TOKYO—It’s been said that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns—but that’s not true in Japan, which has some of the strictest laws on the books forbidding the possession of guns, and imposes even harsher penalties for using them. If you fire a gun at someone here, you’re likely to spend more than 20 years in jail. The severe penalties even deter the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates, from using firearms. In 2017, there were only three people killed by gunshots in the entire nation.
But human beings will always find ways to kill each other and, as it turns out, when you outlaw guns in Japan outlaws will resort to other deadly weapons—like crossbows.
Now, the Japanese government is considering banning most people from buying, selling, or owning these semi-automatic bow and arrows. After a series of horrific crimes using the weapons there are now pending revisions to Japan’s laws which will limit their usage to sports and tranquilizing animals. The new revisions are expected to be passed in the current session of the parliament.
The new laws will be retroactive, so those outlaws out there who were planning malfeasance with their handy crossbows are going to have to turn them in to authorities, or get a permit, or face jail-time. If you were planning to take a shot at being a real-life (homicidal) Green Arrow—think twice. The penalties for using it as a weapon are likely to be severe. However, if you’re using a crossbow for a legitimate purpose—like crossbow shooting—you’ll be allowed to keep it, if you are granted a permit.
There have been several grisly murders over the last decade that provided the impetus to crack down on the handling of these potential weapons. According to Japan’s National Police Agency, in the last 10 years there have been 32 cases of crossbows being used in crimes, with six people killed and 11 people injured.
Of these murders, the most horrific was a familicide that left three people dead and one person in critical condition.
Last summer, Hideaki Nozu, a troubled 23-year-old living in Takarazuka City in western Japan, reportedly purchased a crossbow and used it to shoot his entire family. According to reports in Sankei Newspaper and other Japanese media, he went on a murderous rampage on the morning of June 4, shooting his younger brother twice in the bathroom at point-blank range, his mother in the living room, and his 75-year-old grandmother in her bedroom.
Each shot was fired to the head and pierced the skull. Later that day, he summoned his aunt to the house. When she arrived and opened the door, he shot her in the neck at the entrance. She ran out of the house with the arrow still lodged in her neck and called for help. Having successfully removed one of the arrows, his younger brother was still breathing when police arrived, but died at a hospital seven hours later.
During a period of self-imposed isolation and possible mental illness, Nozu had reportedly blamed…