This article has been written by Mustafa Chitalwala., a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
The Arms (Amendment) Act, 2019, was introduced by Union Minister Amit Shah and was passed on 10 December 2019. This Act provides us with a detailed overview of the regulations levied on the firearms in India. The Act aims to reduce the number of weapons that are permitted to carry and to add new category offenses.
HOW MANY FIREARMS ARE ALLOWED PER PERSON?
The Arms Act, 1959, allows an individual to hold three licensed firearms. However, the amendment limits the number of firearms to two per licensee. This will also include any weapons that may have been received as an inheritance or an heirloom.
Any individual carrying firearms in excess (2) has to deposit it at the nearest police station or licensed arms dealer. It gives the licensee a period of one year to do the needful.
WHAT CHANGES ARE BEING MADE TO PREVAILING OFFENCES?
The Arms Act currently prohibits the manufacture, selling, use, transfer, conversion, testing, or proofing of firearms without a license. This includes any changes made to improve the performance of the firearms. The Act also proposes stiff punishments for a number of existing crimes. For example, the Act specifies the penalty for:
(i) dealing with unlicensed weapons, including their production, purchase, selling, transfer, conversion,
(ii) the reduction or conversion of a weapon without a license, and
(iii) the import or export of prohibited firearms.
The sentence for such offenses is usually between three years and seven years, along with a fine. The Act raises the minimum sentence to seven years and the maximum to life imprisonment. In addition, the punishment for situations in which the use of banned weapons results in the death of an individual has been revised. The sentence has been changed from the existing death penalty to allow for the death penalty or life imprisonment, along with a fine.
ARE THERE ANY NEW OFFENCES BEING INTRODUCED?
The Act adds a number of new offenses. For example, the Act made it a crime to take a weapon from the police or armed forces. The penalty for doing so is imprisonment of between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.
The Act punishes the reckless use of weapons, such as celebratory gunfire’s during weddings or religious ceremonies that threaten human life or the personal safety of others. The proposed penalty, in this case, is imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to one lakh rupee, or both.
A definition of ‘illicit trafficking’ is also added to the Act. It is defined as the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunition to or from India where the firearms are either not marked as provided for in the Act or are in violation of the provisions of the Act. The Act punishes illicit trafficking with a term of imprisonment of between 10 years and life, along with a fine.
THE ACT ADDRESS ISSUE OF ORGANISED CRIME?
The Act also defines ‘organized 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. An organized crime syndicate refers to two or more persons committing an organized crime.
The Act introduces stiffer punishments for members of the organized crime syndicate. For example, in the case of possession of an unlicensed firearm, the minimum term for an individual would be seven years, extendable to life imprisonment, and liable to a fine. However, the possession of unlicensed firearms by a member of the syndicate is punishable by a prison term of between 10 years and life, along with a fine. This enhanced liability also extends to non-members, who contravene the rules of the Act on behalf of the syndicate
SPECIAL STATUS TO A SPORTSPERSON
Many people in the sports community in India are worried about target shooting, and their fear and stress are that the number of arms reaching new and emerging talents is small. Weapons practice is part of their work and the reduced impact on them will be tremendous. The Minister of Home Affairs said that a sportsman who needs weapons and ammunition for practice and tournaments is granted special status by the Act. Mr. Amit Shah added: “They (sportsmen) are eligible to receive licenses for various kinds of firearms.
The new amendment does not cover certain key areas that various ministers proposed during the debate in Lok Sabha. This amendment has significantly expanded the punishment period for different offenses and introduced a new category of crimes. One important thing is that this amendment will bring about a change in society as far as the crime of arms and munitions is concerned.
India currently holds about 35 lakh gun licenses. Uttar Pradesh, with 13 lakh gun licenses, is at the top of the list, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, where 3.7 lakh people have arms licenses, most of which have been taken in the name of personal security. The state of Punjab also holds around 3.6 lakh active gun licenses, most of which were issued between the 1980s and 1990s, during the height of state terrorism.