Ascedencany of Gun Control Legislation in Contemporary Society of India

According to Merriam-Webster, gun control refers to "the domestic regulation of sale and use, transport, possession, trade and manufacture of firearms." It refers specifically to pistols, revolvers, rifles, carbines, assault rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns.

The legal definition of 'Gun Control' entails "government regulation of the manufacture, sale and possession of firearms."

A Gun Control Legislation refers to the policies and legal reasoning that either regulate the possession and purchase of firearms or restrict their usage. Such legislation further explores aspects, such as the types of guns that may be owned, waiting periods required for purchase as well as the classification of individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms.

Gun Control Laws, were implemented?

The gun control legislation is implemented and enforced in countries like Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Burma, Canada, Chile, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lesotho, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, United States, and Russia. However, there are minute contrasting procedural implementations in respect to the strictness and penology. For instance, gun control laws are strict in Japan, Canada, China, United Kingdom, and Australia. Countries like Pakistan, Somalia, Bir Tawil, Yemen, and Iraq either do not have any gun control laws or the laws are not implemented.

History of Gun-related Violence

Levels of gun-related violence vary greatly among geographical regions, countries, and even sub-nationally. The highest rates of violent deaths by firearm worldwide occur in low-income South and Central American countries such as Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Jamaica.

The United States has the 11th highest rate of gun violence worldwide and by far the highest of any developed nation. In 1966, the deadliest mass murder in United States history took place at the University of Texas, Austin. The "Texas Tower Sniper" killed 16 people and wounded 31 within 96 minutes, using a bolt action rifle and semi-automatic weapons. His weapons allowed him to achieve a casualty rate of one every two minutes. In 2017, one of the deadliest mass murders took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, where, firing from a hotel into a country music festival, a shooter killed 58 people and wounded 546 within 10 minutes. By using assault rifles converted into automatic weapons, he achieved a casualty rate of one per second.

The Port Arthur Massacre,1996, horrified the people of Australia. The gunman opened fire on shop owners and tourists, killing 35 and wounding 23. It kick-started laws against guns in Australia. The then Prime Minister, John Howard, proposed legislation that prevented the public from having all semi-automatic rifles, all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, in addition to a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

In 2020, more than 2,000 people were killed, and more than 3,600 were injured in Turkey. The five cities with the most incidents were Istanbul, Samsun, Adana, İzmir, and Bursa. The chairman of the Umut Foundation records 18 million unregistered guns, which equals 89% of the guns in the country.

If worldwide statistics are to be believed, more than 500 people die every day from gun violence, and 44% of all homicides globally involve gun violence. There were 1.4 million firearm-related deaths globally between the years 2012 and 2016.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" - Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister, an activist, a visible spokesman, and a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, 1955. He was committed to adhering to the path of non-violence for achieving civil rights and racial justice. On 4th April 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. His assassination sparked outrage across the country and fueled the growth of the Black Power Movement. The civil unrest after his assassination revved up gun violence in the country to such an extent that it became practically impossible for the then President, Mr Lyndon B. Johnson, to disregard the issue. Therefore, he passed the 1968 Gun Control Act that has facilitated the application of modern-day laws concerning gun control in the United States.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008

Facts: Dick Anthony Heller was the plaintiff. He was a licensed special police officer in Washington who had been issued a handgun as part of his job. Yet federal law prevented him from owning and keeping one in his District of Columbia home. After learning the plight of fellow D.C. resident Adrian Plesha, Heller unsuccessfully sought help from the National Rifle Association, with a lawsuit, to overturn the gun ban in the District of Columbia.

Plesha was convicted and sentenced to probation and 120 hours of community service after shooting and wounding a man burglarizing his home in 1997. Although the burglar admitted to the crime, handgun ownership had been illegal in the district since 1976. Heller was unsuccessful in convincing the NRA to take up the case, but he connected with Cato Institute scholar Robert Levy. Levy planned a self-financed lawsuit to overturn the D.C. gun ban and hand-selected six plaintiffs, including Heller, to challenge the law. Heller and his five co-plaintiffs filed their initial lawsuit in February 2003.

Decision: The Supreme Court sided with Heller by a 5-4 majority, affirming the appeals court decision. The court ruled that the District of Columbia must give Heller a license to possess a handgun inside his home. In the process, the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms and that the handgun ban and trigger lock requirement violated the Second Amendment. The decision did not prohibit many existing federal limitations to gun ownership, including restrictions for convicted felons and the mentally ill. It did not affect the limitations preventing the possession of firearms in schools and government buildings.

The Indian Arms Act, 1959

After the 1857 revolt in India, the British Crown directly assumed power and control of the affairs of India. Lord Lytton became the Viceroy of the administration of India in 1876 which resulted in several administrative changes, which were beneficial to the British Crown. In 1878, he passed the Indian Arms Act. It stipulated that "no Indian will be allowed to carry firearms without a proper permit." It further regulated the manufacture, sale, possession, and carriage of firearms and made it mandatory to have a license. However, it excluded some people who were Anglo-Indians, English, or government servants. The implementation of this Act was met with outrage and dissenting opinions, as it was a badge of racial inferiority on Indians in the opinion of some nationalist leaders.

The Indian Arms Act, 1959 prescribed the relevant guidelines to possess guns and divided the firearm licenses into two parts;

  1. Prohibited Bore

  2. Non-Prohibited Bore

As per this law, a license can be issued to anyone with good reasons to keep a firearm. In 2016, the government replaced the Arms Rules, 1962, streamlining the regulations in the wake of the threat of terrorism and the misuse of weapons.

The Arms Amendment Bill, 2019

The Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is scheduled to be passed in this Winter Session. The Bill amends the Arms Act, 1959, which deals with the regulation of arms in India. The Act defines "arms" to include firearms, swords, and anti-aircraft missiles.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill noted that law enforcement agencies indicated a growing connection between the possession of illegal firearms and criminal activities. In this context, the Bill seeks to reduce the number of firearms allowed per person and increases punishments for certain offences under the Act. The Bill also introduces new categories of offences.

Presently, the Act bans the manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing, or proofing of 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. The latter includes any modifications done to enhance the performance of firearms.

The Bill also proposes increased punishments for several existing offences. For example, for dealing in unlicensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, and conversion; the shortening or conversion without a licence, and import or export of banned firearms. The punishment for these offences currently is between three years and seven years, along with a fine. The Bill increases the minimum imprisonment to seven years and the maximum to life imprisonment.

Pros of a Structured and Meticulous Gun Control Law:

  1. An implemented legislation restricts the sale and purchase of guns of all categories. There will be fewer deaths perpetrated by gun violence.

  2. A gun control legislation makes specifications regarding the age group, qualifications, and authentication that can reduce unwarranted, illegal trading of guns, and the statistics of crimes committed by juveniles.

  3. Such legislation will either restrict or ban the usage of high-capacity magazines, decreasing or eliminating the probability of performance of mass murders.

  4. Structured legislation would be able to reduce the costs associated with gun violence. A study in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that hospitalisations for firearm-related injuries cost around $2.7 billion over nine years. At times, 84% of those injured by firearms are uninsured, leaving taxpayers responsible for most of those bills through programs like Medicaid.

  5. Enactment and implementation of such legislation will reduce the number of suicides and accidental deaths by guns.

  6. Such legislation will make it difficult for civilians, including hunters, to acquire military-grade firearms and firearm accessories, protecting the animals and preserving the ideas of animal rights activists.

Concluding Remarks

India has one of the strictest and amplified gun control laws in the world. Unlike the United States, which makes it a fundamental right of its citizens to own a gun. Our country has made it clear that it is just a legal right under the Arms Act, 1959. At present, even people possessing air guns are required to have a licence. Other safety measures like the imparting of training for not only the licence seeker but also for personnel handling ammunition have been put in place.

The central government has also been working to create a nationwide robust online database to manage information on existing licence holders to prevent the potential misuse of guns.

The detractors of strict gun laws in India often raise the point that such rigorous regulations reflect the mistrust of the government in its citizens. Critics also argue that such stringent laws have resulted in a parallel, illegal industry in guns.

The law suggests that the higher the number of gun-toting individuals roaming the streets, the greater are the chances of accidents and mass shootings. It is simply because not every gun-owner is capable of handling weapons maturely. Every society is, thus, confronted with two choices:

  1. Either to arm citizens against threats, or

  2. Jeopardize their safety by adopting a lax approach towards the regulation of guns.

However, the country of India has made its choice quite clearly and proficiently.


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