Firearm laws may get more stringent
The ministry has also proposed a new section, 25 (6), with a minimum punishment of 10 years in prison and maximum punishment of life imprisonment till death for using prohibited fire arms or ammunition by members of organised crime syndicate.
The Union home ministry has proposed stringent punishment, including jail till death, for those illegally manufacturing “prohibited” arms, and for members of crime syndicates carrying such arms, in the proposed changes in the Indian Arms Act, 1959, according to senior officials familiar with the matter.
One of the officials cited above, privy to discussions on the proposed changes, said on condition of anonymity that the quantum of punishment for most offences has been doubled in the proposed Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The draft of the proposed law, reviewed by HT, covers five new areas -- illegal trafficking of arms, tracking arms and their components from manufacturers to end users, organised crime, organised crime syndicates, and celebratory firing --- with varying punishment for these offences.
Under penal provisions, the ministry has sought to amend Section 25 (1AA) of the Act, to give a punishment from the usual life term of 14 years to “imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life” for manufacturing facturing, selling, repairing and possessing prohibited arms. The draft says that minimum punishment under this section will be 14 years; under the current law, the minimum punishment is seven years and the maximum is 10.
The ministry has also proposed a new section, 25 (6), with a minimum punishment of 10 years in prison and maximum punishment of life imprisonment till death for using prohibited fire arms or ammunition by members of organised crime syndicate. This section also gives seven years in prison to a life term for manufacturing these firearms or selling them to these syndicates.
The draft amendments categorise the illegal import of guns and components and their sale and purchase as “illicit trade” and has provisions to send an authorised gun dealer to jail for up to seven years for tampering with the markings on the weapons.
In addition, the draft also allows a person to have a maximum of two firearms, as against the present norm of three. The proposed amendment says only “club members” can possess a third weapon -- a .22 calibre rifle only -- if they are “a dedicated sportsperson whose participation in shooting sports has been recognised in national or international events in the last two years by the Central government”.
There are around four million licensed firearms in the country, according to home ministry data.
The draft says that once the amendment comes into force, those who own more than two firearms will have to deposit the rest with the local administration or authorised gun dealers within 90 days for de-licensing.
According to the government officials cited above, the ministry discussed the proposed changes with the home secretaries and police chiefs of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur. The meetings were also attended by senior officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), they added.
A second government official familiar with the developments said the draft Arms (Amendment) Act 2019 was aimed at curtailing the proliferation of arms and ammunition.
“While the quantum of sentence has been doubled, and even extended to a life term for people involved in manufacturing and trading in illegal firearms, the government proposes stronger action against authorised dealers resorting to unscrupulous methods and a section of shooters who have misused import rights to run a parallel trade,” the official said, asking not to be named.
When asked about the proposed chances, Ravi Ahuja, general secretary of the All India Arms Dealers’ Welfare Council, said the government should ease procedures to issue licences “so that people face no difficulty in keeping two guns.”
Abhijeet Singh, a spokesperson for National Association for Gun Rights India (NAGRI), the only pan-Indian organisation fighting for liberal gun laws, said: “More restrictions will encourage illegal trade. As arms licensing norms were tightened from the mid-1980s, more and more illegal arms surfaced.”
Former Olympian and coach Joydeep Karmarkar said the amendments will not affect sportspeople. “For competitive shooters, two or even three firearms are adequate because nobody takes part in several disciplines simultaneously. To stop misuse of shooters’ privileges, the government should set up a panel of experts to examine the weapons being imported,” Karmakar said.
In July 2016, the Centre brought into force Arms Rules 2016 through a gazette notification that not only made getting a firearm licence under the 1959 Arms Act difficult for non-sportspersons, but also brought air rifles above .177 calibre or those generating more than 20 joules of energy under the ambit of licences. The 2016 rules, however, relaxed some restrictions for civilians and sportspersons -- such as increasing the quota for ammunition. For civilians, it was increased by four times and for sportspersons, depending on their achievement in national and international competitions.