Thursday, April 19, 2007


When Nagasaki's mayor was gunned down, it was not much of a surprise that a gangster was arrested. In a country where regular citizens face strict gun laws, the mob does most of the shooting.

Itcho Ito, 61, died early Wednesday after being shot twice in the back Tuesday evening. Tetsuya Shiroo, a senior member of the top underworld syndicate, Yamaguchi-gumi, was captured at the scene and owned up to the assassination, police said.

"This murder, which took place in the middle of an election campaign, is a threat to democracy," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday. "Though Japanese law enforcement is already severe by international standards, we must clamp down on gun crime even further."

The killing -- reportedly linked to Shiroo's demands for city compensation for car damage caused by a pothole -- focused attention on the role of the yakuza in the country's rare shootings.

Of the 53 gun attacks reported in 2006, 36 were blamed on organized crime groups, the National Police Agency said.

Handguns are strictly banned. Only police and some others with job-related reasons can own them. Hunting rifles are strictly regulated.

But the mob has the money, numbers and international connections to run guns.

Even fellow gangsters seemed to think Shiroo had gone too far.

Motohisa Mizuta, leader of Suishin-kai -- Shiroo's Yamaguchi-gumi branch -- notified police Wednesday that the branch was disbanding, according to Nagasaki police official Koji Minami.

Minami gave no reason, but said Suishin-kai most likely "wanted to take responsibility" for the slaying.

Tuesday's attack came despite a sharp drop in shootings in recent years.

The number of reported gun attacks have plunged from 158 in 2002 -- with 70 percent blamed on yakuza -- to 53 last year.

The number of illegal guns seized by police dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2002 to 2006, when 458 firearms were seized.

Even gangsters prefer knives for mob hits, because gun murders typically carry heavier sentences. Instead, mobsters sometimes use guns for intimidation, for example shooting the outside of an office to warn those inside.

Still, public concern remains high amid a widely publicized turf war between Japan's two largest underworld gangs earlier this year. The feud ended a yearlong lull in gang violence.

The boss of a gang affiliated with Tokyo-based Sumiyoshi-kai was shot dead in February, in a killing believed to have prompted at least three more shootings at gangland headquarters in Tokyo.

"I want the law to protect the general public," said Shinichi Tada, a 44-year-old manufacturing company worker in Tokyo.

"I do not want Japan to be like the U.S.," he added, referring to Monday's massacre in Virginia Tech University, where a lone gunman killed 32 people and then himself.

Yakuza are typically involved in real estate and construction kickback schemes, extortion, gambling, the sex industry, drug-trafficking and gunrunning.

Noriyoshi Takemura, criminologist at Toin University in Yokohama, said tight weapons laws make Japan an attractive market for gunrunners.

"There are not many guns made in Japan. The tighter the control is, the higher the price goes up," he said.

Tuesday's attack appeared linked to a dispute between Shiroo and the city. Shiroo reportedly clashed with city officials in 2003 after his car was damaged when he drove into a hole at a public works site.

In a typical mob extortion attempt, he tried unsuccessfully to get compensation from the city after his insurer refused to pay, NHK said, adding that Shiroo intended to kill himself after shooting Ito.

GUNS and possession of these items continue to rise at an alarming rate. It is said that even kids can own one. The lax in procurement of such deadly weapon makes America one of the world's most dangerous place, next to Iraq and Afgahnistan.
It is ironic, moreoever that the US remains one of the 5 world's heaviest suppliers of arms to Africa and other places where wars continue to kill millions....


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