The Arms Amendment Bill 2019 was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 10, 2019, and by the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019. After passing the bill some are appreciating and some are protesting. In this article, we will see the amendments are being made through this bill. We will also the reason behind its appreciation and opposition.

Significance of the Arms (Amendment) Bill 2019?

The Bill seeks to amend the Arms Act, 1959 by reducing the number of firearms allowed per person.

It also proposes new categories of offences and

Increase in the penalty for certain offences.

Amendments made in Arms Act 1959

1) License for acquiring firearms:

Under the Arms Act 1959, 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 Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 reduces the number of permitted firearms from three to two.  This includes licenses given on inheritance or heirloom basis. 

The bill also increases the duration of the validity of a firearm license from three years to five years.

Where to deposit ??

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.

2) Ban on firearms:

The Arms Act, 1959 bans manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing or proofing of firearms without a license.  It also prohibits a shortening of firearm barrel or conversion of imitation firearms into firearms without a license. 

The Arms (Amendment) Bill,2019 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 the only point 22 bore rifles or air rifles. 

3) Increase in punishment: 

The Bill amends the punishment in relation to several offences.  The Arms Act 1959 specifies the punishment for:

(i) dealing in unlicensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, conversion,

(ii) the shortening or conversion of a firearm without a license, and

(iii) import or export of banned firearms. 

The punishment for these offences is between three years and seven years, along with a fine. The Arms Amendment Bill increases the punishment to between seven years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.

The Arms Act, 1959 punishes acquisition, possession or carrying of prohibited ammunition without a license, with imprisonment between five and ten years, along with fine. The (Amendment) Bill,2019 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 Arms Act, 1959 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 Arms Amendment Bill 2019 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. 

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New offences added by Arms Amendment Bill 2019:

(i) forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces, punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with fine,

(ii) 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.( In 2016, 169 people were killed in such incidents of firing.

Note: Celebratory gunfire refers to the use of firearms in public gatherings, religious places, marriages or other functions to fire ammunition.

organised crime syndicates and illicit trafficking.

The Arms Amendment Bill 2019 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.

The Bill defines illicit trafficking. It includes the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunition 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.

Protests against Arme amendment Bill 2019

Why are people in Punjab unhappy?

In Punjab, protesters include individuals who own more than two weapons (includes businessmen, former Army personnel and farmers).

The Punjab government’s position is that over 50% of the state’s farmers stay in remote villages and need arms to protect themselves.

Villagers close to the Pakistan border are also insecure about infiltrators.

Some Punjab residents still keep the guns they had acquired during the days of militancy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many residents inherited vintage weapons from their ancestors, which they do not want to part with.

CM’s stand – Chief Minister has said the state doesn’t have a problem with any other provisions of the Act, but with the limit on firearm possession.

Protest in Rajasthan?

Rajput community – The members of the Rajput community have opposed the proposed amendments.

They have antique guns as family heirlooms and worship weapons.

So, they think that the new amendment bill if passed will rob them of their treasured possessions.

Karni Sena have threatened to protest if a person is not allowed to keep more than one firearm.

According to the Additional Director General of Crime (Rajasthan), at present, there are 1.72 lakh gun licenses issued in Rajasthan.

Around 10% of these license holders are people with multiple weapons.

Mainly such people are a president who owns ancestral weapons, are in the sport of shooting, or personnel from the armed forces.

What is the Central government’s stand?

It maintains the move will help reduce firearms-related crime.

According to National Crime Record Bureau’s 2016 report,

In Punjab, 48 were murdered by use of firearms, out of which 22 were licensed firearms and 26 were illegal.

In Rajasthan, 23 victims were murdered by the use of firearms and all murders were committed using illegal weapons.

According to an estimate, India has a total of around 35 lakh gun licenses. 13 lakh people have licenses to carry weapons in Uttar Pradesh, followed by militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir, where 3.7 lakh people possess arms licenses, most of which were taken on grounds of personal security.

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