A cap on ammunition, a cumbersome procedure for getting firearms permission, barcodes for each firearm and every package of bullets that will enter the country, and a possible penalty if the lockers are left open. For the shooters competing at this year’s Olympics, dealing with Japan’s gun laws, considered to be among the strictest in the world, is likely to be as tricky as competing at the Games itself.
According to a guide published by the organising committee, every shooter competing at the Olympics will be allowed to carry only 800 rounds of ammunition each, significantly less than the previous Games and other international events. Additionally, the ammunition will have to be stored in a locker that will be provided to each at the venue, failing which he/she can be charged with breaking Japanese laws. “The maximum number of ammunition that can be stored in the locker is 800 per person under Japanese law. Any further ammunition cannot be stored for any reason. Those who have forgotten to lock the locker or store more than 800 rounds of ammunition might be charged with breaking the law,” the guide stated. The restrictions on carrying ammunition mean that if Indian shooters reach Tokyo a week before the Games begin — as they did at the Rio Olympics four years ago — chances are they will run out of ammunition before their event starts.
Consequently, their road to Tokyo will be via the South Korean port city of Changwon. “We have been informed that an individual can carry a maximum of 800 rounds to Japan so we are planning accordingly. Before the Olympics, we will train in a nearby country, mostly South Korea, and then proceed to Tokyo,” National Rifle Association of India secretary Rajiv Bhatia said.
The prescribed number, according to pistol coach Samresh Jung, is enough for match day and training on eve of the competition. For instance, in 50m rifle 3-position – which needs a .22 bullet – a shooter uses 120 rounds during the qualification round and approximately 40 to set their sights. If the shooter advances to the final, he will need 45 rounds for the match and another 15 at least for sighting. Most shooters also prefer keeping spares, in case of ammo failure. “So on a match day, you need around 250 rounds in total,” Jung added. “But if you are reaching there four days or a week in advance, you need to have enough ammo; 800 is less since you end up shooting 100 rounds per day at least.”
For 25m rapid fire pistol, the ammo requirement can reach up to 400 per day, especially during a long and intense session, given that five shots are fired in the space of four seconds. In normal circumstances, shooters are allowed to carry 5kg ammunition in flight, which roughly comes to around 1,200 rounds.
During long training stints abroad, like the 15-day camp in Doha before last year’s Asian Championship, shooters buy ammunition that is available on site. “This being Olympics, though, everybody would want to carry their tested ammo,” Jung said. Changwon has been identified as a possible base from where Indian shooters will launch their Tokyo campaign. However, before finalising it, the plan will first be trialled ahead of the Tokyo Olympics test event in April. “We want to see how it works out logistically,” Jung said. “I would like to have fewer challenges like these.”
Ammunition, however, is just one of the challenges. Japan’s strict gun laws are seen as the reason why they have barely hosted international shooting tournaments in the past. The country has hosted the World Cup just twice – in 1995 (big bore) and 1999 (trap) – apart from four Asian Championships.
How Japan’s gun laws are one of the strictest in the world
India’s liberal gun laws are seen as a reason behind the country’s shooters are winning international gold medals while they are still in their teens. Pistol shooter Saurabh Chaudhary, for instance, was just 16 when he set a world record. In Japan, that is the minimum age to start learning the sport. Until then, they use laser rifle and pistols. According to the BBC, Japan is the first nation to impose gun laws in the whole world. The 1958 draft of the laws states that 'no person shall possess a firearm.' And those who wish to, for sporting or safety purpose, need to pass a laborious process: attend an all-day class, pass a written test, achieve at least 95 percent accuracy in firing test apart from appearing for police interviews, and proving mental fitness. The strict laws are credited for the country having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. At the same time, they are also the reason why Japan has barely hosted international shooting tournaments in the past.
An Indian shooter who had travelled to Saitama for 2017 edition of the continental event, says the customs officials at the airport counted every bullet they carried.
“It took more than an hour for us just to leave the airport,” the shooter said. While a physical inspection of firearms and ammo is unlikely during the Olympics, the shooters will be given QR codes, without which they will not be able to access their own weapons.
The tedious process isn’t uncommon in Japan. During the World Cup in Delhi last year, the country’s rifle coach Goran Maksimovic had spoken about the ‘strange’ situations that emerge because of the gun laws. For instance, he was not allowed to even a rifle – even inside the shooting range – until he got a firearms license.
And to procure a license, he had to undergo a lengthy process, which included appearing for a police interview, sitting for a written exam, passing a firing test and submitting a doctor’s certificate stating his mental fitness.
Though not as lengthy, all Tokyo-bound shooters, too, will have to go through a similar procedure to obtain permission that will be required to compete at the Games. “…in case the information submitted to Tokyo 2020 is not correct, or there is any necessary information missing by the deadline, the athlete will not receive a permission and therefore cannot participate in the Games,” the organisers’ handbook warned.