looking overseas for ideas on how to prevent mass shootings. Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world. There were more than four firearm homicides in the U.S. per 100,000 people during 2019, compared to almost zero in Japan.

As CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, Japan’s strict laws on private gun ownership have surprising origins in the United States. She met Raphael, a well-known Japanese YouTuber who decided to take skeet shooting lessons. Despite being ex-military, he had to jump through all the same hoops that any Japanese civilian must clear to get a gun license.

There’s mandatory training. You have to pass a written exam, plus a physical and mental health evaluation. Even then, the police will go and ask your family and friends whether you have any violent tendencies.

The point, of course, is very clear. Japan good, America bad. (The article later goes on to point out the irony in the fact that their gun laws are the result of American occupation following World War II.)

However, for all of Palmer’s questions, she never bothered to dig beyond the surface level.

Japan’s total homicide rate is 0.3 per 100,000 people. That’s for all weapons, and yes, that is incredibly low by anyone’s standard. It’s easy to see why some would look to Japan and try to see what they’re doing in hopes of replicating it here.

If our gun homicide rate were only 0.3 per 100,000, that would probably be a rate we could live with, right?

Except, our non-gun homicide rate is 1.6 per 100,000. That’s more than times greater than Japan’s total rate.

In other words, whatever is making Japan so relatively safe has little or nothing to do with their gun laws. After all, the Japanese government can’t ban knives, hammers, sticks, or body parts–all of which are used to kill plenty of people here in the United States.

Instead, whatever has created such a low homicide rate is likely something that has nothing to do with weapon restrictions and more to do with culture or, at least, some other regulation.

Unfortunately, that’s beyond the modern media to delve into. That’s a question they never bother to think to ask because they’re apparently conditioned to not think of homicide as anything other than a gun issue.

The thing is, though, if you managed to make all guns go away overnight from every hand in the country, we’d still have a higher homicide rather than Japan–at least five times higher, though I suspect it would increase since you have to assume a large percentage of those who kill with guns would simply shift to another weapon.

So yeah, Palmer skimmed the surface and never dug any deeper, which is par for the course in this day and age.