With a recent series of airsoft gun shootings nationwide and weak regulations self-imposed by the industry, it is time lawmakers reviewed the current firearms law to better restrict sales, thereby preventing the use of these more powerful, potentially deadly, weapons.
The possession or use of an airsoft gun--a toy that fires a plastic pellet with low-pressure air or gas--is not prohibited by the Firearms and Swords Control Law as long as the owner of the gun does not use it to cause harm. The hobby has attracted aficionados from a wide age range, from children to the elderly.
Nationally, about 1.2 million airsoft guns are in circulation, commonly used in increasingly popular survival games, in which participants wear camouflage and goggles and arm themselves with the air-powered firearms, according to ASGK, an association comprising 18 toy gun manufacturers.
However, there recently have been a number of incidents involving remodeled airsoft guns nationwide.
On Sept. 25, a car was hit by airsoft pellets that shattered its windows along the Hanwa Expressway in Wakayama. Three days later, a truck traveling through Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, on the Meishin Expressway, was shot at with what was thought to be an airsoft gun and the driver's seat window was smashed.
Stock airsoft guns have limited power--if shot at a person, the pellets produce mild irritation and redness on the skin.
But airsoft guns can be "tricked out" by replacing low-pressure air canisters with those containing carbon dioxide gas, potentially resulting in a deadly firearm.
"With the proliferation of the Internet auction, parts are easily obtained for upgrading the guns," a senior official at the Metropolitan Police Department said.
In September, in the first case of its kind, the MPD arrested a manufacturer on suspicion of violating the Firearms and Swords Control Law by selling upgrade parts.
The aim of the arrest, according to sources, was to make manufacturers more aware of the impact of selling upgrade parts.
Yahoo Japan Corp., one of the nation's top online auction houses, has decided it will prohibit the sale of upgraded airsoft guns or parts clearly intended for adding power to the weapon.
However, there are fundamental problems in solving the problem. About 90 percent of illegal remodeled airsoft guns confiscated by the MPD since spring were produced by a manufacturer in Aichi Prefecture.
The device on the gun that regulates the inflow of the carbon dioxide gas had been reinforced so it could withstand the upgrades, the sources said.
The ASGK has set up its own restriction on upgrading the gun's body for upgrading purposes. But the Aichi maker is not a member of the organization, and the police cannot easily charge those who have only upgraded the gas injection device.
Despite frequent crimes involving airsoft guns, parts manufacturers continue to meet the demands of airsoft fanatics who decide to upgrade their guns, despite knowing full well that to do so was illegal.
As long as the association's self-imposed restrictions continue to lack bite, relevant laws, including the Firearms and Swords Control Law, must be reviewed so the sales of parts can be better controlled.