Japan is normally so safe that today’s knife attack was the worst mass assault since WWII

A knife-wielding man killed 19 and injured dozens at a center for people with mental disabilities in Japan today (July 26). The attack took place in Sagamihara, a small town near Tokyo, with staff calling police early morning local time to report the attacker’s presence in the building.

The 26-year-old man, a former employee of the center, killed the patients as they slept. Upon reading letters he’d written, it became clear to authorities he’d been contemplating killing disabled people for months. In one he wrote that he wanted “a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanized, with their guardians’ consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society.”

Assaults like this are exceedingly rare in Japan, to the point where the attack today was the nation’s worst mass-casualty attack in the postwar era. Japan is one of the world’s safest nations.

In the US, mass assaults are far more common than in Japan. Last month at a gay nightclub in Florida a man shot 50 dead in injured 53. In December 2015 a shooter in San Bernardino, California killed 14 at a social services center. In 2012 a gunman killed over two dozen in an elementary school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Any of these incidents would have been the worst-ever mass assault in Japan’s postwar era.

While there are many factors behind Japan’s relative safety, one is likely the nation’s strict gun control. Japan recorded six gun-related deaths in 2014.

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