This article has been written by Ananya Dutta, a first year student from Institute of Law, Nirma University.
Prior to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 , also dubbed as the ‘first war of independence’ there were no gun control laws in India. People were free to carry weapons of any caliber with no prior permission for the same. The Mutiny or the first war of Independence was crushed with great efforts needed from the british and the british then decided to turn their attention to governing a vast nation like India comprising of 250 million people, with more regulations on arms and ammunition. They decided to restrict the Indians from carrying arms ( which lead to the revolt ) and thus sown were the first seeds of the Arms Act, 1878.
The then Viceroy, Lord Lyton appointed a committee which concluded the following-
- The local Indians should have restricted access to arms and weapons.
- However an exception was made in the case of Anglo Indians and British rulers who were free to own weapons. The gun license was introduced to restrict Indians from owning weapons.
The Indian Arms Act of 1878 was the first gun control law in India. It did seem reasonable on the face of it, but in practice getting an arms license became a tiresome process for an Indian. This law made it mandatory for any Indian wishing to own a gun to obtain a license. It was passed solely to maintain the crown’s rule in India as the mutiny among the sepoys instilled a fear in the minds of the British – that if such revolts continue to happen it, it may lose its hold over India. The act passed under the tenure of then viceroy Lord Lytton, ensured that no Indian could possess a weapon of any description unless the Crown was satisfied that he was a loyal subject of the Crown. The position of the Arms Act remained unobjected to up until 12 years of India gaining independence, when the Arms Act of 1959 was passed.
PRESENT GUN LAWS IN INDIA-
In 1959, the Arms Act of 1878 as enacted by the British was finally repealed and an absolutely new Arms Act was passed. Although better than the Britisher’s edition, it was also reflective of the Indian Government’s suspicions towards its own citizens. This act gave arbitrary use of powers to the licensing authorities ; as they could reject any application for gun license without citing appropriate reasons for the same. This also brought forward the lack of transparency regarding gun laws in India.The act of 1959, was supplemented by the arms rules in 1962. They both together regulate, i.e., prohibit the acquisition, possession, manufacture, sale, export, import and transfer of firearms except with a license, which in itself is a long and difficult process to and may take even years to complete.
The Arms Act in India divides firearms into two categories-
- Prohibited Bore ( PB )
- Non Prohibited Bore ( NPB )
A bore in simple terms is the thickness/ diameter of the bullet i.e. the hole in the middle of a barrel through which a bullet emerges.
Prohibited Bore weapons include pistols (9 mm) and handguns of caliber .38, .455 and caliber .303 rifles. They also include semi automatic and fully automatic guns. Non Prohibited Bore weapons include arms such as- handguns of caliber .35, .32, .22 and .380. All civilians can apply for possession of an NPB by following the due procedure under Chapter II and Chapter III of the Arms Act 1959.
Acquiring license for the Prohibited Bore category was close to impossible for anyone other than defense personnel and family heirlooms. But over the years , especially after the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 the government made significant changes in line with the safety of its citizens regaring the existing gun laws in India. Now, civilians who successfully prove that they apprehend “grave and imminent threat” to their lives or those who live in terrorist- prone areas, or government officials who have made themselves targets in front of terrorists by nature of their job, or MLAs or MPs or of citizens associated with anti- terrorist programmes or their family numbers. However the issuing of license of PB weapons only applies to a specific species of weapons as notified by the Government in the Official Gazette, while other species still remain prohibited to civilians.
IS IT WORKING OR NOT –
India has one of the strictest gun laws in the world. Although this has its own significance , An American is 12 times more likely to be killed by a firearm than is an Indian, according to an analysis by the group IndiaSpend, based on a database collated by Gun Policy, a global gun watch group.
However , the strict licensing policy of the arms in India is a lingering effect to the distrust of the colonial government over the citizens of India .It has also been contended that the strict licensing policy which aims at reducing controlling the use of violence regarding arms and ammunition in India has lead to large market of illicit gun trade and as per the National Crime Records Bureau ,of the total no. of deaths in India due to guns , only 14 percent of the victims in 2014 in India were killed by licensed guns. The rest were killed by illegal weapons, largely prevalent in the hinterlands.
RECENT CHANGES BROUGHT-
From now on, any official who denies the license must cite down the reasons in writing ; bringing transparency in a very stringent procedure of obtaining a gun license . Secondly, the term “imminent” threat has been replaced with “anticipated” threat because the former was “difficult to prove” for applicants. These steps would make the whole process of obtaining license for guns slightly less tiresome for the citizens. India also, shifted from century-old manual record-keeping recently and put into a national database information on about 2.6 million gun-license holders.
The most recent is the new policy of one person , one gun policy proposed by the government . As per this ,“Any person who has in his possession more than one firearm at the commencement of the Arms (Amendment) Act, 2019, may retain with him any one of such firearms and shall deposit, within one year from such commencement, the remaining firearms with the officer incharge of the nearest police station”. This has been proposed in order to reduce the number of illegal guns among the civilians and to reduce gun violence in general.
Despite all the steps taken to ensure minimum violence due to arms and ammunition and hence, the strict laws regarding the same , it can also not be ignored that India still records the 2nd highest deaths relating to gun violence . This proves that the existing laws have failed to achieve their purpose and necessary steps need to be taken to prevent situations like those prevailing in USA and various other countries all over the world. Steps like recognizing the faults in the present system and tracing the origin of the illegal weapons to curb the black markets of arms and ammunition need to be taken.
The Washington Post , August 1st 2016 (India already had some of the world’s strictest gun laws. Now it’s tightened them)
The economic times , November 5th 2019 (One person, one gun: A new firearm policy in the works )
Image from here