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Guns & Policing Movements


Governments serve as the structural framework for the functioning of most societies and have a wide range of responsibilities. While there are many types of governments, they are concerned about similar national issues from the economy to education to defense to health. Outside of the government itself, so many
other groups influence society. This includes, corporations, the media, nonprofits, clinics, lobbying groups, and people themselves. These groups have a lot of influence, but instead of representing a particular country or state or physical area, they often go beyond borders and represent a set of values or an ideology. As a result, these groups are called NON-STATE ACTORS because they are separate from the government or the state. Even though these non-state actors aren’t
“affiliated with, directed by, or funded through the government” they have a lot
of power to facilitate change. Keep in mind that a non-state actor in one
country may actually be controlled by the government in a different country. However, while non-state actors can be influenced by the government, they still have their own agendas. This can be clearly illustrated through the
role played by non-state actors in various social movements. A social movement is when a group of people and/or organizations work towards a common goal. This goal is oriented around social change over a long period of time. Often, this social movement doesn’t come
from within the government, but rather, outside of the government and this is where non-state
actors come in. Unfortunately, things aren’t always straightforward. Sometimes the non-state actor involved is
working with the social movement to promote change. Other times, the non-state actor is what the
people of a particular social movement are demanding action against. We will look at various examples around the
world of both of those cases. Gun control movements typically can be categorized
into two overarching groups based on their desired end goal. One category covers gun control reform movements
that aim to enact more restrictions on gun ownership and use, typically by advocating
for stricter laws and more extensive background checks. The second category includes the movements
that counter stricter gun laws and support the freedom of citizens to own, carry and/or
use guns. These two categories of gun control reform
movements are often both found within the same country: one movement is typically acting against the status quo and the other movement is working to preserve the status quo. Many modern gun control movements across the world geared towards increasing restrictions on access to guns were set in motion after
extreme acts of violence such as school shootings, extremist attacks, and massacres. Countries like Australia, the United Kingdom,
Norway, and Canada all tightened their gun laws directly in reaction to such incidents. Other countries like the United States and
the Czech Republic cite self-defense and/or their constitution as reasons why the right
to own a gun should be protected. As a result of the unique circumstances of
each country (its existing laws, its culture, its history, etc.), gun laws look slightly
different depending on the nation and there’s still no clear-cut answer as to what is the
best solution to limit gun violence. This is in part due to insufficient data on
gun violence, but also due to attempts to hold specific countries up as representative
examples for the rest of the world. Rather than attempting to make sweeping, summary statements about gun control movements across the world, we will look at Japan in detail—a
popular example cited in pro-gun control movements—to see what one country’s history and experiences
can illustrate about maintaining low rates of gun violence. Japan consistently has one of the lowest rates
of gun violence in the world and is therefore often cited as an example of how strict gun
laws lead to less violence. It is true that citizens have to go through
an extensive training process and background check in order to get a gun, but it’s not
impossible to own a gun. It’s also true that the Japanese police
force rarely carry guns, but this is also true in countries like Australia, New Zealand,
Iceland, United Kingdom, and Norway that have higher rates of gun violence. So what is it really that makes Japan unique? While we could trace Japan’s anti-gun attitude
extremely far back in history, many scholars specifically look towards post-WWII occupation
of Japan as the catalyst for Japan’s current state where guns are not very present in society. In the aftermath of World War II, Japan remained
occupied by allied forces, largely from the United States. The allied occupation forces were led by General
Douglas MacArthur who held the title of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). The allied forces exercised a lot of influence
over Japanese society in an attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ the country. One step they took was to demilitarize Japan
and ban Japanese citizens from owning guns, forcibly removing guns from the scene. Another step was to limit the use of established
martial arts (known as the Budo Ban) because martial arts was linked to ‘militaristic
and ultra nationalistic ideology’ according to the SCAP. Martial arts institutions like the Dai Nippon
Butoku Kai were also shut down because the schools had links to the Japanese military. While the Japanese police force was still
allowed to carry simple guns, the police were accustomed to using martial arts for various
reasons. To name a few, Japanese police traditionally
received more training in martial arts than they did with firearms, they viewed using
firearms as more ‘cowardly,’ and Japanese police culture emphasizes harm reduction,
even when pursuing a criminal or when acting in self-defense.5 Therefore, since citizens
weren’t allowed access to guns, most crimes weren’t being committed with guns and the
Japanese police was hesitant to use disproportionate force (i.e. their guns). As a result, the Japanese police was very
unequipped to deal with the many violent outbreaks that occurred post-war. Finally, in 1947, the Tokyo police bureau
convened a committee of non-state actors— martial arts experts—to create a new system
of self-defense so that Japanese police officers could be more adept at managing violent situations
and arrest criminals without using violence themselves, thereby sticking to policies of
minimizing harm caused to others. Named Taiho-Jutsu (which literally means ‘arresting
art’ in Japanese), this form of self-defense was codified into a manual later that year
and was officially published for police officers with great success. The manual was titled ‘Taiho-Jutsu Kihon
Kozo’ or ‘The Fundamentals of Taiho-Jutsu’. While the Budo Ban was lifted in 1950, few
citizens ended up going through the legal process to own a gun and this trend of low
rates of gun ownership across the board still holds true. While higher rates of illegal firearms began
emerging in the mid-1990’s, Japan has been able to retain its extremely low crime rate. Today, Japan still teaches Taiho-Jutsu to
its police force and continues to maintain a culture where gun use is de-emphasized in
favor of non-violent arrests using self-defense techniques that don’t require firearms. In summary, after World War II, Japan was
pushed to use firearms instead of martial arts. Instead of giving in and changing their philosophy,
the Japanese created Taiho-Jutsu to bridge the gaps between controlling crime, self-defense
and harm reduction. The police still use this technique and gun
violence in Japan remains extremely low.

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