Yesterday the kids from the elementary and junior high schools in the area trudged home in groups accompanied by their teachers. It's an exercise they perform from time to time in preparation for an emergency situation. Somehow it sort of teaches the notion that there is safety in numbers. That lesson hit close to home early Monday morning when the lifeless body of a seventy two year old man was found sitting on a bench in nearby Ushioda Park with a bullet lodged in his head. In addition to prompting local schools to implement the well rehearsed precaution of returning home in designated groups, the discovery has put the whole community on alert.
Homicide is a relatively rare occurrence here. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2008 (an average year) there were six hundred and forty six murders in Japan. While I could easily be wrong, I think that means roughly 0.5 out of every one hundred thousand people were murdered that year. About 1.8 percent, or eleven, of those victims were killed with a firearm.
That all sounds kind of scary until you look at the figures in comparison with most other countries. The homicide toll for the U.S. that same year rang in at 16,465 (5.4 out of every 100,000 people). Out of that number, 11,030, or sixty seven percent were shot with a gun.
I can't definitively explain the huge difference in the figures. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a lesson that Japan could offer the U.S. and other countries around the world in how to keep more of their citizens from being shot to death. One of the factors in the overall equation might well be Japan's strict gun control regulations. While many in the U.S. and maybe elsewhere see gun control as a danger to liberty, I see safety in the numbers.