The two men involved in the incident have since been arrested. In Tamil Nadu, in July, an MLA was arrested for opening fire at a political functionary over a property dispute in Chengalpattu district.
Gun control has been a contentious issue for a while now. Having divided advocates of gun rights, who have been batting for judicious licencing and ownership norms; and members of law enforcement, who have been fighting the scourge of illegal firearms, the debate is set to grow fierce considering the entry of international weapons makers in India. Earlier this month, it was reported that Glock, an Austrian firearms behemoth, which has entered into a partnership with a TN-based company to manufacture its polymer-frame pistols at a plant in Tiruvallur district, could shortly make its firearms available to civilians in non-service calibre.
The initial agreement entailed the supply of pistols only to the government. But following the Centre giving it a green signal, the company said it will target its wares to the civilian population by the end of March 2021. Stakeholders in India’s civilian arms space believe this could herald a paradigm shift in the country’s business of firearms.
It was after revisions in the Arms Rule 2016, notified two years ago, that private players were allowed to set up factories for small firearms in India, bring in foreign investment, and sell their products, both within the country and globally. The idea was to help meet India’s domestic demand, which to a large extent was being fulfilled by imports of small arms like rifles, carbines, and side-arms for the use of armed forces, state police, and paramilitary forces. At the DefExpo 2018 held on the outskirts of Chennai, private component makers signed agreements with foreign arms manufacturers to produce assault rifles and small arms in Tamil Nadu, which would then be exported.
It is also essential to consider India’s stock of firearms, in the civilian (non-military) space. For instance, the number of arms licences in India is 3.3 mn as per the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) figures from December 2016. TN has a small share of this pie, with 22,532 licences. Shockingly, the estimated number of illegal firearms in the country is over 61.4 mn, according to the Small Arms Survey 2017. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau says of the 37,116 firearms seized by law enforcement officials in 2016 under the Arms Act, just about 2.8 pc or 1,052 firearms were factory-made or licenced. A major cause of worry is that of 3,775 firearm-related murders in the country, over 91 pc (3,453) were committed using unlicenced guns.
So, what is the government doing to put an end to this? The Centre in November 2019, proposed in a draft amendment to the Arms Act of 1959, that no Indian citizen should own more than one licenced firearm. As of now, the law permits Indians to own up to three firearms. Experts say the move is myopic, as it would bring down the number of legally owned guns, but it does nothing to disrupt the supply chain of illegal arms.
In India, it is believed either politically connected gangs in the north or the underworld use guns. The instances of firearms used in gang wars in the south are negligible. However, that must not lull anyone into a false sense of security about its potential to snowball. Both the Centre and States must work on a war footing and redirect adequate manpower to ensure such illicit supply chains are nipped in the bud, in the light of the threat they represent.