Many years after his misadventures with hunting which led to cases against him under wildlife protection laws and the Arms Act, Bollywood actor Salman Khan has finally got himself a license to own a gun.
The Mumbai Police told ANI, "Actor Salman Khan has been issued an Arms license after he applied for a weapon license for self-protection in the backdrop of threat letters that he received recently."
Salman Khan had applied for a gun license for self-protection at the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s office. The actor had recently received threat letters, owing to which he decided to amp up his personal security.
Salman and his father Salim Khan received a death-threat letter which reportedly stated that they would meet the fate of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala, who was shot dead in May.
The approach taken by Salman is in stark contrast to that of actor Sanjay Dutt nearly thirty years ago, who also acquired a set of weapons because of alleged threats to his father and himself – but did so without acquiring a license from the authorities.
The weapons found in Dutt's possession were no pea shooters either: three AK-56 rifles, a 9 mm pistol, and 25 hand grenades. He ended up being convicted under provisions of the Arms Act for possessing illegal weapons, ie weapons for which he had no license, and some of which were also prohibited weapons (the assault rifles).
So what are the rules for getting a gun license in India? Who can apply for one? What are the things the authorities have to check? And can a person buy all sorts of weapons or only limited types?
The Law – Basics
The primary legislation dealing with guns and their acquisition and use in India is the Arms Act 1961.
Section 3 of the Arms Act lays down the basic rule on gun ownership: that no person may acquire, possess or carry a firearm or even ammunition, unless they have a valid license. This provision also limits the number of weapons that a person may have at any point of time to three (though there is an exception for registered rifle clubs or associations).
Section 7 of the Arms Act prohibits any person, even a license holder, from owning 'prohibited' arms or ammunition. This provision ensures that we do not see gun violence like that in the US, where in many states, citizens can acquire assault rifles and other automatic weapons.
Section 9 of the Arms Act lays down restrictions on who can acquire a weapon. This includes a key condition that no person who is under 21 years of age can acquire, possess or carry a weapon – though they can be allowed to use them for training, ie if they are athletes or in the military.
There are also restrictions on those who have been convicted of criminal offences and have spent less than 5 years out of jail, or who have had to sign a bond for keeping the peace/good behaviour under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Section 9 also gives gun sellers the power to refuse to sell weapons to any person they think is prohibited under these conditions from possessing a weapon, as well as to any person they believe to be of unsound mind.
Applying for a Gun License
The Arms Act also provides for the basic procedure on how licenses are to be applied for, how applications are to be accepted or rejected, revocation of licenses, and appeals by a person if their application is rejected.
The detailed procedure for how an application is to be made, what the grounds are to get a license, what forms have to be filled, which weapons and ammunition are 'prohibited', etc, are provided in the Arms Rules 2016.
To obtain a gun license, a person needs to apply to the relevant licensing authority, which is, for the average citizen who needs a weapon for personal protection, the district magistrate.
In certain circumstances dealing with certain kinds of weaponry, for instance weapons for sporting events, the licensing authority is the central government.
The Arms Rules include the relevant forms for applying for a license, and the government of India has a website dedicated to this, which includes a manual on arms licenses which answers all the key questions.
When the licensing authority receives an application for an arms license, they have to call for a report of the officer in charge of the nearest police station on that application. This is why the Mumbai Police had to grant approval for Salman Khan's license.
In their report, the police have to see if the person applying for a license has a good reason for doing so. This is done through examination of documents as well as an interview. The report has to be sent back within 30 days, though in some areas where further scrutiny is required, this can be done within 90 days.
The Arms Act expressly recognises sporting events and crop protection as reasons for obtaining a weapon, while the Arms Rules prescribe more grounds on which a person can apply for a license, such as personal protection.
The licensing authority has to pass an order (with reasons either way) on whether to provide a license to an applicant within 60 days of receiving the police report. As a result, the timeline for a decision on a gun application is a maximum of three months.
A gun license lasts for a period of three years, but can be extended for three-year terms subsequently.
It can also be revoked if the licensing authority is informed by the police of any violation of the license, or other violations of the Arms Act including the acquisition of prohibited arms and ammunition.
What are the Grounds to Apply for a Gun License? Which Weapons Can be Obtained Under These Licenses?
Rule 12 of the Arms Rules specifies the grounds on which a person can apply for a gun license.
Rule 12(3) is what is applicable for most average citizens, and allows licenses for the following reasons:
Any person who by the very nature of his business, profession, job or otherwise has genuine requirement to protect his life and/or property; or
Any dedicated sports person being active member for the last two years, of a shooting club or a rifle association, licensed under these rules and who wants to pursue sport shooting for target practice in a structured learning process; or
Any person in service or having served in the Defence Forces, Central Armed Police Forces or the State Police Force and has genuine requirement to protect his life and/or property.
A license issued for these purposes can be used to acquire the weapons which are not every advanced, ie regular handguns (including semi-automatic handguns, basic revolvers), .22 bore rifles (including semi-automatic ones), smooth bore shotguns and breech loading rifles.
This rule is also to be used for acquiring tasers, or even paintball guns.
When making an application on the grounds that they think there is a threat to life, a person will need to provide supporting evidence, including FIRs or police complaints filed by them regarding the threats. Where they are operating a business which can be at risk, such as a bank or jewellery shop, they will not need to produce an FIR, but instead produce proof of the business.
Rule 12(2) applies to those who may need more sophisticated weaponry to protect themselves, especially those facing threats from terrorists or militants. These include:
Any person who faces grave and anticipated threat to his life by reason of – (i) being resident of a geographical area or areas where militants, terrorists or extremists are most active; or (ii) being the prime target in the eyes of militants, terrorists or extremists; or (iii) facing danger to his life for being inimical to the aims and objectives of the militants, terrorists or extremists; or
Any Government official who by virtue of the office occupied by him or by the nature of duty performed by him and/or in due discharge of his official duty is exposed to anticipated risk to his life; or
Any Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly, who by virtue of having close or active association with anti-militant, anti-terrorist or anti-extremist programmes and policies of the Government or by mere reason of holding views, political or otherwise, exposed himself to anticipated risk to his life; or
Any family member or kith and kin of a person who by the very nature of his duty or performance (past or present) or position occupied in the Government (past or present) or even otherwise for known or unknown reasons exposed himself to anticipated risk to his life
If the applicant does not exactly fit this category, but has some other genuine reason to be granted a license for a more advanced weapon, they can also present evidence of this to the licensing authority and make a special request.
A license under Rule 12(2) can be used to obtain advanced semi-automatic rifles and handguns (which cannot be converted into automatic firearms), tasers with a range of more than 15 feet, and high-calibre rifles, pistols and revolvers.
While this can include some powerful weapons, it remains absolutely prohibited for a person to obtain an automatic weapon like an assault rifle or machine gun, or sub-machine gun.
Once the licensing authority agrees to grant a gun license, the applicant has to receive some basic training on how to operate the weapon. The details of their license and any purchase of weaponry are maintained in the government's NDAL registry.
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