India suffered under British rule for more than a hundred years and through that time, although the struggle for independence reflected non-violence, Indians were governed by strict laws like the Indian Arms Act, 1878 which prohibited Indians from bearing firearms. This was one of the oppressive legislations that Mahatma Gandhi and some of the other leaders sought independence from and in it was also decided that the right to bear arms would be one of the Fundamental Rights given to the people of a free India. However, everything changed when the partition of India into two dominions – India and Pakistan, led to violence and bloodshed in the name of communalism. The leaders witnessed the devasting consequences of having access to firearms and weapons, so they refused to include the right to bear arms in the Constitution of India. With the absence of a right to own firearms the question of the right to self-defense comes into question and this is where the Arms Act, 1959 is applied to issue the license to bear arms to certain citizens of India.
Right to bear arms in India
The Arms Act, 1959 regulates the right to bear arms by consolidating, regulating and amending the laws relating to arms and ammunition in India. According to the Act, only a person who has been issued a license through a procedure that complies with the provisions of the said Act is allowed to be in possession of a firearm. Even with a license, civilians are only permitted to possess Non-Prohibited Bore (NPB) guns.
The situation is different in the United States of America as the Second Amendment to the Constitution which reads, “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” gives the right to bear arms Constitutional recognition. Every citizen in the United States has the right to bear arms and the process of obtaining a gun isn’t all that difficult at all. This ease of access has led to a lot of people campaigning for stricter gun laws especially with the increasing number of incidents of gun-related violence.
Procedure to apply for a firearm license in India
The process to apply for a license is as follows[i]:
1. Applicant must be above the age of 21, of sound mind and must have a valid justification for owning a firearm
2. Application form can be obtained from the District Superintendent of Police (DSP) of a particular state
3. After the application is submitted, the police will perform a background check to ensure that the applicant has no past records of criminal activity
4. The police will also visit the applicant’s residence to assess the environment and interact with the neighbours to make sure that the applicant is of sound mind
5. The DCP will also interview the applicant after which the reports are sent to the Criminal Branch and the National Crime Record Bureau
6. Once the license has been accepted, every applicant must go through a safety training program where they are taught how to properly handle a gun
The DCP has the discretion to accept or reject the application to obtain a license since bearing a firearm is neither a Constitutional Right nor a Fundamental Right in India. The license will only be valid in the state where the application was made, and it is only valid for a period of three years and must be renewed immediately after the expiry of the said period.
In the case of Ganesh Chandra Bhatt v District Magistrate, Almora[ii], Justice Katju held that if an application for a license to bear a non-prohibited weapon is not accepted or rejected in three months, the license is deemed to have been granted by the Government since the right to self-defense has been considered to be within the ambit of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21. However, this judgement was passed prior to the 1993 terror attack in Bombay and since then the judgement has been overruled and as of now the right to bear arms is solely governed by the Arms Act, 1959 and it is not constitutionally protected.
India is one of the countries with the strictest gun laws in the world and many activists are saying that the country should follow in the footstep of America and be more lenient with the laws. However, the Control Arms Foundation of India raised the argument that providing citizens easy access to weapons would mean that the State has failed in providing security. With the increasing cases of violence against women, however, the Government has granted women the right to own licensed electronic taser guns and even carry them around in public places; a right not extended to even licensed gun owners. Strict gun laws are essential because in the name of self-defense one cannot be allowed to possess firearms and possibly take someone else’s life as they too have the Right to life and personal liberty.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] Shulanda Singh, Here’s how you can get a gun license in India, Mensxp, (August 31, 2019, 7:36 PM), https://www.mensxp.com/mean-machines/epic-weaponry/40558-here-s-how-you-can-get-a-gun-license-in-india.html.
[ii] Ganesh Chandra Bhatt v District Magistrate, Almora AIR (1993) All 291.