India’s Gun Control

by Jonah Shepp

Vivekananda Nemana and Ankita Rao explore the gun rights movement in India, where the law requires gun owners to temporarily surrender their firearms before every election:

Even outside election season, it’s difficult and expensive to buy a gun in India. To procure a license, regular citizens must give evidence that their lives are threatened and require extra security, as legislated in the 1959 Arms Act and the 1962 Arms Rules. In 1986, the central government banned all imports of firearms in response to a violent insurgency in the northwestern state of Punjab. Today, most Indians looking to buy legal guns must choose between arms imported before the law went into effect and the basic handguns and rifles manufactured by the state-run Indian Ordnance Factories, which [secretary-general of the National Association for Gun Rights India Rakshit] Sharma says are low quality and overpriced. A used Walther PPK — James Bond’s weapon of choice, which costs around $300 in the United States — can fetch as much as $15,000 in India, Sharma said. His Smith & Wesson revolver cost him half a million rupees, or about $10,000 at the current exchange rate — about nine times what it would cost in the United States. “The owner’s nightmare is to see them rust at a police station for two months,” he said.

How many guns are there in India, anyway? Nobody really knows:

The best estimate, from a 2011 survey by the India Armed Violence Assessment, a New Delhi-based research organization, says the country has 40 million privately owned guns — the second most in the world, after the United States — with only 6 million of them legal. That’s why Sonal Marwah, a researcher with the India Armed Violence Assessment, which works to measure and analyze the arms industry, thinks taking guns away from licensed holders could be counterproductive. Marwah said that during elections — especially in thinly policed rural areas — politically connected gangs buy up cheap, often makeshift, guns from illegal workshops. The guns are then used to intimidate voters into supporting a certain candidate — though rarely, she added, for injuring or killing people. “It is the old rationale: criminal behavior,” she said, pointing to police reports of gun seizures. “It enforces demand, and you would expect it to peak during election season.”