Farmers in rural areas have been reporting increasing damage to their crops by wild boar, deer and other animals. To make firearms more accessible, a bill that would loosen the currently tight restrictions on hunting rifles has been proposed in the Diet. But, the Sankei Shimbun (Dec 4) reports, the police remain adamantly opposed to changes in the law.
According to data compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in 2009, crop damage from animals and birds reached 21.3 billion yen, a year-on increase of 1.4 billion yen. To deal with what it claims is a growing problem, a group of LDP Diet members have proposed revisions to the law controlling firearms and swords, along with two other statutes that deal with animal pest eradication and animal protection. The proposed law is still being discussed at the subcommittee level.
In Japan, to be eligible to purchase a hunting rifle, the law at present requires a person first hold a shotgun license for a minimum of 10 years. The proposed bill calls for that period to be reduced to five years, and that the validity period for both shotgun and hunting rifle permits (private handgun ownership is banned outright in Japan) be extended from the current three years to five.
In addition, the proposed law would put a freeze on the current requirement that firearms owners be obliged to attend periodic lectures on gun usage and safety.
The Dai-Nippon Ryoyukai, a nationwide organization of gun enthusiasts, is backing the proposed legislation as a way of expanding firearms ownership.
Restrictions on guns had been tightened after a number of serious crimes were committed by armed criminals in the 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps coincidentally, a hunting boom took place during these years and sales of shotguns and rifles peaked.
While firearms occasionally figure in accidents and crimes, the number in Japan has been conspicuously low. So far in 2011, the Sankei reports, a total of 22 incidents involving shotguns and weapons have occurred, resulting in six fatalities (at least two of which were criminal homicides).
A spokesperson for the National Police Agency told the newspaper that the bill under consideration in the Diet has problems and that the NPA opposes it.
"We are also skeptical as to whether or not the new law would have much of an impact in dealing with predatory birds and animals," he added.
Currently, owners of hunting rifles account for only about 30% of all licensed firearms owners, and in the NPA's view, reducing the 10-year requirement to five years is unlikely to result in any significant increase in ownership of hunting rifles.
Emphasizing concerns that animal damage to crops is likely to worsen, the Dai-Nippon Ryoyukai continues to urge revision of the law. According to the group, four out of Japan's 47 prefectures currently lack target practice ranges for shotguns, and 15 prefectures offer no shooting facilities for hunting rifles.
The group points out the inconveniences gun owners currently face.
"For example, if a person living in the Ogasawara Islands (which is administrated by Tokyo) wants to attend a technical and safety lecture on firearms, since there are no flights to Tokyo he would have to spend three nights aboard a boat to Tokyo, and from there travel to Gunma Prefecture to attend the course. So you're talking about one week's time, which is intolerable."
At the very least, the group argues, the inconvenient technical training courses that make gun ownership so prohibitive should be suspended.© Japan Today