Hattori’s American Hosts Bring Gun Appeal to Japan

By Brian Covert
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Richard and Holley Galland Haymaker have nothing personal against guns in their native United States if used for sport.

But they draw the line at snuffing out a human life: in their case, the tragic death of their teenage Japanese “host son,” Yoshihiro Hattori, nearly two years ago in a Halloween killing that leaves them, along with other middle-class Japanese and Americans, searching for answers even now.

The Haymakers, arguably America’s most well-known advocates of gun control, may find at least some of the answers in their current tour of Japan, where they will speak publicly and meet privately through July 23 with a variety of grass-roots supporters — including the Nagoya-based parents of Yoshi Hattori.

“I have never met two more heroic people in my life than Masa(ichi) and Mieko Hattori,” Holley Haymaker, 49, a family practitioner, said during an interview with The Daily Yomiuri in Kobe. “They are an example of how to conduct yourself with incredible grace.”

“The fact that two days after their child was shot and killed, they stood up in a church and said they had compassion for the man who killed him, is an example to the people of the world,” she said. “It’s really their example that inspires our work.”

The Haymakers’ work, as it has developed since the October 1992 killing, has been to reach the hearts of middle-class Americans with an ongoing appeal for tighter restrictions on handguns, the most common and easily available weapon in crimes throughout the United States.

They have joined the Hattoris in gathering hundreds of thousands of names on pro-gun control petitions and presented them directly to President Bill Clinton, who they believe stands firmly behind their movement.

They view other legislative measures like the recent “Brady bill” as merely a small step in what will inevitably be a long struggle, possibly spanning the next generation.

“It has to be more of a public movement — and that’s where the hope lies,” said Richard Haymaker, 54, a physics professor at Louisiana State University. “You have to bring the country along, you have to convince people that there is a better world, a better life. The status quo is extremely hard to change.”

With the massive petition drive behind them, the Haymakers are working on their next big project: a “silent march” to Washington D.C. in September in which they will collect 38,000 pairs of shoes — equal to about the same number of firearm-related deaths in a year — and hand them over to congressional representatives as a symbol of those whose lives have been lost to gun violence.

“We’ve met hundreds of Americans who have lost children through guns...and it is as if this whole movement has given them a voice,” said Holley. “One of our jobs is to reach out to all different kinds of people because the burden (of gun deaths) really falls greatest upon people of color in the United States.”

At least 200 million guns are estimated to be in private hands in the United States, and around a hundred people are killed daily by guns. This is not something that Richard Haymaker, who considers himself an average American, can be proud of.

“The sense of personal freedom that is very much a part of the American spirit has its good sides and its bad sides,” he said. “Its bad side is this gun problem.”

“But the good side is that this leads people to believe they can change the country. And I think that sense of personal freedom can change the country in the same way it’s gotten us into this mess.”

Despite their optimism, the Haymakers still have trouble making sense of what happened to then-16-year-old Yoshi Hattori. Holley Haymaker was the first one to get the call from police, informing her of the shooting by Baton Rouge resident Rodney Peairs after Yoshi did not respond to Peairs’ warning of “Freeze!”

“It wasn’t until we drove to the (police) central substation that we learned that this crazy situation happened,” Holley said. “It’s still very impossible to believe. It never in a million years would have come to my mind that this would happen.”

The subsequent acquittal of Peairs of all charges has led the Haymakers to criticize the police investigation from beginning to end. Richard Haymaker calls the investigation a “total botched job,” and is disturbed that Peairs has yet to show any remorse for the murder.

“He just doesn’t see that he did anything wrong,” Richard said. “He doesn’t even see that he should have gone to trial. That’s really upsetting: that this man has no personal sense of responsibility, publicly.”

A civil suit against Peairs by Masaichi Hattori, Yoshi’s father, however, is scheduled to be heard in September, leaving open the hope for the Haymakers that justice may yet be done.

In the meantime, whether it be in Japan or in the United States, they are pushing ahead with their gun control appeal with the same intensity of commitment they felt in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“We were faced with how to respond and there was no choice,” Richard Haymaker says. “To try to step away from it when this kind of incident occurred would have left us paralyzed. We would have been spiritually paralyzed if we hadn’t had some outlet” to express the resulting anger and anguish.

“It was the response of the country to everything we’ve done that was incredibly encouraging,” he adds. “We’ve never felt so encouraged in all our lives.”