Japanese alarm at wave of copycat shootings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am

A rise in the number of shootings in Japan has opened a new discussion on gun ownership - even though the weapons being fired are nothing more than air guns.

In the latest incident on Tuesday night, a 47-year-old man was arrested in the central Japanese town of Kyotanabe for repeatedly firing an air rifle at houses and cars.

'I did it to take my mind off things,' the Mainichi newspaper quoted the unnamed man as telling police.

Gun crime is relatively uncommon in Japan and usually involves members of rival underworld groups shooting at each other. Semi-automatic weapons or sawn-off shotguns are unheard of.

Police, however, fear that owners are modifying air guns to make them more powerful and a fatality is a real possibility.

'We are very worried that someone might be seriously injured or worse, especially if it is an incident involving people shooting from cars,' said Toshie Tanaka, a spokeswoman for the Drug and Firearms Control Division of the National Police Agency.

'The guns are being made stronger and modified to take steel balls rather than plastic pellets.

'There have been at least 20 incidents across Japan to date, and the people who have been arrested mostly say they are copying what other people are doing, just for fun.'

The copycat shootings have apparently been triggered by an attack on cars and a motorcyclist in Wakayama prefecture, central Japan, in August.

Kenji Kamizono, 25, was arrested last Friday for shooting at other vehicles on expressways on at least three occasions, apparently at random.