Objections from Rajasthan, Punjab to gun law changes

Deep Mukherjee, Kanchan Vasdev
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There are about 5 lakh registered gun licence holders in Punjab and about 8 lakh registered firearms, according to government records. (Representational)

The Centre's decision to further tighten the gun law has met with resistance from traditional gun-owning communities in Rajasthan and Punjab.

Members of the Rajput community and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh have objected to a provision in the Centre's proposed amendments to the 1959 Arms Act that prohibit an Indian citizen from owning more than one gun. The 1959 Arms Act allowed a licence holder to have three firearms.


Discussion coming up in Lok Sabha

A Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha last week seeking to enhance punishment for illegally possessing and making prohibited arms, besides other changes in the six-decade-old Arms Act. The Arms (Amendment) Bill, which also provides for restrictions on the number of firearms a person can have, is listed for discussion in Lok Sabha on Monday.

There are about 5 lakh registered gun licence holders in Punjab and about 8 lakh registered firearms, according to government records. A chunk of them are .12 bore-single and double barrel guns, 303 rifles, and most of the licences were issued during the two decades of militancy in the state.

The state government argues that Punjab has 16 lakh farmers, and they need guns to kill vermin -- nilgai and birds. The farmers need three types of weapons -- for shooting birds, blue bulls and for their security. Punjab recently classified blue bull as a vermin, allowing it to be culled.

State officials say only 11 per cent of licensed weapons are used in crimes across the state "In 89 per cent of crimes involving weapons, illegal weapons are used. It does not make any sense to deprive people of their weapons on this argument that these were giving rise to crimes," said a government official.

Amarinder, a scion of the erstwhile Patiala Royal Estate, had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the amendments during the latter's visit to Punjab during the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, and has followed it up with a letter to the PM.

The official said Amarinder has stated that Punjab agrees with most of the proposed amendments but had "strong reservations regarding restricting the number of firearms".

"Punjab being a border state and having gone through a long period of terrorist violence, a large number of people possess more than one firearm and many farmers who reside away from the villages in their agricultural lands/farms, also possess firearms for crop protection. It was also significant to note that only a very small fraction of crime was committed using licensed weapons. These facts could be independently ascertained as they were within the domain of the MHA," the letter says.

However, farmers' organisations in Punjab aren't amused with the government firing from their shoulder. "We represent poor farmers who do not have enough to eat. How can they afford weapons? We have called a meeting," said Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan of Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan). He said guns control law may be hurting big farmers.

Among those worried are also people who treasure weapons handed down as heirloom. The amendment says that "...while granting arms licence on inheritance or heirloom basis, the limit of one firearm shall not be exceeded". Rajput outfits such as Shree Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (SRRKS) and Rajput Sabha have warned of protests.

"Many Rajput families trace their lineage from the erstwhile jagirdars and royalty, people who have antique guns as family heirlooms. Weapons have immense sentimental value for us. The amendments, if passed, will rob us of these treasured possessions. If the government doesn't listen, we will see what we can do," said Giriraj Singh Lotwara, president, Rajput Sabha.

Rajasthan Additional Director General (crime), B L Soni, said at present 1.72 lakh gun licences have been issued in the state. "Around 10 per cent of these license holders are people with multiple weapons. And many of them are those who either own ancestral weapons, or are in the sport of shooting or are members of the armed forces," Soni told The Sunday Express.

The Rajput Sabha president said he had written a letter to the PM. "The Rajput community should be made a stakeholder in the discussion process for the Act," said Lotwara.

"Weapons are reflective of the glorious past of the Rajputs. People from all over the world come to Rajasthan to see these antique weapons, it is a part of our heritage. If the central government doesn't take our feelings into consideration, then we will protest," said Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi, president, SRRKS.