Owning of Arms in India and History of the Indian Arms Act 1959

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The Indian arms act of 1959 has its genesis in Indian arms act of 1878 which was enacted during the days of the Raj when Lord Lytton was the Viceroy of India. The arms act of 1959 is a regressive act and puts many restrictions on average Indian citizens f

The British were the rulers of India till 1947. In 1857 they faced a mutiny from the Indian sepoy army and that conditioned their thinking regarding owning of arms by Indians. This resulted in the Indian Arms act 1878.

The viceroy at that time was Lord Lytton. He was of the view that the arms act was necessary to curtail any threat to the Raj.  The salient features of the arms act 1878 were

a)      No Indian could keep a weapon without a license unless it was issued by the district magistrate. In practice a license was issued only to Indians whom the British considered ‘loyal’

b)       The act created classes and had communial overtones. The British rulers, Anglo Indians and certain classes of government servants were exempted from the application of the act.

c)       Keeping a gun without a license invited a jail term of 3 years and a fine. In case it was proved that an Indian had concealed an unlicensed gun the punishment was 7 years rigorous imprisonment and fine.

The act was considered a black act and the apostle of non violence Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography stated “among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest” (My Experiments with Truth, Page 238.)

 India became independent in 1947, but the Indian arms act 1878 ruled the roost for another 12 years. It was only in 1959 the Arms Act of 1878 was amended by an act of parliament. Unfortunately the amended act carried forward some of the provisions of the Arms act of 1878.  Carrying of weapons was not recognized as a fundamental right like the United States where the 2nd amendment gives this right to American citizens.

The arms act of 1959 also continued with the proviso of prohibited and non prohibited bore. Civil citizens could not own a prohibited bore weapon. A prohibited bore like .45 and .38 are used by the army and police and their ownership was banned for Indian citizens.

The   Indian arms act 1959 does not recognize owning a gun as a right.  The discretion to give a license is vested with the District magistrate. The reasons for a license are hunting, game shooting and self protection. In practice the onus of proving that a man apprehends danger rests with the Individual citizen and a DM can deny a license in case he is not satisfied with the reasons given to him.

The government by an executive order in 1982 banned the import of guns under the act for private citizens and also debarred citizens form owning self ejecting or automatic weapons like rifles in view of the terrorist activities going on in India. No justification was given for these orders. The government could not cite a single case where a licensed gun had been used by a terrorist.

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