RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- THE ARMS (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2019
Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and it has been passed by both the houses. The Bill seeks to amend the Arms Act, 1959 by reducing the number of firearms allowed per person from the current three, to just one. It also proposes new categories of offences and an increase in the penalty for certain offences. The proposed capping of firearms has met with resistance from both ruling and opposition leaders amid reports of some MPs, including ex-royals, trying to persuade the government to refer the bill to a House committee. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has argued that if some states are keen to reduce the number of weapons, they may be allowed to do so without prejudice to the other states. The Punjab government is said to support most of the proposed amendments in the bill but has reservations about restricting the number of firearms a licensee can possess to one.
- License for acquiring firearms:
Under the Act, a license must be obtained to acquire, possess, or carry any firearm. A person can obtain a license for up to three firearms (with certain exceptions, such as for licensed firearms dealers). The Bill reduces the number of permitted firearms from three to one. This includes licenses given on inheritance or heirloom basis. The Bill provides a time period of one year to deposit the excess firearms with the officer-in-charge of the nearest police station or with a licensed firearm dealer as specified. If the owner is a member of the armed forces, the firearm may be deposited with a unit armoury. The excess firearms will be delicensed within 90 days from the expiry of the one-year period. The Bill also increases the duration of the validity of a firearm license from three years to five years.
- Ban on firearms:
The Act bans manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing or proofing of firearms without license. It also prohibits shortening of firearm barrel or conversion of imitation firearms into firearms without a license. The Bill additionally prohibits obtaining or procuring un-licensed firearms, and the conversion of one category of firearms to another without a license. It also allows members of rifle clubs or associations to use any firearm for target practice instead of only point 22 bore rifles or air rifles.
- Increase in punishment:
The Bill amends the punishment in relation to several offences. The Act specifies the punishment for:
- dealing in un-licensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, conversion,
- the shortening or conversion of a firearm without a licence, and
- import or export of banned firearms.
The punishment for these offences is between three years and seven years, along with a fine. The Bill increases the punishment to between seven years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.
- The Act punishes acquisition, possession or carrying of prohibited ammunition without a license, with imprisonment between five and ten years, along with fine. The Bill increases the punishment to imprisonment between seven and 14 years, along with fine. A court may impose a punishment of lesser than seven years, with recorded reasons.
- The Act also punishes dealing in prohibited firearms (including their manufacture, sale and repair) without a license, with imprisonment between seven years and life imprisonment, along with fine. The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to 10 years. The punishment for cases in which the usage of prohibited arms and ammunition results in the death of a person has been revised from the existing punishment of death to death or life imprisonment, with fine.
- New offences:
The Bill adds news offences. These include:
- forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces, punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with fine,
- using firearms in a celebratory gunfire which endangers human life or personal safety of others, punishable with imprisonment of up to two years, or fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both. Celebratory gunfire refers to use of firearms in public gatherings, religious places, marriages or other functions to fire ammunition.
- The Bill also defines offences committed by organised crime syndicates and illicit trafficking. “Organised crime” refers to continuing unlawful activity by a person, either as a member of a syndicate or on its behalf, by using unlawful means, such as violence or coercion, to gain economic or other benefits. An organised crime syndicate refers to two or more persons committing organised crime. Possession of firearms or ammunition by a member of a syndicate, in violation of the Act, will be punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine. This punishment will also apply to to anyone dealing in un-licensed firearms (including its manufacture or sale), converting a firearm without license, or importing or exporting firearms without license, on behalf of a syndicate.
- The Bill defines illicit trafficking to include the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunitions into or out of India where the firearms are either not marked as per the Act or violate the provisions of the Act. Illicit trafficking is punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.
- Tracking of firearms:
The central government may make rules to track firearms and ammunition from manufacturer to purchaser to detect, investigate, and analyse illicit manufacturing and trafficking.
- The bill will Reduce firearms-related crime.
- India currently has around 35 lakh gun licenses. Uttar Pradesh with 13 lakh gun license tops the list, followed by Jammu and Kashmir where 3.7 lakh people possess arms licences, most of which were taken in the name of personal security. The state of Punjab also has around 3.6 lakh active gun licences, most of which were issued between the 1980s and 1990s, during the peak of terrorism in the state.
- Punjab, which witnessed terrorism in 1980s and 1990s, has around 3.6 lakh active gun licences, most of which were issued during the two decades of strife.
- The Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 has been introduced to control the use and possession of weapons in the country, to reduce their rash and illegal usage, which can endanger another human being.
- The intentions of the bill are good but ground reality is quite different.
- Effective control over arms and ammunition is very important for safety and security in the country.
- CM of Punjab has said the state doesn’t have a problem with any other provisions of the Act, but with the limit on firearm possession.
- He has written to the Centre urging it not to reduce the number “in view of the sensitive location and troubled history of the state”.
- The members of the Rajput community have opposed the proposed amendments.
- Small fractions of crimes are conducted by licensed arms holder, it is mainly by unlicensed one.
- It will help police to maintain law and order in a better way.
- Need to be inline with police reforms.