SHOULD EVERYONE HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
Author: Garima Kamboj, II year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from University institute of legal studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh
The right to bear arms means that people have the right to keep arms for the defense. The right to life is one of the fundamental rights which also includes the right to defend ourselves and for that protection one can keep arms. But this right is restricted by the ‘gun control legislation’. In the countries like the United States, the right to bear arms is granted as a right. But in India, it is not recognized as a constitutional right. In India, there are some loopholes in the system which is generally exploited by criminals and it becomes difficult to protect citizens from exploitation.
RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS IN INDIA
Earlier, the Arms Act of 1878 was enforced which disallows Indians from keeping firearms unless they proved their loyalty to the crown. The Centre amended this actwhich was followed by Arms Act, 1959 which provides guidelines for keeping arms. No person can keep firearms with him/her without having a license under this act. This act also talks about the punishment if someone breaks the rules mentioned in the act. The right to self-defense is considered under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution but this right does have any constitutional significance in India.
REASONS FOR PASSING THE ARMS ACT
Before 1857, there was no gun control law in India. Any Indian can keep weapons as per their wish. Everyone was allowed to keep weapons and there were no restrictions on the same. To prevent any kind of conflict, the Arms act was passed and only a few people had given the right to keep weapons. The main objective of passing this act was to prevent Indians to keep weapons with them. This Act was enforced in 1877 and it continued till 1959 after that this act was amended in 1959.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR GETTING A LICENSE
The possession of firearms is prohibited for the person who has not achieved the age of 21 and the person is of unsound mind during the sale of the firearms[i]. The person who is applying for the license must have a valid justification for acquiring firearms and should not have any past criminal record[ii]. For getting a license, one has to go through safety training programs where they are taught how to handle a gun. A person whose occupation by nature is an open threat and danger to the common people is prohibited from acquiring a license.
In the case, Ganesh Chandra Bhatt vs. District Magistrate, Almora[iii], the petitioner had applied for the license of a revolver and even after fulfilling all the eligibility criteria, his application got rejected. The Allahabad Court had held that the application cannot be canceled if it does not come under prohibited weapons and there is proper eligibility for acquiring a license. The license was granted to the petitioner on the basis that the right to self-defense has been considered a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Although this ruling was overruled and now right to bear arms solely depends on the Arms Act and is not protected constitutionally.
AUTHORITIES AUTHORIZED TO PROVIDE LICENSE
Before 1987, licenses were issued for both prohibited and non-prohibited weapons which were issued by the State government or District magistrate[iv] but after some time, it become the responsibility of the Central government to issue a license for prohibited weapons[v]. The validity of the license remains for up to 3 years after that it is necessary to get the renewal of the license[vi].
PUNISHMENT UNDER ARMS ACT
Individuals who sell, transfer, use, repair, or expose firearms or transport them illegally in violation of the act will face at least seven years of imprisonment which may be extended to life imprisonmentwith a fine[vii]. The possession, sale, or transportation of prohibited weapons can lead to imprisonment of seven years and may extend to life imprisonment in some cases with a fine[viii].
If there is any attempt of hiding arms while the place is being searched for the arms will attract imprisonment of up to ten years with a fine[ix]. Persons who are acquiring arms under the orders of the Central or State government are exempted from this act.
IS THIS ACT SERVING ITS PURPOSE OR NOT
If we look at the statistics given by Global Study on Homicide, we will be able to know that Asia is the second region in aspects of the number of intentional murders.These licensed firearms seem more dangerous because according to the statistics the number of people killed by criminals using these licensed firearms is more compared to people who died due to arms conflict.
The main objective of the Arms Act has been lost. Its objective was to protect people from threats and violence but nowadays it has become a threat itself to society. The richer person usually exploits the economically weaker section because rich people can afford to purchase firearms whereas poor people cannot afford them. Although India has the strictest gun laws in the world still it is the second country having the highest number of deaths due to murders and homicides from licensed firearms. It is the need of the hour that the government and the concerned authorities prevent the situation from becoming worst. There should be stricter gun laws and the common people should not have the right to bear arms with them for the sake of self-defense because they should not be given the right to take anyone's life as they also right to life and liberty.
[i]The Arms Act 1959, s(9) [ii]The Arms Act 1959, s(13) [iii] Ganesh Chandra Bhatt vs. District Magistrate, 1993 AIR 291 Almora [iv]The Arms Rules 1962, s 5 (1) [v]The Arms Act 1959, s 11 [vi]The Arms Act 1959, s 15(1) [vii]The Arms Act 1959, s 25 (1) AA [viii]The Arms Act 1959, s 25 (1) AA [ix]The Arms Act 1959, s 37 (a)