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Japan: Baseball Player Arrested After Two Bullets Found in Bag

(Apr. 4, 2016) Former Major League Baseball player Yamaico Navarro, who currently plays for Japan’s Lotte Marines, was arrested on February 21, 2016, at an airport in Japan for possession of two bullets in his luggage. The bullets were discovered in his shoulder bag during a security check at the airport in Okinawa. (Yamaico Navarro Arrested in Japan for Bullet Found in Luggage, ESPN (Feb. 21, 2016).) The incident illustrates the severity of gun control laws in Japan.

The Navarro Incident

Navarro admitted the possession and explained that the bullets were from his home in the Dominican Republic, but that he had not been aware that they were in his bag. After investigation, the Japanese police sent him to the local public prosecutors’ office on February 23, 2016. The prosecutors released him on the same day, because they found it was unlikely that Navarro would destroy evidence or flee while the investigation continued. (Lotte Navarro, Player Who Was Arrested for Possession of Bullet, Released: “I Did Not Imagine This Would Happen,” NIKKAN SPORTS (Feb. 24, 2016) (in Japanese).)

On March 1, while awaiting the decision of the prosecutors’ office, Navarro’s employer, Lotte, punished him with a suspension from play for four weeks. (Lotte Issues Punishment Decision, Navarro Suspended for 4 Weeks, NIKKAN SPORTS (Mar. 1, 2016) (in Japanese).) On March 22, the prosecutors’ office issued a decision not to indict Navarro. Although the reasoning behind the decision was not explained, legal experts assume that the office found it hard to prove Navarro’s intent to possess the bullet. (Lotte Player Navarro Not Indicted Due to Insufficient Grounds, ASAHI NEWSPAPER (Mar. 22, 2016) (in Japanese).)

The Relevant Laws

Under Japan’s very strict gun control laws, possession of handguns by civilians is not generally allowed, and purchase and storage of ammunition is also strictly regulated. (Sayuri Umeda, Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Japan (Feb. 2013), Law Library of Congress website.)  In the past, in a similar situation, another Dominican baseball player, Maximo Nelson, was arrested but not indicted. (Chunichi Player Nelson Released, Had Been Arrested for Possession of Bullet, NIKKAN SPORTS (Feb. 28, 2010) (in Japanese).)

The Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Japan confirmed that, in the Dominican Republic, people with a permit may possess guns and ammunition. (Lotte Navarro, Player Who Was Arrested for Possession of Bullet, Released: “I Did Not Imagine This Would Happen,” NIKKAN SPORTS (Feb. 24, 2016) (in Japanese).)