Law on Firearms in India

The law on firearms in India is governed by the Indian Arms Act, 1959 which prescribes the relevant guidelines to possess guns. The aim behind this law is only to curb the menace of illegally keeping weapons which could possibly create threat of violence that might result from possessing them. This article looks at the laws which regulate gun laws in the country, when can an Indian civilian can apply for a firearm and how different are the laws in India compared to other major countries.

Tue May 10 2022 | National & Social | Comments (0)

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In the mid-1800s, with the  riseof the British in India, regular episodes of  poor pay, racial ruthlessness, increasing cultural indifference, poor terms of pensions, etc. were on the rise by the merciless British officers which directly contributed to the discontent among the Indian soldiers. The sepoy mutiny of 1857, also known as the first battle of Independence, was an  aftermath of the “greased cartridges”, which instigated the religious sentiments of both Hindu and Muslim Indian soldiers.

As a result of this revolt, the British were shook and under fear that similar rebellions in the future would eventually lead to the end of British Colonial era from India forever. Even though the rebellion was unsuccessful, it resulted in the illegal and unauthorised use of weapons like guns, rifles etc., resulting in the introduction of the Arms Act of 1878. This new law ensured that no Indian would be allowed to possess any weapon unless the Crown was convinced of his loyalty. . This law came to an end only after 12 years of independence in 1959.

Now, the law on firearms in India is governed by the Indian Arms Act, 1959 which prescribes the relevant guidelines to possess guns. The aim behind this law is only to curb the menace of illegally keeping weapons which could possibly create threat of violence. . In addition to the Arms Act, there are Arms Rules, 1962 under which the manufacturing, selling, possessing, acquisition, import-export as well as transport of firearms and ammunition without a valid license is completely banned.

What is the current firearm law in India?

The 1959 law granted arbitrary use of powers to the licensing authorities. The 1959 Act was amplified by the Arms Rules of 1962, where both the laws completely  prohibited the possession, sale, acquisition, manufacture, import, export and transfer of firearms without a valid license. Obtaining a valid arms license is a tedious process which ordinarily takes at least one year.

The Arms Act classifies firearms into 2 categories:

  • Prohibited Bore (PB) and
  • Non- Prohibited Bore (NPB)

A bore is the thickness/ diameter of the bullet or in simple words, the hole in the middle of a barrel through which the bullet comes out.

An NPB weapon includes arms like handguns of calibre 0.35, 0.32, 0.22 and 0.380. Any individual can apply to obtain an NPB via the due procedure under Chapter- II and Chapter- III of the Arms Act of 1959. A PB weapon includes pistols (9 mm)  and handguns of calibre 0.38, 0.455  and calibre 0.303 rifles. The same further includes semi- automatic and fully- automatic guns.

Prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, only defence forces personnel and family heirlooms were issued a PB category weapon. However,  post the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, the Indian Government reformed its gun ownership norms. As a result, those civilians who are apprehended by “serious and imminent threat” to their lives or those who reside in terrorist- prone areas, or even 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 members can keep a firearm.

Prior to 1987, the licenses were granted by the appropriate authority of the state government or a District Magistrate. But after 1987, the licenses granted for PB became entirely the duty of the central government.

The Indian Government monopolises the sale, manufacturing, import, export of such firearms and ammunition and the Indian Ordnance Factory (headquartered in Kolkata) has the duty to manufacture and sell these arms and ammunition in India. The Indian Defence Ministry controls the Indian Ordnance factories across the nation.

Currently, the Indian firearm laws are easily one of the strictest in the world. In USA, obtaining any firearm is a constitutional right, however, in India, the same is just a privilege. No ordinary citizen of India can obtain a firearm without a valid license granted by the competent licensing authority. Moreover, the latest amended Arms Rules of 2016 has made the license mandatory even for airguns.

How can an Indian citizen apply for a firearm?

Getting a firearm in India is no  not easy. The  stringent Indian laws on firearms have made it  extremely difficult for an ordinary citizen to possess a gun. Nonetheless, the entire process to obtain a firearm (gun) is prescribed under Chapter- III of the Arms Act, 1959.

  • The first step towards owning a firearm (gun) in India is that the individual must be a minimum of 21 years of age. An application form for the same has to be filled by the individual where the form requires details of the criminal behaviour of the individual.  Guns can only be utilized for 3 purposes, i.e. sports, crop protection and self- defence.

Now, to obtain a self- defence license, the individual must prove impending threat to life. However, protection can be from wild animals as well.

  • Apart from this, additional details of the individual applying for the license are required for instance, proof of identity, proof of address, proof of age (to prove if the person is above 21 years of age), proof of education, 4 passport size photographs, income tax returns of the last 3 years, character certificate of the applicant post verification from notable locality members, physical and mental health certificates.
  • The subsequent step involves the police carrying out the background check of the applicant for two  months, which would include interview of the applicant as well as his family, even neighbours, verification of the mental health history of the applicant, applicant’s behaviour towards others to know if he is aggressive or suppressive, any history of domestic violence/ aggression etc.
  • Once the interviews are recorded, they are forwarded to the Police Criminal Branch and the National Crime Record Bureau for record keeping. The licensing authorities interview the applicant after this, where they state the reason to approve or reject the license.
  • Once the license is approved, the applicant has to participate in the compulsory arms handling course whereby safe handling of the weapon is taught including firing and transporting a firearm (gun).
  • The firearm license has a life of three  years and therefore, the same has to be renewed after the expiration. . Besides this, the Indian government has the absolute right to confiscate any such weapon at any time.
  • In case the applicant wants to obtain a weapon from a factory, then even more documentation is necessary:  a proof of residence, also, the factory must have a transportation license to transfer the weapon, and a compulsory No Objection Certificate (NOC) for both the factory owner as well as the police. This entire procedure requires a month after which the same has to be produced for inspection and record keeping.
  • In addition, it is compulsory for any individual carrying a weapon (gun) to always carry it in a holster or a rucksack in case of rifles. The same is done to not create panic in front of people.

What are the different types of guns that are legal in India?

The most popular weapon (gun), which is provided to those individuals who were eligible to possess arms under the law, is the Double Barrelled Shotgun of 12 gauge, also called the DBBL 12 Bore. Other  common weapons are the 0.315 Bolt Action Rifle (which has a magazine capacity of 5 cartridges) and 0.32 Smith & Wesson Long Revolvers (with chamber capacity of 6 cartridges).

What is the firearm law in the United States of America?

USA too has strict laws when it comes to obtaining a weapon for personal use, which are found in a number of state as well as federal statutes. The American laws monitor everything from the manufacturing, sale, possession, import- export, record keeping, transportation, as well as destruction of weapons, ammunition, and accessories of the firearms.

These firearm laws are administered by state agencies and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In addition to Federal and State gun laws in USA several local authorities have their own firearms laws. The Second Amendment of the US constitution provides the right to keep and possess arms. The said Second Amendment to the US constitution was implemented to safeguard its own citizens against the possibility of repression, arising from within the government.

What is the firearm law in the United Kingdom?

The firearms laws are more stringent in the UK than other European nations (firearms rules prescribed under the European Firearms Directive) and therefore, it is quite difficult to access a firearm in the UK since it is tightly controlled by law. Northern Ireland has less restricted laws which, surprisingly,  makes it the country with the lowest rates of gun homicide in the world, where there were only 0.05 recoded intentional committed homicides with a firearm with more than 100,000 citizens in the  five years leading to 2011 (15 - 38 people per year). Gun homicides only accounted for 2.4% of all the homicides in the year 2011.

However, there is some anxiety over the easy accessibility of illegal procurement of firearms. The office of the National Statistics figures discloses that there are, in total, 7,866 offences where firearms were involved by the end of March, 2015, which witnessed a 2% increase from the earlier year and the first increase in close to 10 years. Out of the total 7866, 19 were fatal injuries which was 10 lesser than the earlier year and the lowest since records were first maintained in 1969.

However, there was a gradual rise in offences to 8,399 by the end of March 2016 which was highest in 4 years, but notably lower than the all-time high of 24,094 in 2003- 04. Out of these 26 were fatal injuries.

How different is the firearms law in India when compared to USA?

The whole world witnessed the massacre that ended the lives of at least 50 people in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, USA. USA has a horrific history when it comes to witnessing such random shootouts. In fact, USA in the last 50 years, has witnessed similar shootouts more than twice a  year, where gunmen have killed 4 or more people with 12 such shootings in 2016 alone.

Now, even though there have been repeated requests by a lot of lawmakers to restrict easy availability of firearms licenses,  the American firearms laws still remain unusually free and easy.

The shooter in Orlando (Omar Mateen) had legally purchased the assault rifle that was used by him to execute the massacre. The state of Florida  permits its citizens to possess concealed weapons after successfully undergoing a 28- hour gun training course. The shooter Omar Mateen had a valid license to possess the weapon which proves that he had successfully attended the training.

So, when laws and restrictions  of India and USA are compared, India, by far, has stricter laws and restrictions to obtain a gun legally, and as a result, gun ownership is rare in India.

According to a recent Small Arms Survey, India ranks 110th in the world in terms of ownership of civilian firearm, with only 4.2 guns per 100 citizens. USA, on the other hand, ranks 1st, with 88.8 guns per 100 citizens. This proves that nations where restrictions to gun ownership are rare, civilian gun deaths are also rare.

As is evident,  India has more stringent firearms laws than USA, however, the same is undermined by easy availability of weapons from illegal sources.

What is the current position of laws on firearms in India?

As per reports and recommendations, the Ministry of Home Affairs has now planned to maintain a National Database of Arms Licenses, so as to have an official record of all the holders of arms licenses including both old and new holders.

All these weapon holders will further be furnished a Unique Identification Number. The following step has been taken as a pro-active measure to  be able to monitor and track authorised as well as unauthorised gun holders. This is a precautionary step to minimise crimes leading to loss of lives due to gunfire/ shootings by unauthorised guns/ weapons.

Considering all of the above,  India has strict firearms law when it comes to issuance of gun licenses. However,  India still has the 2nd most number of deaths due to guns which shows that the Arms Act has not entirely been able create hindrances  among the masses in India solely because of easy availability of illegal weapons that are smuggled into India through numerous different means.

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