Japan tightens gun control after spate of shootings

TOKYO, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Japan's parliament on Monday passed legislation strengthening gun control following a spate of shootings by gangsters, including the assassination of a city mayor in April and the recent murder of a hospital patient in a case of mistaken identity.

The revision of the firearms control law is the first since 1995, and imposes heavier punishments for gun crimes committed by members of organised crime gangs.

After the new law takes effect, which is expected by the end of the year, possessing a gun as part of organised crime syndicate will result in a sentence of one to 15 years in prison or a fine of up to 5 million yen ($46,100). The current provision is for a prison sentence of one to 10 years.

Under the revision, possessing more than one gun would become a crime, and would carry a prison term of between one and 15 years.

Japan already has strict gun control laws, and firearms are mostly in the hands of registered hunters or "yakuza" gangsters. The number of shootings fell to a record low last year, but the fatal shooting of the mayor of Nagasaki in southern Japan in April by a suspected gangster and an armed stand-off in which a policeman was killed in May had spurred calls for even tighter supervision.

Police on Sunday arrested a gang member suspected of shooting dead a patient earlier this month at a hospital where a rival gang member had been hospitalised. Media have said the case was murder by mistaken identity. ($1=108.45 Yen) (Reporting by George Nishiyama, editing by Rosalind Russell)