Tokyo’s zero-tolerance gun laws: What makes Japan different from other nations, lessons for India

A gun-toting assassin on a shooting spree is a rarity in Japan as the country’s strict gun laws since the end of World War II make it almost impossible for a citizen to possess a lethal firearm.

The attack on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where an assailant shot him in the chest came as a surprise because getting hold of a weapon for a civilian is a herculean task and considered a taboo for the pacifist Japanese population.

It is in this context that the shooting incident when the former prime minister was attacked during a political campaign seems even more dreadful. It is suspected that the assailant used a self-made weapon.


Japan has the most stringent gun laws. Other than the police and military, nobody can keep lethal arms in Japan. Civilians cannot buy a handgun or a rifle. Only air guns are allowed, that too for a specific purpose.

To buy a gun, a person must achieve 95 per cent accuracy in a shooting test, also clear a written test and go through a mental health assessment at a hospital. Only after all clearances can a gun license be given.

Strict background checks are done before a civilian is allowed a weapon. This includes speaking to family, friends and relatives of the applicant to check the antecedents and the license is valid only for three years.

In Japan, an individual has to go past 13 layers to get a gun license, making it the country that needs the highest number of clearances. In comparison, getting a license is easiest in the USA and Yemen.

Japan’s low crime rate is attributed to strict gun laws. Japan has a low crime rate and incidents involving guns are rare.

In fact, theft cases account for a chunk of crime in the country. With a cap on the number of gun shops in an area, the purchase of weapons always remains low.

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There are strict checks to ensure a weapon is surrendered after the death of the owner. Even police personnel when not on duty cannot carry a firearm.

Ironically, the culture of not possessing arms in Japan can be attributed to the USA and traces back to World War II. The US disarmed Japan, ensuring even civilians don’t possess weapons, and after the war pacifists.


On paper, the gun laws are extremely strict in India and getting a valid arms license is a long process which can take up to one year. Under the Arms Rules of 1962, there is a prohibition on possession, sale, acquisition, manufacture, import, export and transfer of firearms without a valid license.

The Indian Ordnance Factory has the duty to manufacture and sell these arms and ammunition in India. An individual who wants an arm license in India must be 21 years old. Valid reasons for owning guns are sports, crop protection and self-defense.

Just like in Japan, before a license is granted, the police carry out background checks of the applicant for two months, which would include interview of the applicant as well as his family, even neighbours, verification of the mental health history of the applicant, behaviour to assess whether the person has an aggressive nature.

The licensing authorities interview the applicant after this where they state the reason to approve or reject the license.

Once the license is approved, the applicant has to participate in the compulsory arms handling course whereby safe handling of the weapon is taught, including firing and transporting a firearm. The firearm license has a life of three years and therefore, the same has to be renewed.

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Any person found in possession of fire arms without a license can be booked by the law enforcement agencies under The Arms Act.

The arms Act in India came to existence after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The British then enforced the Arms Act of 1878 under which any Indian could possess a firearm only if the British were convinced of his/her loyalty to the Crown. After independence, this law was scrapped and the Indian Arms Act was introduced in the country.

This license can be of state level or national level. In case of national level, the application for a license can be filed before the District Collector’s office, who forwards the request to the police authorities for verification.

After verification, the police submits its report to the District Collector’s office who, along with documents and remarks, sends the request to the State’s Home Minister’s office for final approval. After the approval by state home minister, the license is granted to the person. If the license has to be granted to a particular state, an approval by the home department is enough. In India, under one arms license, a person can possess two weapons.


However, there is a thriving illegal arms trade industry in the country that ensures a steady supply of country made weapons to criminal syndicates.

In most of the states in northern India, like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan – keeping a gun is more than a status symbol and people tend to buy illegal weapons from local manufacturers. Many who are involved in criminal activities, possess multiple illegal weapons.

Most of the illegal weapons are manufactured in the Malwa-Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh, Shamli and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh besides Munger in Bihar. Besides Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, weapons are also being smuggled from Pakistan using drones.

The number of seizures has witnessed over 340 per cent rise over the last year. The BSF had recovered 3,322 weapons compared to 750 in 2020. Punjab police also seized 1,349 illegal weapons between 2018 to 2020. These weapons were sold to the gangsters.

According to 2018 data, over 74,477 weapons were seized by the police across the country with 28,850 weapons from Uttar Pradesh. Of these, only 3,742 arms were licensed and the rest were illegal.

Earlier, the illegal weapons were limited to country-made pistols but recently, even sophisticated weapons like AK 47, AK 57 are also being manufactured in the illegal factories. In some cases, even assault rifles were found smuggled from foreign countries.

In the recent killing of Punjabi Singer Sidhu Moosewala, an AN-94 Russian Assault rifle was used. This was the first time that such a sophisticated weapon was used in a gang-war.

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Mass shootings, gun wielding youth, including school children in the country, have often hit the headlines and chilling videos of these have gone viral, triggering debates on USA’s gruesome gun culture. This has often prompted the debate on the subject— Right to arms vs Right to life.

Recently the US passed a new bill to bring in amendments to gun licences following increasing gun attacks. Gun-related deaths have always been a big concern in the country. This happened after 21 people, including 19 children, were killed in a school by a man who went on a shooting spree.

As per the new amendments in law, to combat the problem, strict background checks for gun buyers, especially minors, will be done.

According to the amendment, if a gun is transferred to a person less than 21 years old, the system should contact the criminal history repository or juvenile justice information system, the state custodian of mental health adjudication records and the local law enforcement agency of the state in which the person resides.

It seeks to impose penalties on straw purchasing- a term to describe the buying of firearms on behalf of someone else and it ranges from 15 to 25 years of imprisonment.

Also, the sale of firearms to those who have been convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners is barred. In an attempt to make the process of getting a license more cumbersome, there is a provision in the bill that requires every federal and state agency to submit a detailed report that gives clearance to an individual.

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The laws in the United Kingdom are more stringent as compared to other countries. The police must be satisfied that an individual can be entrusted with a firearm, has good reason to own them and would not cause danger to public safety and decisions on every application are made on a case-by-case basis.

Applicants are also required to produce a medical assessment from a doctor attesting that they are not experiencing acute stress, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, are not dependent or alcohol or drugs and not suffering from a neurological condition.

Individuals below 18 years, possessing a history of hateful or criminal activity, or failing to provide necessary medical information are denied a license.

Processing, purchasing or acquiring a firearm or ammunition without a license can lead to imprisonment of up to five years, and seven years if the firearm has been converted. Even on acquiring a license, it is an offense to carry a firearm in public, trespass a property using a firearm or possessing them when drunk.


Canada has also amended the Firearms Act, changing certain regulations pertaining to background checks, record-keeping, classification of firearms and their transportation. The applicant has to be 18 years or older to acquire a gun license.

The license is issued for a period of five years and can be extended upon expiry. The applicant must not have a history of violence or any other crime during their entire lifetime, should not be suffering from mental illnesses or have been previously barred from the process.

Applicants are also required to complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course to put their applications to process.

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