Guns and Acclimation

September 17th, 2009

I was raised in a country where handgun ownership is legal (America) and have lived 14 years in a country where it is illegal (Japan).

When I first came to Japan, people constantly asked me if I owned a gun in the states, and were amazed when I said “no” (which leads me to wonder why they asked if I had a gun, instead of asking what *kind* of gun I owned, considering that they thought it obvious that of course I owned one). They were further amazed when I said that not only did I not have a gun, but I never saw a pistol except in the holster of a policeman, on TV, or behind glass in a store.

As time passes, memory grows hazy, so I had reached the point where I was convinced that the whole concept of “civilian ownership of guns” had never really affected me…until I just remembered something a few minutes ago:

When I first came to Japan, for an entire year, I had an instinctual aversion to people putting their hands in their inside jacket pockets and not immediately pulling out their wallet or cell phone. Just simple things, like reaching for a cell phone but being lost in conversation and leaving ones hand there for a few seconds was enough to get my heart racing.

Sure, I’d never *seen* a pistol “in the wild” in America, but I had seen, more than once, the *implication* of a pistol. The one I remember most vividly was in university, going out after midnight with some friends to buy a delicious taco from the taco truck. There was always a strange mix of people there (my university was in a bad area of town). One day, there was a pretty thuggy looking guy, and another guy in a designer Italian suit, looking very much the part of a rich drug dealer or otherwise wealthy criminal. The two got into an argument, and the guy in the nice suit put his hand in his inside suit pocket…and left it there. We still hadn’t ordered our tacos, but one of the quicker heads in my group said “Guys, I think we should leave now”. We turned and walked away. We never heard shots, so apparently the argument ended peacefully, but there’s no way the suit guy was threatening the thug guy with a business card or cell phone. Maybe he had a gun, and maybe he was pretending to have a gun, but “I have my hand in my inside coat pocket” was clearly *meant* to indicate “I have a gun.”

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