Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to amend the Arms Act, 1959 by reducing the number of firearms allowed per person from the current three, to just one. It also proposes new categories of offences and an increase in the penalty for certain offences.
Since the Bill was introduced, the Punjab government and groups in Rajasthan, including the Karni Seva, have opposed it.
Why are people in Punjab unhappy?
In Punjab, protesters include individuals who own more than one weapon. These include businessmen, former Army personnel and farmers. The Punjab government’s position is that over 50 per cent 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.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said the state does not have a problem with any other provisions of the Act, but with the limit on firearm possession. He has written to the Centre urging it not to reduce the number “in view of the sensitive location and troubled history of the state”. Singh took up the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Punjab during the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Who are protesting in Rajasthan?
In Rajasthan, members of the Rajput community have opposed the proposed amendments and outfits such as the Shree Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (SRRKS) have threatened to protest if a person is not allowed to keep more than one firearm.
“There are many Rajput families tracing their lineage from the erstwhile jagirdars and royalty, people who have antique guns as family heirlooms. We Rajputs worship weapons and these have immense sentimental value for us and also our pride. The new amendment bill if passed will rob us of these treasured possessions,” Giriraj Singh Lotwara, Rajput Sabha president, told The Indian Express.
According to Additional Director General of Crime (Rajasthan) B L Soni, at present there are 1.72 lakh gun licences issued in Rajasthan. “Around 10 per cent of these licence holders are people with multiple weapons. Mainly such people are president who owns ancestral weapons, are in the sport of shooting, or personnel from the armed forces,” he said.
What is the government stand?
The government 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 use of firearms and all murders were committed using illegal weapons. The latest NCRB report for 2017 does not give a breakdown of murder using firearms.
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