TOKYO -- Japan was shaken Friday by the assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This shocking act of political violence occurred in a country with strict gun laws and few shootings.
Abe was giving a speech in Nara, western Japan when he was hit in the back. He was declared dead hours later. This prompted a national outpouring in shock and grief.
This was the first assassination attempt on a Japanese prime minister, either incumbent or former, in over 90 years.
"I thought we were in a country that assassinations would not happen. I am so sorry for Mr. Abe. Emiko Shiono (76) from Tokyo, said that she was shocked. "He was somebody who contributed to our nation."
Those who disagreed with the legacy of the conservative politician shared similar sentiments.
As she walked with her grandson in central Tokyo, Tomoko Tanaka, 50, stated that there are many pros and cons to Abe.
A puff of white smoke appeared behind Abe during his speech, as well as two cannon-like blasts. Photos and video show an improvised weapon that was left on the ground after the attack.
Police stated that they believe that the attacker used a homemade gun to carry out the attack. Later, police discovered several other weapons at the suspect's home that looked like they were made by him. It is not clear if the suspect holds the proper weapons licenses.
Japan has some of the most strict gun laws in the world. This makes it one the safest countries on the planet. To obtain or keep shotguns and air rifles, people must pass extensive background, mental, and training checks.
According to the World Health Organization, only nine people were killed by guns in 2018; eight of these deaths were suicides or accidentals. According to data from police, there were only 10 shooting incidents in 2021. This excludes suicides and accidents. According to the report, one person was killed and four were injured.
"This is an extremely low number," stated Iain Overton (author of "Gun Baby Gun") and executive director at Action on Armed Violence, a U.K.-based advocacy organization against gun violence.
Overton stated that Japan has some of the most stringent gun laws in the globe and has a long history. Japan was the first country to initiate a gun law via a reward program for information leading to the capture of illicit firearms in the 17th Century.
These restrictions have made it impossible to carry out the same types of shootings that are so common in the United States. This is a stark contrast to Japan, where it was not possible for a politician to be assassinated before Friday.
Jeff Kingston, director for Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, Tokyo, stated that regardless of whether you liked what he did, the idea that a former leader might be shot to death in cold blood is unimaginable to most Japanese.
"This is what happens in other countries, not here."
Sometimes shootings do happen involving "yakuza" gangsters. Japan has also experienced mass killings but these have rarely involved guns.
A knife-wielding attacker attacked a mental hospital in 2016 and killed 19 people. In 2019, 36 people were killed in an arson attack at an animation studio.
It is rare for violence to be motivated by politics in this country.
Inukai Takashi, Prime Minister of Japan, was assassinated by a group soldiers in his home during Japan's prewar militaristic buildup. This was one of several similar assassinations. Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of Socialist Party was assassinated in 1960 by a teenage with a knife during a rally.
Japan has a history of rare attacks, which has led to a culture of relative closeness among politicians and the public.
Abe, who is still an influential figure within the Liberal Democratic Party, spoke at a rally near Nara's train station to support a candidate for the upper chamber of Parliament during Sunday's elections.
Tobias Harris, author "The Iconoclast Shinzo Abe, and the New Japan," said that there is often little between candidates and voters at events. He called it "one the greatest things about Japanese politics."
He said, "Campaigns don't appear on TV. They are actually in person, out every single day interacting with voters and train stations." "Abe was doing what Japanese politicians do."