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The Revolt of 1857, also known as the first war of Independence, shook the British and made them apprehensive about such rebellions in the future which could jeopardize their position as a colonial power. To curb the illegal use of firearms, the Arms Act, of 1878 was introduced. This legislation debarred Indians from possessing firearms until and unless they pledged their loyalty to the Britishers. After twelve years of Independence, this law was repealed.
The Indian parliament enacted the Arms Act, 1959 which aimed to curb the menace of illegal possession of firearms and subsequent violence emanating from it. Besides the Arms Act, of 1959 which lays down guidelines for the possession of firearms, we have the Arms rule, of 1962. The Arms rule of 1962, discusses the intricacies of manufacturing, trading, possessing, importing, and exporting firearms.
Categories of Firearms
The 1959 legislation categorizes firearms into two groups.
- Non-Prohibited Bore (NPB)
- Prohibited Bore (PB)
Non-Prohibited Bore (NPB)
Bore means the diameter of the bullet or the gap from which the bullet emerges. The NPB category consists of arms, like handguns of .22, .32, and .35 caliber. Civilians are legible to possess NPB after abiding by the procedure laid down under Chapter II and Chapter III of the Arms Act 1959.
Prohibited Bore (PB)
This category includes rifles of .303 caliber and handguns of caliber .38, .455, etc. In addition to this, it also includes automatic and semi-automatic. Initially, only military personnel and family mementos could be awarded under the Prohibited Bore category. This changed after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, the government made certain changes in the ownership laws. Firstly, it announced in the official gazette that licenses for PB weapons will be issued only for certain types of weapons. Secondly, they are issued only to citizens who live in terror-prone places, or officials who by the nature of their work can be targeted by terrorists or face a “grave and imminent threat” to their lives.script async src=”https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-6906213465455056″ crossorigin=”anonymous”>
Before 1987, the license of possession of such arms could be granted by any district magistrate or state government. However, since 1987, the sole responsibility of issuing PB licenses rests with the central government. The sale, export-import, and manufacturing fall under the authority of the central government, and the responsibility for the production of ammunition is under the Indian Ordinance Factory. The Ministry of Defence governs the Indian Ordinance Factory across the country.
How to Get A Gun License In India?
- Step 1: The first pre-requisite to owning a gun in India is that the applicant needs to be at least be of twenty-one years of age.
- Step 2: The candidate will then be asked to fill out an application form that inquires about his or her criminal history. Guns can be issued only for the following purposes:
- Crop protection
Some essential documents must be submitted, such as proof of residence, proof of age, identity proof, three years of income tax returns, character certificate, health certificate, and verification from local members.
- Step 3: The third step involves the police performing a rigorous background check for two months. Where the family and neighbors of the applicant are interviewed and other aspects like health and behavior are checked. The recordings are then sent to the crime branch and National Crime Record Branch. Subsequently, the applicant is interviewed by licensing authorities, and approval or non-approval is conveyed.
- Step 4: The approved applicants have to observe a compulsory “arms handling” course where they are taught how to safely handle, fire and transport firearms.
- Step 5: The license must be renewed after every three years. The government has the right to sequester such arms at any time because in India the right to possess arms “is only a privilege, not a right”.
Please Note: In cases where a civilian procures arms from a factory, documentation like residential proof, no objection certificate, and transportation license is required.
The Arms Act (Amendment), 2019
Arms (Amendment) Act, 2019 was introduced in the lower house by Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah. The changes that the act brings are as follows:
- It proposes new categories of transgressions, it also aims to reduce the number of firearms that an individual can possess.
- As per the act, the number of permitted firearms is reduced from three to one, including the licensing given to inheritance. The excess firearms must be deposited within one year to a local police station or a licensed arms dealer.
- It increases the validity of the license from the period of three years to five.
Increasing penalties; the act sets down punishment for the following offenses:
- Manufacturing, selling, procuring or transferring any un-licensed arm or ammunition.
- Conversion or shortening the firearm without possessing a license to do so.
Importing and Exporting Banned Arms
The act increases the punishment from the previous three to seven years, along with the fine to the period of seven years and life imprisonment, along with the liability to pay the fine.
Besides the already existing offenses, it adds “forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces, punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with fine, using firearms in celebratory gunfire which endangers human life or personal safety of others, punishable with imprisonment of up to two years, or fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both. Celebratory gunfire refers to the use of firearms in public gatherings, religious places, marriages or other functions to fire ammunition”.
Gun Licensing Regulations in United States Of America
The United States has comparatively lenient gun control laws. There the provision for possessing arms is enacted in the second amendment “Right of the people to keep and bear arms”
The Gun Control Act, of 1968 regulates firearms in the US. It sets 18 as the legal age for being eligible to possess firearms like rifles and shotguns whereas you have to be 21 to possess weapons like handguns.
The people falling in the following categories are restricted from applying to procure arms:
- People of unsound mind
- Convicts whose period of incarceration exceeded one year
- Dishounarbly discharged security personnel
- Unauthorized immigrants
- People who have restraining orders against them
- People who were found guilty of possessing unlawful substances
The validity of license and methods of procurement varies from state to state. “The US has the Castle Doctrine and the Stand-Your-Ground laws. This doctrine and these laws allow people to defend themselves. However, the magnitude and intensity are always in question. The Doctrine of Castle is applied when you need to defend your home or yard through a deadly force. Stand-Your-Ground, also known as no duty to retreat law, states that people may use deadly force when they believe it to be crucial to defending against deadly force or other severe bodily harm.”
As of today, the arms regulating laws in India are one of the most stringent in the world. In the United States, acquiring firearms is a constitutional right, but in India, it can be termed as a privilege and not a right.
Rachelle Joel Oseran v State of Maharashtra was a landmark case where the Bombay High Court relied heavily on the Supreme Court judgment on the case of Sanjay Dutt v State through CBI. It stated that “mere possession of guns without knowledge is not punishable under the Arms Act, 1959”. The second case interpreted the word “possession” as would mean possession with the requisite mental element, that is, conscious possession and not mere custody without the awareness of the nature of such possession.
In matters of transferability, “the original gun license can be transferred to a person’s legal heirs. If such a license is present during the lifetime of the person who wants to transfer the ownership of the weapon to the legal heirs then it can be done by making an application on a plain paper and such paper will be attached with the Form A of the person to whom the transfer of license is given and in case, if the original license has expired, then the application can be made again in form A”.script async src=”https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-6906213465455056″ crossorigin=”anonymous”>
For non-residential Indians to apply for a license in India, they have to prove their permanent residence in India. Other pre-requisites include giving valid reasons for applying for a gun license. However, for NRIs, procuring a license can be very difficult.
India has stringent arms regulations, the government needs more work on implementing and ensuring stringent licensing policies and work to ensure control of illegal weapons, trafficking, and illegal export-import of firearms. Unlike the USA, crimes like mass shootings are a rare occurrence in India, unfortunately, gun violence, in cases of road rage is prevalent. While the stringent laws do help in low gun violence cases, illegal ownership is a matter of grave concern. Thus, with implementing and ensuring strict gun licensing policies, it is also important to ensure the control of illegal weapons.
This article is authored by Tanisha Jha, student at Institute of Law, Nirma University