Indiscriminate Issuing of Gun Licenses, a Serious Threat to State
Controlling Gun Culture
- Personal safety, especially of women, at stake with indiscriminate issuing of gun licenses.
- Home Ministry to increase FDI limit in domestic arms manufacturing.
- Home Ministry proposal of providing lifetime validity on arms licenses doing the rounds.
- 50 lakh fire arms licenses issued lately, with northern states leading
- In case of a secessionist movement, State’s argument of providing defence fails.
Over half a dozen armed men, who had gathered at a property dealer’s premises in East Delhi, fired indiscriminately on local residents, following a minor quarrel over denial of food by a restaurant. This incident has once again shown how an increasingly liberalised gun license policy in the country is fraught with danger for ordinary citizens.
Primarily meant for self-defence, licensed weapons often find their way into the hands of people who love to flaunt them as symbols of brute power. And very often these weapons are also used for committing crimes – be it in homes or on the streets. Often criminally-bent license holders hoodwink law enforcement officers by using a single license to keep several weapons. So during random checks, they are often able to pass off the illegal firearms as licensed ones.
Issue of Personal Safety
Closely linked with licensed weapons is the issue of personal safety of other citizens, especially women, in the event of a crime as these firearms provide an unfair advantage to criminals in overpowering their victims.
But despite the known disadvantages of giving easy access to firearms, the National Democratic Alliance government appears to be keen on promoting their use, rather than restricting it.
At a time – especially in the wake of killing of nine people by a gunman at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in the United States – when widespread concerns have been expressed about the presence of too many firearms in the hands of citizens in certain countries, the Home Ministry in India is working towards allowing greater foreign direct investment in domestic arms manufacturing. They are allowing up to 49 per cent stake in place of 26 per cent at present through amendments in the Arms Act 1959 and Arms Rules 1962.
Encouraging Gun Culture
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is also working towards providing lifetime validity on arms licenses to the owners. Similarly, there is a proposal to come up with a Draft Arms Rules 2015 by which the duration of arms licenses would be increased from three to five years when firearms are required for “self-protection and crop protection”.
The new draft rules would also encourage the gun culture by allowing add-on licenses for individuals within the same family and granting of gun licenses to legal heirs.
Under the automated National Database on Arms Licences (NDAL) that now covers close to three-fourths of all licensed firearms all the states are required to digitise the arms license information by October 15.
Reducing the Number of Firearms
Under the scheme all licences will get a unique identification number and in their absence it would become invalid. All the districts across the country had been directed to complete the digitisation process by September 30. At the moment, the states are sending the compiled information to the Home Ministry.
But while this exercise is being seen as an attempt to streamline and make the process of licensing transparent, the anti-arms lobby is of the view that a reduction is needed in the number of licenses and firearms in the hands of citizens to make the country safer for all.
In India, almost 50 lakh firearm licences have been issued, of which the maximum have been given out in Uttar Pradesh (11.17 lakh), followed by Punjab (5 lakh), Madhya Pradesh (2.75 lakh), Rajasthan (1.67 lakh) and Haryana (1.12 lakh).
Incidentally, as a look at the statistics reveals, most of the licences have been issued in the northern states where weapons are also seen as a status symbol. This probably also explains why Punjab has seen a spurt in the issue of firearm licences in the last three years, where over 1.25 lakh firearm licences have been issued in such a short time-frame. Moreover, most licence-holders are shifting from double barrel guns to smaller firearms, which they can carry around with ease at all times.
Strategically, the State can argue that most of the weapons have been issued in the districts bordering Pakistan and thus the defence of the country has been strengthened. However, as past experience has shown, a proliferation of firearms can also lead to an increase in crime, both random like people killing in a fit of rage, and organised crime involving gangs.
What, however, bothers strategy experts is that in the event of any secessionist movement, the presence of a large number of firearms in a given state can actually lead to an escalation of the crisis. “Criminals and anti-national elements can get easy access to such weapons and this does away with their need to get them smuggled through the borders,” said a former military intelligence official.
(The writer is a freelance journalist.)