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 have 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.  In this post, we explain key provisions of the Bill.  

How many firearms are allowed per person?

The Arms Act, 1959 allows a person to have three licenced firearms.  The Bill proposes to reduce this to one firearm per person.  This would also include any firearms that may have been given as inheritance or as an heirloom.  Excess firearms must be deposited at the nearest police station or licensed arms dealer within one year of the passing of the Bill.  The Bill also extends the duration of a licence from three years to five years.

Note that in 2017, 63,219 firearms were seized from across India under the Arms Act, 1959.  Out of these, only 3,525 (5.5%) were licenced firearms.  Further, 36,292 cases involving firearms were registered under the Act in 2017, of which only 419 (1.1%) cases involved licenced firearms. [1]  This trend persisted even at the level of specific crimes, where only 8.5% of the murders committed using firearms involved licenced firearms. [2]

What changes are being made to existing offences?

Presently, the Act bans manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing or proofing of firearms without 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 a firearm.

The Bill also proposes increased punishments for several existing offences.   For example, the Act specifies the punishment for: (i) dealing in un-licensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, conversion, (ii) the shortening or conversion of a firearm without a licence, and (iii) 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 punishment to seven years and the maximum to life imprisonment.

The Act also punishes dealing in prohibited firearms (such as automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles) without a license, with imprisonment between seven years and life imprisonment, along with fine.  The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to 10 years.  Additionally, the punishment for cases in which the usage of prohibited arms results in the death of a person has been revised.  The punishment has been updated from the existing punishment of death penalty to allow for death penalty or life imprisonment, along with a fine.

Are there any new offences being introduced?

The Bill adds certain news offences.  For example, forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces has been made a crime under the Bill.  The punishment for doing so is imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.  Additionally, the Bill punishes the negligent use of firearms, such as celebratory gunfire during weddings or religious ceremonies which endanger human life or personal safety of others.  The proposed punishment in this case is imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both.

The Bill also adds a definition of ‘illicit trafficking’.  It is defined to include the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunitions into or out of India where the firearms are either not marked as per the Act or violate the provisions of the Act.  The Bill makes illicit trafficking punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.

Does the Bill address issues of organised crime?

The Bill also introduces a definition of ‘organised crime’.  ‘Organised crime’ has been defined as continued 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.

The Bill introduces harsher punishments for members of an organised crime syndicate.  For example, for the possession of an unlicensed firearm, the minimum term for an individual would be seven years, extendable to life imprisonment and liable to a fine.  However, the possession of unlicensed firearms by a member of a syndicate will be punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.  This increased punishment also applies to non-members contravening provisions of the Act on behalf of a syndicate.

[1] Crime in India 2017, National Crime Records Bureau, October 21, 2019,  http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2017/pdfs/CII2017-Full.pdf.