700,000 illegal airsoft guns in circulation
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Only one-eighth of remodeled airsoft guns outlawed in August under the revised Firearms and Swords Control Law in August have been disposed of or returned to their original condition, a National Police Agency survey has found.
Airsoft is a military simulation sport. Airsoft guns, typically replicas of real firearms, fire spherical plastic pellets.
According to the NPA, there are about 800,000 remodeled airsoft guns subject to the revision in Japan, but only about 100,000 of them have been confirmed to have been discarded or modified to reduce their muzzle energy. The remaining 700,000 are believed to be owned by gun enthusiasts.
The airsoft guns in question are remodeled versions of manufactured products, and the makers do not have a clear idea of who the owners are. Some airsoft gun makers plan to run TV commercials to publicize the revision, while asking police not to immediately crack down on illegal gun ownership, saying some people may still be unaware of the revision.
The revision was put into effect after cars were hit by remodeled airsoft pellets in September 2005 in Osaka and Wakayama prefectures.
Airsoft guns subject to the revision are those with pellets measuring at least six millimeters in diameter and can penetrate an aluminum can when fired from a distance of one meter. Those found in possession of such weapons are subject to a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of up to 300,000 yen.
Manufacturer groups such as Air Soft Gun Kyokai (ASGK) estimate that of the 4.5 million to 5 million airsoft guns in the nation, about 800,000 remodeled ones became illegal following the revision.
The NPA decided that the six months after the revision would be a transitional period, and if illegal airsoft guns were discarded or remodified to bring their muzzle energy within the legal limit during that period, the owners would not face a penalty.
The transitional period ended on Feb. 20, and the NPA found that only about 100 remodeled airsoft guns were brought to police stations to be disposed of during the period, and that only about 100,000 such guns were fixed by manufacturers to lower their firepower.
An NPA official said, "The transition period is over, so if we find someone who owns such an [illegal] airsoft gun, the person will have to be penalized."
On March 20, the Metropolitan Police Department sent papers to prosecutors on a 28-year-old man of Kanagawa Prefecture on suspicion of possessing two remodeled airsoft guns. The MPD found the man bought one of the guns when he was in primary school.
Remodeled air guns usually sell at high prices after being fitted with stronger springs or having their air canister replaced with a carbon dioxide one.
But the ASGK said, "Airsoft guns are toys, so we don't conduct follow-up checks on customers."
The Japan Air Sports Gun Association, comprising three air gun manufacturers, will commission TV commercials showing that airsoft guns with a certain muzzle energy are illegal.
The association also has started asking police to show an understanding attitude if owners voluntarily come forward to ask about how to dispose of their airsoft gun or weaken their gun's firepower.
(Mar. 31, 2007)