Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Japan, it is Evidently Easier to Build a Gun from Scratch Than it is to Buy One: Shinya Tsukamoto’s Bullet Ballet; or, Thank God the Gunman’s Second Amendment Rights weren’t Infringed Upon

The poster for Shinya Tsukamoto's Bullet Ballet (1998).
In some countries, they don’t have shooting sprees.  Now, this could be for a variety of socio-economic-cultural reasons, but in some cases, the major factor is that people just don’t have access to guns.  Take Japan, for example.  If you’re living in Japan and you want to flip your shit and kill a bunch of people, you couldn’t get a gun even if you wanted to.  No, the Japanese mass murderer is reduced to going on a stabbing spree; now, these stabbing sprees can still be remarkably deadly—the Akihabara slashing of 2008 killed seven people—but if I had to choose between being attacked by a gun-wielding maniac and his knife-wielding counterpart, I would have to choose the guy with the knife.  Also, in Japan, these slashing sprees don’t happen that frequently, whereas we in the United States have had two major shooting sprees within the past month or so (and the New York police-accidentally-shooting-everyone thing), not to mention the day-to-day shootings that take place across the country.

Now, there’s not really a gun-control movement in this country anymore, or at least not an effective one, because the party of gun control—that would be your Democrats—have completely given up on the issue.  The gun nuts at the NRA just can’t process this; some of them are convinced that Obama must have some really draconian gun-control measures in the works for his second term.  But I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t want to touch the issue, and he never will.

Whenever I think about shooting sprees in the U.S., and the ease with which any lunatic can get a gun in this country, I always think back to Shinya Tsukamoto’s Bullet Ballet (1998), a film about a Japanese man who develops a fixation with guns after his girlfriend commits suicide with the firearm that she mysteriously acquires. I say mysteriously, because it is almost impossible to get a gun in Japan.  So the movie opens with people wondering, “How the hell did she get a gun?  Where do guns come from?” And I would say almost the first half of the movie is devoted to the quest of our protagonist, Goda—played by Tsukamoto himself—to acquire a gun.  He tries to make the acquaintance of gangsters from whom to buy a gun, he solicits strangers on the street whom he hopes might have a gun (I believe one of them is an African-American, which would accord nicely with Japanese racism), and he finally tries to build a gun himself, from scratch.  Unfortunately for him, building a gun turns out to be hard, and when he tries to use it against one of the above-mentioned gangsters, he finds that it only has the force of a pellet gun.

And all the while that I’m watching this, I’m thinking to myself, “This section of the movie—about thirty to forty minutes of it—could have been dispensed with within five minutes in an American film.  If this was an American movie, Tsukamoto’s character would have walked into a gun store, signed up for the background check, and then come back and walked out with his shiny new gun.  And you just wouldn’t have had a feature-length movie then.  I had a similar reaction to the people who thought that Juno had an anti-choice agenda because Juno doesn’t get an abortion, and I wanted to tell them, “Yeah, but if she had, the movie would have been like twenty minutes long and not terribly funny.” But that’s another matter.

So in Japan, we have a country where it’s so difficult to get a gun that a whole film can be built around a character’s efforts to do so.  Now there’s a “cultural difference,” and one that does not reflect well on the United States.  I’m aware that, if you look at all the American gun-owners, the vast, vast majority of them don’t go on shooting sprees and that shooting sprees are still comparatively rare in the United States.  But the fact of the matter is that in Japan and a number of other countries, they’re not just rare, they’re virtually non-existent.

But James, look at the Akihabara slashing: if somebody there had had a gun, they could have put a stop to the rampage much sooner.  Yes, potentially, but if Japan had the American approach to guns, it wouldn’t have been a stabbing spree, it would have been a shooting spree, and if that guy could kill seven people with just a knife, imagine what he could have done with a gun.

The argument gets made that if the U.S. were to significantly curtail gun ownership rights, it would only be taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, and that criminals would still have guns, because they’re criminals, and they don’t care about your laws.  And I can actually kind of see the logic here.  Because even if the U.S. were to ban guns now, the country is already saturated with them, which is not the case with Japan.  Another argument gets made, which I think was best articulated by William S. Burroughs: “Every time there’s a shooting, they want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.” Well, I hate to launch an ad hominem attack, but William Burroughs shot his wife in the face (drunkenly, not maliciously, but still), so he’s hardly one to talk.

I think it’s the self-righteousness of the NRA types that perturbs me more than anything else about this issue (well, aside from all the people getting shot; that’s obviously more perturbing).  Every time there’s a shooting like this—be it a psychopath in a movie theater or a neo-Nazi at a Sikh gurdwara—I always want to sarcastically say, “Well, this is tragic, but we can at least take some comfort in knowing that that lunatic’s second amendment rights weren’t infringed upon.” Because even if you’re broadly supportive of gun ownership rights, I should hope that you can at least admit that there’s something wrong when any lunatic, no matter how deranged, racist, or some combination thereof, can buy guns and ammo with ease (and the Colorado gunman had thousands of rounds of ammo; a Muslim cleric wrote a delightful letter to the editor in a Colorado newspaper saying, “Yeah, if I went online and tried to order that much ammo, the FBI would be busting down my door in like fifteen minutes.” So at least, thanks to atrocious American bigotry, at least some people would have more difficulty in acquiring an arsenal.) And all these guns were purchased legally.  Cho Seung-hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, perpetrator of the deadliest shooting spree in American history, bought all his guns and ammunition legally, having met all the stringent requirements needed to do so (he was an adult and he didn’t have a criminal record).

And seriously, gun people, what do you need all your fucking guns for? Self-defense? Really? When was the last time you shot someone in self-defense? Probably never, I’m guessing.  Hunting? Do you really need to kill things that bad?  Because I just want to put it out there that there are other countries with different attitudes to guns—Japan has been my big example here—and they seem to get along just fine without them.