Photo/Illutration The vicinity of the crime scene early on May 26 (Takuya Isayama)

The shooting and stabbing rampage that left four people dead in Nagano Prefecture is a rare and unusually ghastly crime. Clarifying the factors behind this outrageous incident will prove vital to preventing similar incidents in the future.

A man was arrested on suspicion of fatally shooting a police officer in Nakano. Another police officer and two women were also killed, and prefectural police believe all four victims were slain by the same man, the 31-year-old eldest son of the Nakano municipal council’s chairman. The suspect holed up in his home with murder weapons.

It is distressing that police officers responsible for securing the safety of the local community lost their lives. As they rushed to the scene upon receiving an emergency call, the suspect pointed a gun at the police car and opened fire. The cruelty of the act is simply stunning.

According to the prefectural police department, the two officers had assumed they would be dealing with a “knife incident” and did not don bulletproof vests. If police had received information early on that the man was armed, they would almost certainly have responded to the situation differently.

The initial response of local police officers who rush to a crime scene is to arrest the suspect or suspects, protect the victims and collect evidence that could hold the key to solving the case. On the other hand, the site where a crime has just begun to unfold was fraught with risks and danger. In the days ahead, it will be crucial to carefully review the circumstances of the police officers’ initial response to the incident so as to ensure the safety of future operations.

This incident underscored afresh the horror of crimes involving guns.

One of the murdered women was left where she fell near the suspect’s home. Police were unable to get close to her and rescue her for more than 12 hours.

The suspect had a license to own a hunting rifle and possessed four guns, including a shotgun and a rifle. The registered purpose was hunting and target shooting. Koichi Tani, head of the National Public Safety Commission, said he had “not received any reports of problems” about the suspect’s gun license. 

A person seeking to possess a gun in Japan is required to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test. Even after a license is issued, a gun owner is required to submit regular reports on the use of the gun. At the time of license renewal, the owner is required to submit a doctor’s certificate attesting to their mental health. Law enforcement authorities must check whether these procedures for license issuance and renewal were properly followed in the case of the murder suspect.

Japan has strict gun regulations, which are said to be the primary reason for the nation’s low rate of gun crime. Still, gun crime does occur from time to time.

In January last year, a man living in Saitama Prefecture called for a doctor providing home-visit treatment services and fatally shot him and injured another with a shotgun. In 2007, a man fired a shotgun at a sports club in Nagasaki Prefecture, killing two people.

What is surprising is that all these incidents involved legally licensed guns. Fresh efforts should be made to bring gun crime closer to zero. Reviewing the eligibility screening process for gun possession would be a good start.

The city of Nakano, located in northern Nagano Prefecture, is known as one of the nations leading areas for mushrooms and is rich in nature. You never know when or where a major gun incident will happen. The latest shooting and stabbing spree should lead to a serious review of familiar crime prevention measures.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 27