Japanese mom calls for gun control in Louisiana

Mieko Hattori speaks out 20 years after her son's death

By Nicholas Nehamas

A picture of Yoshi Hattori. (Screenshot from a TV news report by NHK World News)

In 1992, a Japanese exchange student named Yoshihiro Hattori was accidentally shot dead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Earlier this week, his mother came back to the city to speak out against gun violence in America. Around 100 people attended a memorial for her son, called Yoshi, who attended a local high school for a year.

“I felt after my son’s tragedy that his death should not be in vain,” said Mieko Hattori to the The Baton Rouge Advocate. Hattori has become an advocate for gun safety laws since Yoshi was killed.

According to the The Japan Times, Mieko expressed shock that, if anything, America’s gun culture has become even more permissive with the passage of “stand-your-ground” laws in 30 states. Mieko added that she believes too many Americans live in fear, comparing her son’s death to the killing of the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.

“If people feel safe, they wouldn’t carry guns,” she said at a screening for “The Shot Heard Around the World,” an American documentary about her son’s death.

The U.S. has the world’s highest rate of gun ownership and the highest rate of gun violence. There have been 44 multiple shootings in America this year alone. In the latest, on Sunday, a gunman in Wisconsin shot seven people at a day spa, killing three. Another chilling statistic: since 2001, 5,000 Chicagoans have died as a result of gun violence. In the same time, 2,000 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

Gun control advocates argue lengthier waiting periods, more thorough background checks and a ban on high-capacity clips would curb violence. Others say these regulations would violate the 2nd Amendment.

Japan is America’s polar opposite: with limited exceptions, it’s almost impossible to own or buy a gun. According to the The Atlantic, that’s led to a very low rate of gun violence. In Japan, 11 people were killed in gun-related homicides in 2008. That same year in the U.S., the number was over 12,000.

Would gun control laws have saved Yoshi’s life? It’s hard to say. His story is tragic, a case of being on the wrong end of a gun held by a man perhaps too eager to pull the trigger.

A Halloween nightmare

In October of 1992, Yoshi, then 16, and a friend knocked on Rodney Peairs’ door in Baton Rouge expecting to find a Halloween party. They had the wrong address. Peairs shot Yoshi, who was wearing a costume, thinking he meant to rob the house.

A jury found Peairs not guilty of manslaughter by reason of self-defense, though he was held liable in a civil suit.


Mieko says it’s up to families who have suffered tragedies from gun violence to take the lead in promoting safe regulation.

“I hope families of the victims with truly heartbreaking experiences will take a step [toward lobbying for gun control],” she said. “I would like to send a word of encouragement from Japan.”

Americans in the audience agreed.

“I’m here in support because I am a mother of two male children, 15 and 16,” one attendee told the Advocate. “I do fear for them as a mother. There is a whole culture of violence.”

“We need to rethink who gets a gun and temper the right to have a gun with the right to live in peace,” added another attendee.

But in today’s interconnected world, global dialogue is the new reality, and not everyone thinks gun control is the answer.

Writing to the Japan Times from Braintree, Vermont, Jerome Kavanaugh says in a letter:

I have always been heart-sickened by the death of this young man. Who knows what he could have created for his nation, his people, the world? That being said, those firearms [Mieko Hattori] wants removed were a fundamental reason one of her countrymen refused to consider invading the United States in 1941. As Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto was supposed to have said, “I would never invade America, there is a gun behind every blade of grass.”

To Kavanaugh, the 2nd Amendment is our “heritage” and secures for Americans an inviolable right, no matter what the price. “A tragedy on a darkened sidewalk is just that, a tragedy,” he continues. “If he had been run down by . . . some drunk driver, would this conversation even be happening?”

But Yoshi wasn’t hit by a car — he was shot. And Mieko Hattori, who said Yoshi fell in love with Baton Rouge and its people, won’t stop trying to make something positive come out of her son’s tragic death.