- The Arms Act, 1959 governs matters related to acquisition, possession, manufacture, sale, transportation, import and export of arms and ammunition. It defines a specific class of ‘prohibited’ arms and ammunitions, restricts their use and prescribes penalties for contravention of its provisions.
- Section 7 of the Act forbids the manufacture, sale, and use of prohibited arms and ammunition unless it has been specially authorized by the central government.
- Section 27(3) prescribes that any contravention of Section 7 that results in the death of any person ‘shall be punishable with death.’
- Section 27(3) of the Act was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2006 in State of Punjab vs. Dalbir Singh. The final verdict not only affects the Act in question but may have important implications for criminal law in the country.
Amendment of Section 27
- When the law was first enacted, Section 27 provided that possession of any arms or ammunition with intent to use the same for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment up to seven years and/ or a fine.
- This section was amended in 1988 to provide for enhanced punishments in the context of escalating terrorist and anti-national activities
Arms Amendment Bill, 2011
- The Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2011 was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 12, 2011 by the Minister of Home Affairs, Shri P. Chidambaram.
- The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs on January 13, 2012. The Committee is expected to table its report by March 31, 2012.
- The Bill amends the Arms Act, 1959 that lays down the law with respect to arms and ammunition.
- Section 7 of the original Act forbids the manufacture, sale, and use of prohibited arms and ammunition unless it has been specially authorised by the central government.
- Section 27(3) prescribes that any contravention of Section 7 that results in the death of any person ‘shall be punishable with death’.
- The Bill amends the Act to replace the mandatory death sentence. Under the Bill violators ‘shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine’.
- The Bill gives retrospective effect to the amendment with effect from the 27th May, 1988 so as to cover a criminal appeal that is currently pending in the Supreme Court.
- According to the statement of objects and reasons, the Supreme Court in Mithu vs. State of Punjab (1983) had held that imposition of a mandatory death sentence, without giving any scope for application of judicial discretion was ‘harsh, oppressive and unjust’. The Bill seeks to amend the Act in line with these observations.
- Arms Amendment Bill, 2011 fell under lapsed bill category.
Criticism and way ahead
- There are so many amendments anticipated.
- The home ministry drafted Arms rule in 2015, which looked into safe use and storage of firearms, provisions for consolidation of multiple licences and permission for add-on licences for individuals within the family.
- The bill howsoever found no resort.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India then quietly notified a new set of Arms Rules, which were set to substantially change the legal position of gun ownership in India.
- The new “Arms Rules 2016” were notified with effect from 15th July 2016, but only became available on the e-gazette website on 21st July 2016.
- A brief read of Arms Rule 2016 exposes that the officials at the ministry have not applied any reason or logic while drafting these rules.
- Replicas, blank guns, paintball markers and pellet guns are all to be now treated the same as firearms.
- All will be requiring an arms license, failing which the penalties would be the same as those for a terrorist/ criminal in possession of an AK 47 i.e., 7 to 14 years behind bars.