Shooters - ace and aspiring - can no longer use air guns, air pistols and air rifles for target practice without getting a proper licence, if they are not members of a military mess, club or association.
The Delhi high court has quashed a 1962 government notification that exempted these arms from all the regulations and controls under the Arms Act, 1959, including the requirement of a valid licence.
A Bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice S Muralidhar rejected the National Rifle Association of India's argument that air guns, air rifles or air pistols used for target practice were not firearms as defined under the Act, but were merely toys and as such these did not fall under the purview of the licencing regime.
"It is safe to conclude that air guns, air rifles, air pistols are not mere toys…and they are very much subject to the provisions of the Act, being firearms," the Bench said.
On a petition filed by People for Animals, the HC had in 2002 quashed the July 13, 1962 notification exempting air guns, air rifles, air pistols from the requirement of licence. PFA had argued that these arms were used for killing or maiming animals and birds.
But NRAI filed a petition seeking review of the order on the ground that these were not firearms and therefore licence could not be mandatory.
Maintaining that no citizen had a blanket right to carry firearms, the court said nobody; even NRAI members could claim a right to secure a licence. "They have, at best a right to apply for, and be considered for the grant of a licence, subject to fulfillment of the prescribed qualifications."
PFA counsel Raj Panjwani said, "Those having air guns, air rifles or air pistols would need to apply for licence."
He welcomed the verdict, saying, "the judgment is a harmonious balance between needs of the sports fraternity and the obligation of citizens to show compassion towards animals."
The court took note of the subsequent developments in the field of law, including the enactment of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 to justify its decision.
Rifle shooter Shimon Sharif, who has participated in the 2003 World Cup in South Korea, said it was a major setback for the shooters. "The NRAI should have pursued the case much more professionally."