A couple of weeks ago, a law abiding friend of mine received an anxious call from his local police station, asking him to deposit his licenced handgun ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections. The order that came from the local administration was a consequence of the Election Commission of India’s directive that pertains to licensed gun holders surrendering their arms just before the elections.
The Election Commission directive on ‘Restriction on Possession of Arms during Election’, states that immediately after the announcement of the election dates, the district magistrates should review and assess the necessity of each licence holder to retain his licensed firearm. Only in cases where it is felt that the person has the potential to hamper the peaceful conduct of ‘free and fair’ elections are the authorities supposed to specifically ask for the firearms to be deposited. However, it has been a practice during elections that the district authorities or police administration issue blanket notices, asking all licence holders to deposit their arms with their regional police station or public armoury.
Generally in India, a licensed gun is obtained by an individual for his personal protection. However, the general practice of the police administration of asking licence holders to deposit their guns during elections could make many law-abiding gun owners prone to danger. There have been allegations from a cross section of people that the police and district administration in various parts of the country are not fully abiding by the EC’s orders. People in Punjab have been reluctant to deposit their licenced firearms with the police. Newspaper reports indicate that out of an estimated 2.86 lac weapons, only 1.03 lakh had been deposited with the police till a few days ago.
It is reported that in a recent case, the Bombay High Court had set aside the directions of the district magistrate on account of not following the prescribed procedure in impounding the weapon. It also ruled that the district magistrate had to review individual cases before repossessing the arms belonging to bona fide licence holders.
The moot question that crops up is that of the unlicensed weapons floating around the country! According to website gunpolicy.org, there are approximately 40 million civilian-owned firearms in India, and of these, only 6.3 million are licensed, which means that 85% are illegal!
As per the National Crime Records Bureau of India, most of the murders committed using firearms are with unlicensed weapons. In its report of 2009, the NCRB says that only 14 per cent of the murder victims in 2008 were killed with licensed firearms! According to an article in India Today, “Munger, in Bihar, is the traditional hub of a flourishing indigenous gun-making industry. Many lathe workshops – fronts for mini-gun factories – have been set up by unemployed young men in the area with loans taken under the Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojana (PMRY) and other welfare programmes!”
Unlike licensed firearms, unlicensed weapons are generally hand crafted; assailants can dispose of them easily and without much loss. They typically cannot be traced to any owner or by ballistic fingerprinting. These features make unlicensed firearms ideal for criminal use.
How then can we justify the impounding of licenced weapons belonging to citizens who have been verified by the police to be of good character. Does anyone actually believe that somebody would be foolish enough to use a licensed weapon to disrupt the election process, when illegal weapons are available in plenty and at significantly lower cost? If not, then why the drama?
In this issue of SECURITY TODAY, we have broken away from the tradition of doing a topical cover story. We have attempted to highlight professionalism and excellence in the private security industry with this month’s lead story. If this goes down well with our readers, in future issues we will showcase more industry leaders, their achievements and their contributions to the industry. We await your reactions!
Till we meet next month, Cheers & Happy Reading,
G B Singh
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