GUN LAW IN INDIA
Updated: May 27
Published by: Ranu Tiwari
The Arms Act of 1878 was the first legislation in India that was brought in to limit and restrict the usage of Guns in India. This act was passed by the British government to ensure that weapons like guns; rifles, etc. are not unlawfully used by the Indian soldiers. The passing of this Act was the outcome of the armed rebellion of 1857. In this revolt, the Indian soldiers used the British armory illegally. British were shook by the incident and their fear that similar rebellions in the future could put their rule in India at stake, and that fear leads to this act. When this act was passed the then Viceroy of India Lord Lytton was determined to ensure that this arms act is strictly implemented and that no Indian should be allowed to possess the gun until and unless the British government approved for such possession. The arms act of 1878 prevailed until 1959 until the passing of the Arms Act Act of 1959.
Arms Act of 1959:
The Arms Act of 1959 marks the end of British draconian Arms Act, however the act of 1959 showed up to a great extent the lack of belief in Indian citizens by the Indian government, as this Act empowered the gun issuing authorities enormously and that led to possession of guns only being given by the authorities as per their will. Another law called the Arms Rules was enacted in 1962, now both these laws together check upon the sale, manufacture, export, import, issuance of license, etc. Obtaining a license for the possession of a gun in India is a tiresome job and the process sometimes takes years with no guaranteed success in getting the license.
The Arms Act of 1959 has divided firearms into two types. One is the Prohibited Bore and the other is Non-Prohibited Bore. Bore refers to the thickness of the bullet. Pistols of 9mm, handguns of barrel .38, .455 and .303mm rifles come under the category of weapons called the Prohibited Bore whereas handguns of caliber .35, .32, .22 and .380 come under the category of non-prohibited bore and each every civilian is free to file an application for issuance of license for possession of such guns.
However, there is an exception to this rule and in some cases, the Prohibited Bore weapon license can be issued. Such cases include, where a person lives in a terrorist prone area with a continuing threat, government employees who are at the target of the terrorists, MPs, and MLAs. However, these cases are also restricted to a few species among the Prohibited category and not each kind of Prohibited Category gun license can be issued under this exception. Earlier the authority to issue both the categories lied with the state government personnel and the District Magistrate. After 1987, any and every task related to the Prohibited bore category came under the direct check and control of the central government.
The Indian Ordnance Factory manufactures and manages the sale of arms and ammunition in India. This factory is under the direct control of the central government and it enjoys a monopoly all over India. The headquarter of Indian Ordnance factory is situated at Kolkata. Ministry of Defence manages all the branches of Indian Ordnance Factory throughout India. As in comparison to the United States of America, the gun laws in India are a lot stricter. In the United States, possessing a gun is very easy and no license is needed, purchasing a gun in the US is similar to purchase of any ordinary good. However, in India obtaining a license is necessary. Moreover, the recent Amendment of 2016 in the Arms Act makes it compulsory to have a license even for the possession of an airgun.
Procedure to own a Gun:
Gun license in India can be granted only for three purposes and they are for the protection of agricultural land from animals, sports, self-defense. Self-defense category only comes into play when the person can show that there is an imminent threat to his life. No gun license can be issued before a person has reached 21 years of age. However, no training for using a gun is to be compulsorily taken for issuance of the license. Every three years the licence needs to be renewed.
Application form along with the fee needs to be submitted to the concerned authority. Rs 100 application fee is charged for a license of a handgun and this is the maximum amount charged for application of any gun and Rs10 for the muzzleloading weapon. For the person living in metro, the concerned authority is D.C.P (licensing) and for non-metros, the S.D.M is the concerned authority.
After the authority receives the application, it asks the nearest police head headquarter to make a report and submit it to him within a time period. In the application form, the applicant has to give the name of all the places where he has lived, and all the information given by the applicant is verified from the police station of the respective places. If the concerned police stations have failed to report within the stipulated time then the licensing authority has the discretion to issue the license if it is satisfied that the person who has applied is fit for the license.
Home Ministry of India from April 2019 is maintaining a National Database of Arms and licenses for keeping a record of every license holder. Each license holder will also be issued a Unique Identification Number. This system has been created to keep an eye on every gun holder so that gun crimes can be limited.
Section 27(3) of the Act that provides for the death penalty, if found in contravention of Section 7(c) of the Act and this was challenged in Supreme Court and the Court declared it unconstitutional. The reasoning given by the court was that the contravention of Article 7 was not such a grave offense and awarding death penalty for it is not at all justified.
In a recent case, a woman was arrested because she was having a live cartridge in her possession without her knowledge. The division bench of the Bombay High Court reaffirmed what Section 3 of the Arms Act laid and said that possession without knowledge is not a punishable offense. Her husband earlier used her bag in which the cartridge was found and he was a license holder.
The article commences by providing the reason behind the enactment of the Arms Act of 1878. The Act of 1959 holds great importance because it is one of the examples reflecting the end of the British suppression on India.
Further, this Article focuses on the fact as to how the Act of 1959 had given absolute power in the hands of the gun issuing authorities which lead to Indians having a lack of trust to this Act. Due to this, the Arms rules had to be passed in 1962 which, in addition to the previous Act, dealt with procedural aspects related to obtaining guns.
In addition to this, this article has provided an elaborate insight to all the important sections of this Act covering fields like firearms, licensing, manufacture, sale, and possession of arms and ammunition, protection of gun holders and punishment to be given to them in case any provision of the given Act is violated.
One of the most debatable topics related to possession of arms is whether people should be allowed to possess guns without a license? India has one of the tightest laws on possession of arms in comparison to several developed nations like the United States of America. Moreover, the Arms Rules of 2016 strengthened the process of licensing for possessing arms after incidents of mass shooting increased in the United States. One of the reasons why the US experiences repeated incidents of mass shootings is because of its lenient laws concerning acquiring the license for possessing arms and for using it in public. The main reason behind this leniency is the ‘Gun Lobby' which funds the political parties and makes it difficult for the elected lawmakers to bring strict arms legislations.
In India, most guns are owned by rich class for whom these guns is a matter of luxury. Most of the Indians have faith in the Police for their protection and hence, they avoid the possession of firearms for the said purpose. But, with an escalation of crime rates, even the general population has started possessing them for self-protection and due to strict and stringent licensing laws usually, this possession is through illegal means. This has created a huge market of the illegal indigenous arms manufacturing industry. These indigenously manufactured arms are unsafe to use as they do undergo any safety check procedure. Having said that, strict laws relating to licensing and possession of arms is essential to maintain peace and forgo mass firings but the Government shall step into enacting laws and regulation to curb this illegal firearms market.