Firing shots, killing three people, suspected in the barbaric act of a 19-year-old former Army cadet, “organized violation of the Self-Defense Forces’ firearms law”. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Firing shots, killing three people, suspected in the barbaric act of a 19-year-old former Army cadet, “organized violation of the Self-Defense Forces’ firearms law”.

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Last June, three people were killed or wounded at the Hino Basic Firing Range. When training resumed in November of the same year, it was cancelled again due to a problem with a member of the team giving the middle finger to the press.

On February 28, the Gifu District Public Prosecutors Office announced that Naoto Watanabe, a cadet for the Japan Self-Defense Forces, had been charged with robbery-homicide and attempted robbery-homicide in the shooting of a male member of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force at the Hino basic range in Gifu City last June.

The suspect fired an automatic rifle to rob ammunition during target practice last June. He allegedly killed Chief Petty Officer Yasuchika Kikumatsu (52 at the time) and 2nd Sgt. Kosuke Yashiro (25), and seriously wounded 3rd Sgt. Yusuke Hara (26). Regarding this case, former JGSDF officer Shigenori Terui revealed, “The fact that there were three casualties is not surprising.

It is truly tragic that three people were killed.” I was also shocked to read in the news that a 19-year-old JGSDF member committed small-arms suicide at the Higashi Tachikawa Camp in April 2010. I am sorry to hear that the Gifu shooting incident might not have happened if we had been able to thoroughly examine what caused the suicide at that time.

When I was a member of the Self-Defense Forces, there were many layers of safety controls in place regarding the handling of guns and bullets, but nowadays, law-abiding spirit has become systematically lax. At the time of my employment, it was forbidden to carry a gun and bullets together, as it was against the Firearms Control Law.

Terui, who served in the Self-Defense Forces for 10 years starting in 1995, said, “There are some differences depending on the garrison,” and he described the rules that were followed at the time.

The rifles carried by the garrison security guards did not contain live ammunition. Even when working at the ammunition depot, they were required to carry a magazine with live ammunition for security, but they were not allowed to carry a gun and ammunition together, as this would be considered “aggravated possession” (a term of imprisonment of three years or more).

When a guard was on foot patrol away from the guard post, he or she was required to work in pairs, and if a commissioned officer was in charge, a sergeant was always in command of the other. The sergeant would carry a magazine with live ammunition, and the rifleman would carry a rifle. The sergeant would hand over the magazine to the rikushi when firing, and the rikushi would fire on the sergeant’s command. If a highly lethal gun was pointed outward, it could “kill” civilians; if it was pointed inward, it could “kill” civilians. The reason why the Self-Defense Force officers in peacetime complied with the Firearms Control Law, just like the Japanese citizens, was to prevent harm.

Indeed, the Firearms Control Law, as revealed by Terui, states the following. Article 31-3 of Chapter 5, “Penal Provisions,” clearly states that a person who breaks the gun possession regulations “carrying, transporting, or storing a gun together with a live package that is compatible with said gun, etc., or a metallic bullet and gunpowder that are compatible with said gun, etc., shall be punished with imprisonment for a definite term of not less than three years.

JGSDF Type 20 5.56 mm rifle

Although the practice of keeping rifles and ammunition together until the environment in which they should be fired was thoroughly enforced for “basic marksmanship training,” the shooting incident last June at the Hino basic firing range in Gifu City by defendant Watanabe is suspected of violating the Firearms Law, which calls for “systematic aggravated possession (fixed-term imprisonment of five years or more).

The understanding of the sovereign people of Japan must be obtained in order for the Firearms Law to be exempted from the law, which allows for the aggravated possession of firearms by Self-Defense Force personnel even in peacetime, if necessary. How is it that the dangerous carrying of guns has been allowed without this being done? Mr. Terui continues.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2009. As a counterterrorism measure, one member of the team was allowed to carry a gun and ammunition together as a means to respond quickly in the event of an attack. After the Games were over, they should have reverted to the previous practice or amended the rules with the consent of the public, but this led to increasingly lax control.

If they had returned to the previous practice, the suicide of a 19-year-old JSDF member in 1947 and the incident in Gifu last year would not have happened. Although the details of gun and ammunition control differ from one person to another, the SDF personnel, who declare in their oath of service that they will “abide by the Constitution and laws of Japan,” strictly observe the Firearms Control Law in peacetime, and are exempted from its application in an emergency, and therefore are allowed to carry highly lethal guns by individual members. If the current situation continues, we cannot deny the possibility that a large number of ordinary citizens will be killed.

Incidentally, the trial of Watanabe, the suspect who was killed and wounded in June, will soon begin, but according to the officials, there has been no punishment so far to hold the person responsible for the shooting range at that time accountable. Even if the Watanabe suspects are brought to justice, the possibility that the muzzle of a gun will be pointed at the general public will not be reduced, and this will not solve the fundamental problem. Whether or not personnel changes are made, unless the SDF as a whole urgently revises its “rules for handling guns and bullets,” tragedies will occur again.

  • PHOTO. Tomoyuki Hanai (1st photo) Kyodo News (2nd photo)

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