Shooting of Japan's ex-leader Shinzo Abe shocks country where guns are rare

People view newspapers reporting former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe being shot, in Tokyo, on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - The last time a current or former Japanese prime minister was shot was 90 years ago. It's a measure of just how rare and shocking gun violence is in the country, where gun ownership is strictly controlled.

The blast that felled former leader Shinzo Abe on Friday (July 8) - with a homemade shotgun, according to reports - happened while he was campaigning on behalf of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Nara, a city east of Osaka.

Mr Abe was giving a speech in front of a train station ahead of this weekend's Upper House elections. He was taken to a local hospital and was unresponsive.

"This comes as a grave shock," said Mr Hiromichi Watanabe, a senior LDP member speaking at the party's headquarters. "I can't believe something like this could happen in Japan."

Shootings are uncommon in the nation, but not unheard of. There were 10 incidents last year, leaving one person dead and four wounded, according to the National Policy Agency.

For civilians, obtaining weapons - mainly rifles and shotguns for sport or hunting - requires an intensive licensing and background check process. Police are usually armed with handguns.

The suspect who shot Mr Abe was identified by Japanese media as a man in his early 40s. He was immediately seized by the government's Security Police, who are charged with protecting senior politicians and officials.

As a former prime minister, Mr Abe had a security detail, and at least one of them had a bulletproof shield. Television reports showed what appeared to be two long tubes wrapped together with black tape on the ground, thought to be a homemade weapon.

The incident comes less than a week after a deadly mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade outside of Chicago, where Robert "Bobby" Crimo III, 21, was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder. There have been more than 300 mass-shooting incidents in the US in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The estimated total number of guns held by civilians in Japan was 310,400 in 2019, or 0.25 per 100 people, the lowest level among the G-7 countries, according to

That's compared with 393 million guns, or 120 per 100 people, in the US, and 3.2 million, or 5 per 100 people, in the UK.

In 1932, Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was killed in office by Navy soldiers plotting to provoke war with the US (they also originally sought to kill Charlie Chaplin, who was visiting Japan at the time). The last time a politician was shot and murdered was in 2007, when the mayor of the southern city of Nagasaki was targeted outside a station.

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