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Olympic Misfire: Japan's Strict Gun Laws Present Problems for Competitors

By: Peter Suciu

Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and that could present some serious problems for Olympic athletes who plan to head to the Tokyo games this summer.

This isn't the first time that local legislation has hampered events.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, special dispensation had to be granted by the UK government, while the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) had to provide specialized security criteria to allow certain events to go ahead. Those included the 25meter and 50meter shooting events, as the class of handguns used are prohibited by Her Majesty's Government.

Shooting sports have also been in the crosshairs of Olympic organizers.

In 2017, it was announced by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF), the governing body for Olympic-style shooting competitions, that Men's Double Trap, Men's 50meter Rifle Prone and Men's 50meter pistol events would be removed – to make room for more youthful and "urban-focused" events, including Sport Climbing, Skateboarding, Basketball 3x3, and BMX Freestyle.

Additionally, to meet the new 10,500-athlete cap – set even before the pandemic – the quota of shooting athletes at Tokyo 2020 was set at just 360, down from 390 at the 2016 Summer Rio Games.

The 50m Rifle Prone has been a staple of the Olympics since 1912, while the 50m Pistol – commonly called Free Pistol – has been in the games since 1896, and in both cases Americans won the first gold medal awarded for the events. Men's Double Trap only made its Olympic debut in 1996 with the U.S. picking up gold at the 2008 Summer Beijing Olympics.

Bigger Problems in Tokyo

It isn't just that fewer events are scheduled for Tokyo, but that in some cases, the rules in Japan could impact the competition. It was recently reported by the French news media that coaches can't touch a firearm, while ammunition is limited.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) via France24.com quoted Goran Maksimovic, a Serbian shooting coach and gold-medalist from the 1988 Summer Seoul Olympic Games, who said he couldn't test the trigger pull for those on his team. The coach said he has had to work with Japanese assistants as intermediaries when he is coaching the shooting team.

During the actual games, coaches can only help with "minor repairs," but only if the athlete is holding the firearm.

Moreover, rules had to be relaxed so that technical officials could handle the firearms and inspect the ammunition under the ISSF rules.

Ammunition Limits

Another issue the athletes face is that Japan has set a limit of 800 rounds of ammunition per shooter, which is fewer than previous Olympic Games and other international competitions. Organizers reportedly have a "complex plan" in place ensure that shooters don't run out of ammunition, but that required a special piece of legislation.

Ammunition will need to be shipping into the country via a designated contractor, and then stored outside the shooting venue. While teams will be buy ammunition at the Olympic shooting range, they will have to settle for whatever is available AFP reported.

According to reports, however, it is very top-quality ammunition, and the Japanese aren't known to cut corners, so many of the teams seemed satisfied by the compromise.

Holding Back the Host

It is typically expected that the host country has certain "advantages." For one, the athletes don't have to travel as far, they're more familiar with the local customs, and can train on "home turf."

Those advantages, though, are countered by the strict gun laws – and Japan is already anything but a powerhouse in the shooting sports. Children must be 10-years-old before they can even use an air gun.

By comparison, other Asian nations, notably the Thailand, Indonesia, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) have become serious when it comes to shooting sports. Rio 2016 bronze medalist Li Yuehong of the PRC is among those who will make a return to the Olympics. Unlike previous Olympic Games, however, host nation Japan was guaranteed twelve quota places, with one in each of the individual shooting events. Whether the automatic qualification matters is yet to be seen.

The shooting competitions at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be held from July 24 to August 2, 2021 at the Asaka Shooting Range. It served as the site of the Imperial Japanese Junior Military Academy from 1941 to 1945 and was used as a United States Army Camp (South Camp Drake) from 1945 to 1960. The Asaka Shooting Range was constructed for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

 
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