You don’t have to be a world leader to mourn the assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The longest serving prime minister of his country, Abe was always the symbol of political Japan to me. He was just always the man.
As Asian Americans, whether immigrants or born here, we always keep an eye on the parallel universe of our lives. The ancestral home. We are always connected, be it China, Japan, India, the Philippines, whatever the country our DNA calls home. We pay attention. For example, I have written profusely about the Philippines and the recent return to power of a dictator’s family. Others always have an eye on Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan. We have relatives there. They look like us. There’s still some connection to us and to America, personally and politically.
We have history.
So when news of Abe’s death broke, even though I knew he was no longer prime minister, I was stuck in the past going back to Bush and Obama. I couldn’t recall the name of the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida.
Kishida spoke for us all when he said, “An act of cowardly barbarism has stolen Prime Minister Abe’s life. It is absolutely unallowable, and I once again condemn it with the strongest words.”
We all do. It’s more than rhetoric. All the world is feeling the sting of the bullet that killed Abe.
And we learn it doesn’t matter whether the target is intentional and specific, as in Japan’s former Prime Minister, or at random, as in the people at the Highland Park parade. People high, low, known, unknown, it doesn’t matter.
Gun violence is gun violence.
A bullet’s deed strikes deep into the heart of a society when the target is a world leader. When the target is someone unexpected, such as a person young or old enjoying the birthday of a free country, the feeling that reverberates is one of deep sadness and fear.
That it happens so often in our country and in the world is no reason to become inured to the thoughts and feelings that come up.
Because gun violence is gun violence. Whether it’s a single bullet, or a semi-automatic weapon. For Abe, who bled to death from wounds to the heart and neck, a bullet was efficient and deadly enough.
When it happens, we must always pause, be still, and allow ourselves to feel the shock that breaks our peace, our joy, our mission.
Because it is always a shock.
And then we must remember that feeling because that is what powers our continued advocacy for an end to gun violence.
It’s something that no one should ever have to feel again, but you know, we will.
LAWS DON’T FAIL, PEOPLE DO.
It will be pointed out that laws can’t stop gun violence. Look at Japan, they’ll say.
But laws there are effective.
In 2021, Japan’s National Police Agency reported just 10 gun-related shootings that contributed to one death and four injuries, according to the New York Times.
In Japan, getting a gun is almost as hard as applying to an Ivy League college, with no community college option. Hence, most people don’t even bother to get one. If not implicitly banned, guns are shunned–except for hunting. Hunting is allowed, and in 2020, the country had just over 190,000 licensed firearms.
Alabama by contrast, with one-twentieth of Japan’s population, has 194,920 registered guns.
When you take guns out of the mix, as they do in Japan, you have 10 gun-related shootings in the entire country in 2021.
Highland Park had 7 deaths and more than 30 injured on the Fourth of July.
Gun advocates will say an assault weapons ban in that town didn’t work. But that law was more symbolic since someone can just go to a neighboring area where the ban doesn’t apply.
The U.S. needs to restore a federal assault weapons ban, which has been shown to be effective in reducing mass shootings fatalities by as much as 40 percent.
In California, a state assault weapons ban became law in 1989 after Asian Americans were among the students shot and killed in a school shooting in Stockton, Calif. Though under challenge, the ban under California Attorney General Rob Bonta continues as law and keeps the state’s fatality rate due to gun violence among the lowest in the country.
What about flag laws? They may not have worked in Illinois when Bobby Crimo was able to buy guns and pass background checks, despite two past instances with police in 2019 and 2020.
But a study of California’s law released this June shows red flag laws have been effective, with mass shooting threats making up nearly 30% of the restraining orders.
Of the 58 mass shooting threats uncovered, six involved minors targeting schools.
Gun laws work. It’s humans who fail. It happened in Highland Park. And it happened in Japan.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.