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LOCKED AND LOADED: A LEGAL AND POLICY ANALYSIS OF GUN CONTROL IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

Gun control measures have been a highly debated topic worldwide, with advocates on both sides arguing for their position. In India, the issue of gun control has been a long-standing and contentious one, with various measures proposed and implemented to regulate firearms.  In recent years, there has been an increase in gun violence incidents in the country, which has led to discussions on stricter gun control policies. The complexity of this issue necessitates a detailed examination of legal and policy considerations surrounding gun control measures in India.

CURRENT LAWS AND REGULATIONS

India has a comprehensive legal framework that regulates the possession and use of firearms. The primary legislation governing gun control in India is the Arms Act, 1959[1], which has been amended several times over the years to keep up with the changing times and evolving security challenges. The Act attempts to be as comprehensive as possible in covering all aspects of the acquisition, possession, manufacture, sale, import, export, and transportation of arms and ammunition, as mentioned clearly in Chapter II of the same[2]. Furthermore, the provisions for arrest, search, and seizure, as well as detention orders, are outlined in Chapter IV[3] of the Act, which explains the powers and processes available to the government and other officials in India to control the use and possession of arms and ammunition.

Under the Arms Act, firearms are classified into four categories, namely,

  • Non-Prohibited Bore (NPB), includes such firearms which can be owned by individuals subject to strict licensing requirements and procedures as laid down by the law[4].
  • Prohibited Bore (PB) firearms, are those which are prohibited for civilian ownership, except in specific circumstances where they have been specially authorised by the Central Government in its behalf.[5].

CHALLENGES IN IMPLEMENTATION

India is said to have one of the most stringent legal frameworks relating to the possession and acquisition of firearms and weapons.[6] Despite the comprehensive legal framework for gun control, several challenges limit its effectiveness in practice. Some of these problems include:

  • Weak Enforcement: Despite strict gun control laws, illegal firearms continue to be prevalent in India, primarily due to weak enforcement. Many firearms are smuggled across borders, making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to track and intercept them.[7]
  • Smuggling: India has large illegal gun making industries and gun smuggling rings. Incessant gun smuggling along the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh by Maoists, terror outfits and other criminals created an inflow of illegal weapons in the country[8]. In 2018, 74,877 firearms were seized in India out of which 3,742 were licensed/factory-made, the rest were country-made or unlicensed[9].
  • Lack of public awareness: Many gun users in India are not aware of the legal requirements for owning and using firearms, leading to non-compliance and misuse.
  • Political opposition: Gun control measures have faced opposition from some political groups in India, who argue that such regulations impinge on individual freedom and the right to self-defense.
  • Gun Violence: With the pull of a trigger, guns are violent destructive tools with the ability to take lives or inflict severe injury on a person. The fact that most people have easy access to guns not only increases the danger of additional bloodshed, but also creates an atmosphere of dread and instability. When only 322 of 3775 gun-related murders in our country are committed with registered firearms, instead of expanding gun control measures, the government should focus on reducing smuggling and growing domestic gun production.[10]

IMPACT OF GUN VIOLENCE

Gun violence is a pressing issue that has significant social, economic, political, and mental health implications in India.[11] Despite strict gun control laws, there have been numerous instances of gun violence in the country, ranging from organized crime to domestic violence. One of the primary impacts of gun violence in India is on public safety. It poses a significant threat to individuals and communities, particularly those in urban areas. The use of firearms in organized crime has led to a rise in violent crime rates, including robberies, kidnappings, and murders. Similarly, domestic violence cases involving firearms have also been on the rise leading to significant harm to women and children.[12] In addition, gun violence also has economic implications. The use of firearms in criminal activities has a detrimental effect on business activity and investment. High crime rates and the presence of armed gangs can lead to a breakdown of law and order, making it challenging to operate businesses and attract investment. Furthermore, the healthcare costs associated with treating gun-related injuries and deaths can also place a significant burden on the country’s healthcare system.[13] Gun violence also has political implications, particularly regarding governance and law enforcement. The illegal arms trade has been linked to corruption and organized crime, which can undermine the rule of law and erode public trust in government institutions. Furthermore, the high levels of gun violence can undermine the legitimacy of the state, particularly when it comes to providing security and maintaining law and order.

POTENTIAL SOLUTION

There are several potential solutions to address the issue of gun control in India. One approach is to strengthen the existing laws and regulations by closing the loopholes and increasing penalties for violations. Another approach is to improve the infrastructure and resources available for licensing and regulation, such as increasing the number of personnel and introducing new technology to streamline the process. Proper background checks and fitness tests need to be conducted. To address the problem of gun violence in India, several measures are needed. First, there needs to be a concerted effort to enforce existing gun control laws effectively. This requires strengthening law enforcement agencies, including their capacity to intercept and track illegal firearms. Furthermore, there needs to be a focus on addressing the root causes of gun violence, including poverty, inequality and social exclusion. To curb this threat, it is essential that robust measures are employed and a multi-pronged approach is taken, which includes improving access to education, healthcare, and other basic services, as well as addressing the socio-economic drivers of crime.[14]

CONCLUSION

The issue of gun control in India is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and nuanced approach. The country has a comprehensive legal framework in place to regulate the possession and use of firearms, but several challenges like weak enforcement, corruption, inadequate record keeping lack of public awareness, and political opposition, limit its effectiveness in practice. To address the problem of gun violence, there needs to be a concerted effort to enforce existing gun control laws effectively. Effective gun control measures are crucial for maintaining public safety. The Indian government needs to take proactive steps to address the challenges posed by illegal firearms and gun violence and work towards creating a safe and secure environment for all its citizens.

Author(s) Name: Eeshani Singh (National Law University, Odisha)

 References:

[1] Arms Act 1959

[2] Arms Act 1959, ch II

[3] Arms Act 1959, ch IV

[4] Arms Act 1959, s 3(1)

[5] Arms Act 1959, s 2(i)

[6] Rama Lakshmi, ‘India already had some of the world’s strictest gun laws. Now it’s tightened them.’(2016) Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-had-the-one-ofthe-strictest-gun-laws-in-the-world-it-just-got-tighter/2016/08/01/affd9422-51da-11e6-b652- 315ae5d4d4dd_story.html accessed on 2 April 2023

[7] Anuja Jha, ‘How illegal weapons, ammunition find its way to gun enthusiast in Punjab’ (2022) India Today https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/illegal-weapons-ammunition-gun-supply-punjab-1957098-2022-06-01 accessed on 2 April 2023

[8] Anashwara Ashok, ‘Arms Smuggling- A Threat to National Security’ (CLAWS, 2020) https://www.claws.in/arms-smuggling-a-threat-to-national-security/ accessed 3 April 2023

[9]National Crime Records Bureau, ‘Crime in India 2018’ (Volume I, 2018) http://ncrb.gov.in/crime-india-2018 accessed 3 April, 2023

[10] P V Abhinav Sai, ‘Gun Control Policy in India: Is Strict Legislation Effective in Bridling Violence and Crime?’   (IJLMH, Volume 3, 2020)  https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/Gun-Control-Policy-in-India-Is-Strict-Legislation-Effective-in-Bridling-Violence-and-Crime.pdf accessed 3 April, 2023

[11] Simatwal NK, Pargi S, Ujwal D, Meena PC, Gaur GP, Garg VK, Gahlot RK. Med. Sci. (Tamilnadu) 2017; 21(85): 137-142

[12] Marissa Edmund, ‘Weak Gun Laws are Harmful to Women and Survivors of Domestic Violence’ (CAP, 31 October, 2022)  https://www.americanprogress.org/article/weak-gun-laws-are-harmful-to-women-and-survivors-of-domestic-violence/ accessed 2 April 2023

[13] Werbick M, Bari I, Paichadze N, Hyder AA., ‘Firearm violence: a neglected “Global Health” issue’ (2021) Global Health  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8506468/  accessed 2 April 2023

[14] Anashwara Ashok, ‘Arms Smuggling – A Threat to National Security’ (2020) CLAWS https://www.claws.in/arms-smuggling-a-threat-to-national-security/  accessed 2 April 2023