Parents of slain teen prepare to pass gun control activism to next generation

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yomiuri ShimbunMasaichi and Mieko Hattori speak to the Yomiuri Shimbun in Minato Ward, Nagoya.

Nearly 30 years have passed since the fatal shooting in the United States of 16-year-old Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori.

Hattori’s parents Masaichi, 75, and Mieko, 74, have campaigned against gun violence since his death, and will hold a final lecture in Nagoya on Sunday, aiming to pass the baton of their activism to the next generation.

Although there is no end to the number of incidents around the world in which people’s lives are taken by guns, Hattori’s parents see hope in young people who are raising their voices to break the chain of tragedy.

On Oct. 17, 1992, just two months after arriving in Louisiana to study, Hattori visited a house that he thought was the location of a Halloween party. A resident of the house thought Hattori was an intruder. Armed with a gun, the man warned Hattori to “freeze” before fatally shooting the teenager.

The man was acquitted in a criminal trial, but he lost a civil lawsuit brought by Hattori’s parents, with the court rejecting the man’s plea of self-defense.

Hattori was a member of the rugby team at Aichi Prefectural Asahigaoka Senior High School. He had always been enthusiastic about “experiencing different cultures and had hoped to make the United States his second home,” partly due to the influence of his mother, who was teaching English to students at home.

After the shooting, his parents gave lectures in Japan and the United States, appealing for gun control. They have also hosted U.S. students in Japan, helping them experience life in Japan, a society where gun possession is strictly regulated.

Courtesy of Hattori family
Yoshihiro Hattori

In 1993, they met then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, submitting to the U.S. government the signatures of 1.82 million people from Japan and other countries. Soon afterward, regulatory legislation was passed into law in the United States, requiring criminal background checks on purchasers in gun sales.

And in June this year, the United States passed into law new gun control legislation that includes provisions for stricter identification and background checks on gun buyers, but drastic measures such as a ban on gun possession are still far off.

In July, more than 40 people were killed or wounded in a mass shooting at a parade in Illinois.

“Over the past 30 years, we’ve continued to take steps forward and backward,” Masaichi said.

In Japan, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was killed in July by a man armed with a homemade gun.

“Japan prides itself on its strict gun control regulations but loopholes have appeared,” Mieko said.

Hattori’s parents are now in their 70s and after 30 years of activism “think it’s about time to stop.” They said they think their son would praise their efforts.

“There are things that can be moved through the power of citizens. If we have the courage to speak out, we can change the world,” they plan to tell the audience on Sunday.

The Hattoris believe there are reasons to be hopeful, citing a growing momentum among young people on social media in support of a “gun-free world.”

“Little by little, the gun control movement has been advancing. We’d like to leave the rest of the work to younger people with new ideas,” Mieko said.