Guns and Freedom
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Guns and Freedom


Over the past 25 years I have visited Japan on a regular basis. I’ve been asked the same question many times:  What kind of gun do you own? 

Because I’m an American, many Japanese simply assume that I must have a gun — all Americans have guns, don’t they?  Along with this sentiment, I also have often had people tell me that they would like to visit the United States, but it’s just too scary.  So much violence; so many guns. 

I have always responded by telling my friends that for the most part the U.S. is a very safe place.  It’s not like the movies, I tell them, and the only time I have ever see a gun is when I happen to run across a police officer.  In fact, one of the only places I have seen a gun (well a gun-case, as the gun cannot be shown in public) in the hands of a non-police officer is in Japan, when I encountered a group of men in my neighborhood heading out on a hunting trip early one morning.

With the horrors that occurred recently in Newtown, CT, I’m really not sure what to tell my friends in Japan these days.  At times, I have tried to explain the 2nd Amendment, but it really doesn’t make a great deal of sense to many of them.  What they don’t understand is why it is necessary to have guns in order to preserve freedom — the argument so many gun advocates profess. 

From a Japanese perspective, such ideas make little sense. They live in a free society in which guns are very tightly controlled in general.

I must admit, I’m having a great deal of trouble with this myself.  How do guns make a society free? 

Of course, the answer is that they don’t. 

Guns don’t ensure freedom, people do. 

Countries like Japan (and many others including Australia, England, etc.) have done quite well as democracies without an equivalent to the 2nd Amendment.  Part of the difficulty in comparing these countries is that the notion of freedom is somewhat different as compared with the U.S.  For many in Japan, freedom is not simply about free speech, freedom of the press, and voting, it is also about having a society that is safe and in which people support each other.   Many Americans tend to construct a concept of freedom as being associated with a lack of interference from government and other members of society. 

These different ideas about the nature of freedom contribute to the generation of distinct cultural attitudes about guns and gun control.  I am not going to argue in favor of one view of freedom over another, but I will make a simple point: the idea that guns are necessary to preserve freedom is empirically wrong.  Countries like Japan make it very clear that it is possible to have a free society while also maintaining strict control over guns. In fact, the Japanese recognize that widespread gun ownership decreases safety and security and, in turn, makes for a less free society.

John W. Traphagan is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

January 18, 2013 at 00:12

I reject the idea that freedom is a subjective term. I think the American brand of freedom is the best there is, and if it were not so, our country would not be the success that it is today. There are bigger countries than ours, which are at least equally strategically placed and resource rich. 
Explaining the second amendment to the Japanese is a fool's errand. Perhaps some Chinese might understand if you explained it as a kind of "mandate of heaven", in modern terms. But the Japanese rejected that part of confucianism, and the idea that the government cannot have a complete monopoly on force is something they cannot understand, because they never had an uprising like we had. Yes, the people who led ours were elites in many ways, like the samurai who fought in the Japanese civil war. But, the reality of it is, Japanese society never conceived of a free society where everyone was equal and not only did everyone have the freedom to say what they want, but that the culture itself supported that behavior to speak up… something Japanese culture supresses heavily. If you cannot even speak your mind in Japan without being considered rude and oafish, you certainly cannot carry a gun with which to defend yourself against the government or to replace it for your personal defense.

January 12, 2013 at 08:30

matt, i have no objection for hunters having being armed in the wild, but what about in the city? the latest news showed that there are sooo many people who have guns in the NYC itself! how many of these are actual hunters?

It seems that the most likely sense of defense guns gives to gun owner are against the threat from other guns owners. 

January 9, 2013 at 14:59

I don't think you can you trust anyone with a firearm not even family. firearms should be stopped in America. how many more children have to die before something is done about this.

January 6, 2013 at 04:12

Guns shouldn't  be accessed by everybody.a gun makes very person a potential murderer.rush of madness or frustration happen everywhere in the world.but without an assault rifle they end up in a homicide ,not a carnage like happens in the u.s. .
i d let only people with military background and without any PTSD ,to be approved to buy guns.
i m sorry but the second amendment was signed in a different historical contest,the government couldn't t ensure law enforcement everywhere and that s why they recognized the right of defending themselves with a rifle that people had at home anyways.
there 's  too much business involved and I m sure nothing is ever innate happen in the u.s.
that society sticks,too much to their conservative beliefs.

January 5, 2013 at 13:38

Just to make it clear, the countries that are mentioned ( Japan, England, Australia and the USA) ALL PERMIT CIVILIANS TO OWN GUNS for particular purposes. The difference is HOW it is regulated.  
I have encountered tough knife regulations in the UK. You need to show Proof of age to buy a knife. Something I thought strange.  In Japan you could buy a knife without any ID. Arms regulations differ according to context.
What I don't appreciate is the kind of enthusiasm held by some about gun ownership. I can understand the logic of owning a gun for self defence. But the gun as an icon for freedom is misplaced. The United States of America have a lot more to be proud of than that.

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