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EDITORIAL | Probe Into Shooting Incident Should Not Impede GSDF Training

After the June 14 incident, GSDF has suspended shooting and bombing drills. But excessive withdrawal and restraint in training could lead to new accidents.

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This is the shooting range where a Self-Defense Force cadet opened fire, killing and injuring SDF personnel on June 14. At the Ground Self-Defense Force Hino Basic Firing Range in Gifu City.(© Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

A Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) firearm meant to protect the people of Japan was instead aimed at allies. This is an incident that should never have happened. Now, a thorough investigation must be undertaken to determine why the shooting took place.

An 18-year-old cadet fired his automatic rifle at GSDF officers during a live-fire training session on June 14. The incident took place at the GSDF Hino firing range in Gifu Prefecture. Two GSDF officers died in the shooting and a third was seriously injured. The three casualties were all in charge of instructing GSDF cadets.

The scene on June 14 at the Ground Self-Defense Force Hino Basic Firing Range in Gifu City. © Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

Investigating the Cause

General Yasunori Morishita, chief of staff of the GSDF, held a news conference later the same day. "An incident like this should never have occurred within an organization handling weapons," he said, apologizing for the shooting. Morishita added that the GSDF would set up an investigation committee in collaboration with the Gifu Prefectural Police to determine the cause of the incident.

At the time of the shooting, about 70 GSDF trainees and around 50 GSDF leadership personnel, including instructors, were participating in training exercises at the firing range. The 18-year-old man was believed to have fired his gun soon after the training started.

In shooting exercises, each trainee is usually assigned an instructor. The instructor confirms that the gun is being held properly and performs safety checks. Only then, just before the exercise begins, the instructor hands the ammunition to the cadet. 

A view of the Hino firearms training center on June 14 at the Ground Self-Defense Force Hino Basic Firing Range in Gifu City. © Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

Was It Unavoidable?

Double and triple safety mechanisms are in place in the handling of firearms, according to GSDF sources. Furthermore, it is strictly enforced that the muzzle should never be pointed at people.

But these are measures to prevent accidents, not malicious shootings. According to the Gifu Prefectural Police, the 18-year-old man said that he was scolded by a 52-year-old instructor. The instructor is one of those who died in the shooting. 

If the shooting was intentional, there would have been no real way to prevent the incident. The same is true for the fact that the GSDF personnel were not wearing bulletproof vests at that time. That is not a cause for any blame at all.

If the motive for the shooting was a grudge, there is no choice but to wait for the results of the investigations. Both the GSDF and prefectural police are inquiring into the details of the incident. Self-Defense Force training requires a certain discipline. But if it becomes unreasonably strict, it should be addressed as an organizational problem.

That is why a thorough verification of the facts is required.

Flower offerings are left at the Hino GSDF firearms training center on June 15. © Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

Getting Back to the GSDF's Mission

In the wake of the June 14 incident, shooting and bombing drills have been suspended at all GSDF facilities throughout the country. However, these training practices are carried out precisely because preparedness is essential in a national emergency. Excessive withdrawal and restraint in training could lead to new accidents.

The Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces must take the shooting incident seriously. They must thoroughly investigate its cause and prevent any recurrence. Moreover, they must swiftly restore the GSDF's readiness posture to protect the country and the people. 

That is the GSDF's original mission. The resumption of regular training for this purpose should also be expedited.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun