Stop! Hammer crime!

Weapons are taken very seriously in Japan, to the point that it’s almost impossible to get a handgun here unless a police officer happens to forget one in a restroom. This leaves the issue of where to draw the line between “tool” and “weapon” since most instruments of construction are also conveniently effective at bashing skulls.

This dilemma played out in Kyoto last October, much to the dismay of a man in his 70s who was pulled over by police. During the stop, the officer noticed a hammer tucked in a pocket behind the front passenger seat. Suspecting this was a weapon and thus a violation of the Minor Offences Act, the officer asked the senior to go to the police station for further questioning. He agreed and was held at the station for approximately three hours, all the time explaining repeatedly that the purpose of the hammer was to break the window in the event he was trapped in the car due to flooding or other disasters.

Given the frequency of heavy rains in Japan as well as the floods and landslides they trigger, that seemed like a perfectly good reason to carry a hammer in a car. So much so, in fact, that specially designed “escape hammers” are sold that can break windows more easily than conventional ones.

▼ Frankly, these escape hammers look like they’d be a pretty effective weapon too

This was where the police got suspicious. The man had a standard 30-centimeter (12-inch) long, 450-gram (one-pound) wooden handle hammer rather than a certified escape hammer. According to the police, this made it difficult for them to judge whether it was intended for emergencies or as a weapon.

In the end, no charges have been placed against the man, but he felt he was treated unfairly, saying: “It needs to be clearer what kind of hammers are against the law.” NHK also spoke with a Minor Crimes Act specialist who agreed that “it is too difficult for the general public to understand what kinds of hammers are illegal or not.”

Online comments from the general public seemed to confirm this too, as no one could understand what the police were thinking with their actions.

“So today I learned I can use an escape hammer as a weapon and not be bothered by the police.”
“It took three hours to figure this out?”
“Was it a Gundam Hammer?”

“Why not just make escape hammers standard additions to cars, like a spare tire.”
“Those escape hammers look good for burglaries too.”
“Anyone going camping better look out. They have a whole arsenal and they don’t even know it.”
“Maybe if he wrote ‘for emergency use only’ on it, it would be okay.”
“Why use a hammer as a weapon when you have a car?”
“I bought a really nice multi-tool from Daiso but I’m too scared to take it out of the house.”

Effectiveness as a weapon aside, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism recommends the use of escape hammers over conventional ones since they have been proven effective at breaking windows. Regular hammers, however, cannot guarantee success.

▼ Failing that, these guys demonstrated a pretty good way to use the seat’s headrest to break the glass (skip ahead to around the five-minute mark)

However, since anything can be used as a weapon, even escape hammers, it is ultimately up to the police to judge the owner in addition to the object itself. And since we recently saw a man in his 70s take on 10 bikers in a fit of alleged road rage, we can’t automatically assume this person was above suspicion either.

This is why whenever I trim the hedges in front of my home with an ornate medieval halberd I always make sure to have an enormous, unflinching smile on my face.

Source: NHK, Itai News
Top image: Pakutaso
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