Japan eyes tougher gun, knife controls after crimes

TOKYO, July 17 (Reuters) - Japan is set to tighten restrictions on guns and knives after a series of fatal shootings and a recent stabbing spree in a Tokyo shopping district in which seven people were killed. A panel of experts has suggested to the government that double-edged blades such as daggers be banned, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said on Thursday.

"Preparations are now going ahead to submit a bill to parliament in the autumn on gun control, also including knives," Machimura told a news conference.

The panel's report also called for stalkers and those who have been violent towards their spouses to be added to a list of groups to be barred from owning guns.

Gun-related crime has been rare in Japan, which already has strict laws on firearms, but a spate of shootings last year shocked the public and prompted calls for even tighter control.

The number of shootings in Japan rose for the first time in six years in 2007, a year that included the assassination of a city mayor and gun use by gangsters.

Restrictions on knives have also been the focus of heated public debate after a disaffected 25-year-old fatally stabbed seven passers-by on a busy Tokyo shopping street last month with a double-edged dagger.

Knives with blades over 15 cm (6 inch) long are currently banned in Japan, but the weapon used in the crime had a blade of 13 cm. (Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)