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Originally published Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 7:04 PM

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Sun, surf and semiautomatics in Hawaii

Japanese visitors and other tourists head for a Waikiki indoor-shooting range.


The New York Times

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Kenji and Hiromasa Ozawa, a father and son vacationing on the island of Oahu, spent Christmas morning hiking up Diamond Head, a volcanic cone with sweeping views of Waikiki Beach.

Their next stop: The Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club — an indoor-shooting range in an upscale-shopping center just above Cartier and Hermès stores — where they fired off several dozen rounds between them.

“We love shooting guns. I love shooting guns,” said Kenji Ozawa, 52, who was visiting from Chiba, Japan. “It’s a very exciting experience.”

Japan has among the most restrictive gun laws in the world, especially compared with those of the U.S. Japan’s 1958 Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law prohibits its citizens from owning most firearms; some guns — like shotguns for hunting, air guns and guns for competition — are allowed, but the Japanese still must undergo a series of comprehensive tests, as well as thorough background checks.

So for some Japanese tourists like the Ozawas, an ideal Hawaiian getaway includes sun, surf — and semiautomatics.

“We can’t fire guns in Japan. We are prohibited from having them,” the elder Ozawa said, before summarizing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and adding: “This is the America I know.”

Although the Japanese do not necessarily travel to Hawaii, a roughly 7-hour flight, for the sole purpose of hitting Waikiki’s gun clubs, those with an interest in, say, Berettas, often treat shooting a bit like surfing — as an amusing attraction while visiting the U.S.

There are at least four private gun clubs within a half-mile of one another on this Honolulu strip dotted with hotels and touristy shops, and a public shooting range sits at the southeast tip of the island. The clubs advertise with posters (in English and Japanese) in the upscale malls here, and they hire men to pass out fliers (also in English and Japanese) along the busy sidewalks of Waikiki.

Jeff Tarumi, the range manager at the Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club, estimates that 90 percent of his customers are foreign, with the majority from Japan. He said that all of the club’s employees were required to speak at least a little Japanese.

“Believe it or not, knowledge of guns is not as important, because you can train them on the job, but you have to speak Japanese,” Tarumi said. “The U.S. market is a little harder, because people come in here and say, ‘Well, I can shoot for free in my backyard.’ ”

The clubs, in which visitors can shoot everything from AK-47s to 9mm Glocks, prove especially alluring to Japanese tourists, who often have seen guns in movies and on TV but cannot shoot them at home.

Hawaii is hardly the Wild West of firearms. The state has stricter gun regulations than many of its mainland counterparts, and it was given a B+ for its gun laws by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The gun clubs all provide eye and ear protection, along with instructors trained in gun safety. They will not allow people who have been drinking onto shooting ranges.

But especially compared with Japan, visiting gun clubs here is still relatively easy, and the Japanese are not the only ones adding an hour or two at the shooting range to their vacation itineraries.

Tourists from other countries with more stringent gun regulations — like Australia, Canada and New Zealand — can also be found in Waikiki’s gun clubs, where basic packages run as low as $25. A midrange option at the Hawaii Gun Club — a total of five guns with 52 shots — costs about $70.



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