Guns, firearms, and ammunition are crucial parts of the Indian penal laws as they are utilized for security, defence, and also in the commission of criminal activities. As they are harmfully used in the commission of offences it makes it extremely necessary that arms and ammunition are kept in safe and responsible hands and handled responsibly and cautiously. In India, the regulations governing the possession and use of firearms by civilians are stringent and heavily controlled. Even though Indian laws permit its citizens to own and carry guns, it’s not enshrined as a right in the Constitution. It’s considered a privilege and not a right.
GUN VIOLENCE IN INDIA
Gun violence is a contemporary global human rights concern. Gun-related violence jeopardizes our most fundamental human right which is the right to life. It is everyday adversity that impacts thousands of people’s lives all across the world. The sheer presence of guns can often make people feel threatened and terrified for their lives, which in turn can have serious and lasting psychological impacts on individuals as well as entire communities. Easy and convenient access to firearms, whether they are legal or illegal, is one of the principal causes of gun violence.
Madhya Pradesh has one of the highest rates of firearms-related cases. The state registers at least 14 cases annually, or more than one per month, for every 1 lakh resident. One of its major cities, Indore, reported the second-highest number of instances involving arms in the country. With a population of 32 lakh, Indore alone saw 1,406 instances of arms and related crimes in 2020, which works out to 65 cases annually and more than five cases every month.
In Uttar Pradesh, this rate is 13 per lakh, nine in Delhi, and eight in each of Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. The situation is worse in Haryana. Enmity and aggression in the state have claimed the lives of numerous sportspersons. Gun violence is on the rise. In 2016, there were 6.8 per lakh arms-associated cases, which by 2020 soared to eight cases per lakh. The killing of singer Sidhu Moose Wala has renewed the discussion about gun violence in Punjab. Moose Wala succumbed to a culture that he promoted in his music. Gun glorification is a critical problem in Punjab.
Recent events in the country, most recently in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, have shown crowds of individuals carrying guns, coming to the streets, and engaging in inhumane deeds in the name of religion. These statistics on the rate of gun violence and related crimes in India prove that despite the stringent laws India is not shielded from the adverse effects of gun possession and its misuse by the common people.
WHAT IS THE INDIAN ARMS ACT, 1959?
Ensuing the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British enforced the Arms Act of 1878 which prohibited Indians from owning firearms unless they had previous authorization or a valid licence or could prove their allegiance to the Crown. This regulation was repealed after independence and replaced by the Indian Arms Act of 1959.
The Arms Act of 1959 is India’s primary gun control legislation, enacted to combat illicit firearms and the violence that results from them. The main elements of the Act are derived from the earlier Arms Act of 1878.
Some of the key features of the Arms Act are:
- As stated in the Arms Act, a person has to have a government-issued licence to possess a firearm.
- In India, an applicant for a firearms licence should undergo a background check that includes records of domestic violence, mental health issues, and criminal records.
- Any licence issued will be valid for five years from the date of issuing. The applicant can apply for a renewal of that licence for the same duration.
- According to the law, it is prohibited for anybody to purchase, possess, or carry any firearms or ammunition if:
(i) the age of 21 has not been attained;
(ii) they have been imprisoned for a period of time for any crime involving violence or immorality within five years of the completion of such sentence, or
(iii) as per the CPC they have been instructed to implement a bond for good behaviour or for maintaining the peace.
- The Act allows sports persons like international medalists or renowned shooters to carry up to twelve weapons for shooting practice. Any junior target shooter or aspiring shooter is permitted to own two guns. Aside from these exemptions, these shooters are also permitted to carry up to two weapons, as all ordinary citizens with a licence are allowed.
- Section 2 of the Act classifies the type of guns an individual can possess into two categories:
- Prohibited Bores (PB): These encompass all guns that are either semi-automatic or completely automatic. They’re usually issued to defence personnel and also to people who face an imminent threat or live in terrorist-prone areas.
- Non- Prohibited Bores (NPB): It includes arms that can be issued to ordinary citizens.
The State government issues the licences for NPB category firearms, whereas the Central Government issues licences for PB category arms. The diameter of the bullet is referred to as the bore.
- The Act forbids manufacturing, using, selling, converting, transferring, testing, or proofing firearms without a licence.
- According to the Act individuals are not permitted to change, delete, or fabricate the names, numbers, or other identifying markings on guns.
- The provisions of the Act also require licences for the export, import, or transfer of arms and ammunition in and out of India via air, sea, or land. No transfer of guns, ammunition, or other related goods is permitted without the required authorization or consent of the competent government or authority.
- By limiting licences for illegal arms production, the Act discourages and outlaws the illicit arms trade.
RECENT AMENDMENTS TO THE ARMS ACT
The Arms (Amendment) Bill was recently passed in 2019. The Act defines “arms to include firearms, swords, and anti-aircraft missiles.” The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill remarked that according to law enforcement agencies, there is an increasing correlation between criminal activity and the possession of illegal firearms. The Bill aims to lower the maximum number of firearms that an individual can own while also increasing penalties for certain crimes mentioned in the Act. The Arms Act of 1959 permits a person to have three licenced firearms. The Bill proposes to limit this to one firearm per person. Any firearms that may have been passed down as inheritance or an heirloom would also fall under this category. The Bill extends the validity of a licence from three to five years. The Bill prohibits buying or obtaining unlicensed guns, as well as converting one category of firearm to another without a licence. The latter refers to any changes made to improve the performance of a firearm. The Bill proposed increased punishments for several existing offences in the Act and added some new offences
The Bill also introduced a definition of ‘organised crime’. “Organised crime has been defined as a continued unlawful activity by a person, either as a member of a syndicate or on its behalf, by using unlawful means, such as violence or coercion, to gain economic or other benefits”. When two or more people commit an organised crime, they are said to be part of an organised crime syndicate. Members of an organised crime syndicate will face tougher penalties under the Bill.
ILLEGAL POSSESSION OF ARMS IS A GROWING PROBLEM IN INDIA
Despite India’s rigorous gun laws, there are buzzing markets and businesses of illegal firearms. According to the Small Arms Survey of 2018, India has a shocking 70 million civilian gun owners, second only to the US. Given that there are only 3.4 million gun licences in India, with more than a third of them in Uttar Pradesh, the statistic appears absurd. Although it’s difficult to estimate the number of guns in the population, there’s no denying that the number of illegal firearms greatly outweighs that of officially authorised firearms. In terms of gun-related killings in 2016, India came in third place, with almost 90% of the instances involving illegal or unlicensed firearms. The National Crime Records Bureau in their 2020 report stated that over 75,000 illegal firearms were confiscated that year, with nearly half of them coming from Uttar Pradesh, which is well-known for being the center of illegal arms production.
Gun violence has detrimental effects that permeates all facets of the society. It can perpetuate a series of intensely urban poverty, vulnerability, and inequality in addition to causing death and injury. India has the second-highest homicide rate globally, yet there is little discussion of the problem. There is an urgent need to reorient policies towards precautionary frameworks and to concentrate efforts on steeply expanding cities struggling with inadequately resourced police forces and surging youth unemployment as criminal violence leads to at least ten times more deaths and injuries in India in comparison to terrorism and conflict.
Author(s) Name: Sonika Yadav (Amity University, Lucknow)
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