Are Guns Legal in Japan?
Guns are legal but difficult to obtain in Japan.
Getting a firearm license involves a long process and many steps, the first of which is joining a club which actively shoots and is not only regulated but also recognized by the prefecture.
After being accepted by the club, the applicant must take a course in gun safety and ownership; which includes the first of several exams as well as a health evaluation (both physical and mental). This is even before being eligible to use a gun without direct supervision and control.
If successful up until this point, next is a course at an approved venue on how to fire and how to store a weapon at home or in a designated armory. This is followed by another test which requires a 95% score in order to pass. If passed the local police will then speak with applicant about why they want a firearm, what kind of gun they intend to use and then proceed to conduct a background check: this includes interviewing referees, and possibly employers and neighbors and family where the police consider it necessary.
After this, the applicant can then apply for an ammunition/gunpowder license and get a certificate from a weapon retailer. This allows them to buy a ‘declared’ kind of firearm (that the police previously interviewed the applicant about) - with only shotguns or air rifles allowed. Yes, air rifles are regulated under the firearms act well!
Airsoft and replica guns or model guns are not regulated this way, however. In Japan, airsoft is becoming more and more popular with many clubs and shooting arenas. In addition, cultural groups that use matchlock guns (such as the Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps) in many instances fall outside of the general licenses as well but the ammunition and use of the guns in public does require regulation - making it a grey area.
But that still doesn’t grant permission to own a firearm just yet. If granted a certificate they then need to buy an ammunition locker and gun safe, which is inspected by police who will often carry out another background check.
The gun and ammunition must be kept separate when not in use.
Now a weapon can be purchased; the gun must be registered and inspected by the police every year to ensure it is being stored securely and separately from ammunition. The police also check that both containers are kept locked at all times and even that the spare keys are securely kept! These inspections are often ad-hoc but also prearranged meetings are also set up in certain instances.
Guns can also only be purchased through registered firearms dealers; with each transaction carefully and comprehensively recorded.
Because the llicense expires every three years, owners needing to re-take the written exam to renew it. When a gun owner dies, their family or lawyer must return their weapons to the police, or to a recognized firearms dealer who is permitted to acquire and report on legacy firearms being returned to them.
So what about matchlock guns?
Antique guns that were built before the Meiji Restoration are legally classed a little differently to modern firearms - as they are part of the cultural history of Japan. However in order to avoid legal difficulties, many gunners opt to hold full licenses that allow the purchase of guns and ammunition. The antique itself needs to be registered as well - to a named and recognized individual - the associated license and paperwork never being separated from the hinawaju.