Days after the Delhi Hgh Court ruled that shooters could no longer use air guns, air pistols and air rifles for target practice without acquiring a proper firearms licence, Beijing Olympic gold-medallist in 10m air rifle, Abhinav Bindra, said the judgment could kill the sport in the country.
"What about the kids who aspire to be top-notch shooters some day? When I started shooting as a 12-year-old, I could go to a toy shop and pick up an air gun. Please don't tell me you need to have a licence to get one now," said Bindra.
"Shooting has grown over the years and now more than 40,000 competitive and many more recreational shooters are there in the country. India has the best in the business. Do they have to apply for licences? It's a setback."
The Delhi High Court had recently quashed a government notification that exempted these arms from regulations and controls under the Arms Act, saying, "Air guns, air pistols and air rifles are not mere toys and they are very much subject to the provisions of the Act, being firearms."
However, it made an exception by allowing marksmen without licences to shoot at military mess, club or association ranges.
Making it difficult
"I got into shooting because air guns were so accessible. As it is so difficult to become a shooter, now, it will become an even more challenging affair, as the equipment would not be accessible," said Bindra.
"In 98 per cent of the countries, they don't require licences, with the exceptions probably being China and Korea. Otherwise, the world over, air guns and air rifles are not considered firearms. India's success in shooting has been because the sport became accessible and imports were cheap. You could become a member of a club or state association and import guns without hassles. But now, it's going to be affected in a big way.
"I believe that for applying for a firearms licence one needs to be 18 years and above. By 18, the downhill of a shooter starts. The average age of shooters in major international events is 20-25 years, so one needs to start early to excel on the big stage.
"It's strange to say that competitive air guns and air rifles are used for killing and maiming animals and birds. The equipment is expensive and can only be used in target shooting. You can't really shoot birds and animals with this sophisticated equipment," said the ace shooter.
"Moreover, air pistols or air rifles are the stepping-stone for other shooting events such as 50m rifle and shotgun events. Everyone starts with an air gun or an air pistol and graduates to the next level," he said.