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Posted on: Sunday, July 9, 2000

Japanese couple joins anti-gun fight in U.S.


By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer


When Mieko Hattori was growing up in Nagoya, she dreamed of coming to America.

The Christian missionaries who taught her English had put the dream in her head. Such nice people. The place they spoke of sounded wonderful.

But for years, the dream didn’t materialize.

Mieko Hattori married. She had children.

And to her children, she passed the dream.

"I should have looked into it a little more first," she said yesterday in an interview at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

Mieko Hattori’s dream became a nightmare on Oct. 17, 1992, when her son was shot to death in Louisiana.

Since then, Mieko Hattori and her husband, Masaichi Hattori, have visited the United States on several occasions.

They are not here to sightsee. They are on a mission to encourage stricter gun-control laws and to ensure that their son, Yoshi, did not die in vain.

Yoshihiro Hattori, a 16-year-old foreign exchange student, was shot in the chest in the carport of a Louisiana home, a place he had mistaken for the site of a Halloween party he was to attend.

The homeowner, a man who had been raised on a part of the American dream that the missionaries hadn’t mentioned, mistook the foreign exchange student for an intruder.

When Yoshi Hattori failed to respond to the command "freeze!" - a word he didn’t understand - Rodney Peairs pointed a .44-caliber Magnum handgun at the student’s white John Travolta-style disco costume and pulled the trigger.

Today the Hattoris argue that the tragedy would not have occurred if guns were less available and more strictly regulated in the United States.

The Hattoris have visited the United States a half-dozen times since their son’s death. The first visits were in response to the shooting and the subsequent legal actions.

Peairs was acquitted of manslaughter after a jury trial in May 1993. He was held accountable for the death in a later civil action, and ordered to pay $653,000.

Their more recent visits have been to lobby for gun control. The Hattoris said they hoped a petition drive they led helped influence the outcome of the Brady Bill. Signed into federal law in 1993, the measure requires a three-day waiting period to purchase a gun. Hawaii, which has one of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, requires a 14-day waiting period.

The Hattoris used the money won in the civil suit to establish two charitable funds in their son’s name.

One helps U.S. high school students to visit Japan.

"So they can learn what it is like to live in a place without guns," Mieko Hattori said.

The second fund is used to reward organizations that lobby for gun control efforts. Six awards, two each year, have been given out. The Million Mom March might be in line for an award this year, Mieko Hattori said.

The Hattoris came to Hawaii to continue their gun control efforts at the request of a friend, Noriaki Fujimuri of Waimea Higashi Hongwanji on Kauai. On Friday, the couple spoke to about 15 people at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

They also spoke to local representative of gun control groups this week, and were scheduled to meet with Gov. Ben Cayetano.

"We hope to see Hawaii become one of the first states for the elimination of guns," Masaichi Hattori said.

"Gradually," he said, after his wife spoke softly to him. "The gradual elimination of guns."

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