The gun culture thrives in Punjab in the name of self-defence due to anticipated threats: it being a border state, the fear of infiltration persists; having gone through the dark days of militancy, its predominantly farming community needs weapons to protect crops from predatory animals. As a result, of the around 2.6 million gun-licence holders in the country, Punjab accounts for the maximum number — five lakh. In this light, some findings of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), though not surprising, are a cause for concern. As per the NCRB data, licensed guns accounted for only 14 per cent of the 3,655 gun-related deaths in India in 2014. The rest of the victims were killed by illegal weapons that make up for a whopping 85 per cent of the arms. In contrast, a subsequent NCRB report shows that in 2016, of the 48 murders committed with firearms in Punjab, legal weapons were used in an alarming 22 cases.
In April this year, the country started the process of issuing a unique identification number to licence holders, both old and new, and including their names in a national database. This measure aims to eliminate the possibility of granting arms licences to people with suspect bona fides. The exercise is particularly beneficial in weeding out dangerous elements from a city like Ferozepur that is notorious for being the hub of illegal weapon suppliers and inter-state arms trade. Around a decade ago, the origin of 12,000 fake arms licences recovered by the CBI was traced to this border town. Now, another worrisome fact has come to light: 21 proclaimed offenders in Ferozepur possess the licence to own and keep a firearm.
The Bill proposing enhanced punishment to possessors of illegal weapons and manufacturers of prohibited weapons introduced in the Lok Sabha last week is thus welcome. Transparency in the arms control regime and eradication of the illicit arms trade are essential to combat the spiralling crime graph of the country.
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