This article is written by Yashaswi Srivastava who is pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from Lawsikho
Guns are a symbol of violence and fear. Years of incidents of war and conflict resolved through guns and arms have made us wary of it. However, with changing times and growing mindsets of people, guns are now seen as an effective tool for self-defence. The need arose due to the increase in the number of crimes.
The law permits not only the police, armed forces and authorized personnel to use guns and arms, but it also allows private citizens to carry and use guns at permitted areas. Additionally, Gun regulations are also necessary for people who use guns for athletic purposes or for hunting activities.
In this article, we look at the different gun regulation and licensing laws of three countries- Singapore, The United States of America and India. We shall be discussing and comparing these countries on the following parameters:
- The Acts and the Legal provisions
- Which weapons can be licensed
- Validity of licence
- Permitted limits of using your licensed gun
- Recent developments
Singapore has the world’s most stringent gun regulation laws because they understand the concept of more guns means more violence. Gun regulations in Singapore are governed by the Arms and Explosive Act, 1913. It regulates the licensing requirements for arms, explosives and explosive precursors and offences related to these matters.
The Police Licensing and Regulatory Department issues two types of licences, namely-
- Long term licence validity exists for a period of 2 years. It includes:
(a) Licence to have firearms/explosives precursors
(b) Licence to trade in arms/explosives/explosive precursors
(c) Licence to manufacture and produce arms/explosives/explosive precursors
(d) Licence to keep explosives/explosive precursors
(e) Licence to ‘Conduct Blasting’
(f) Licence to ‘Dispose Explosives’
(g) Licence to repair arms
- Short Term Licences come with a validity of 14 days. It includes
(a) Licence to import guns
(b) Licence to export guns
(c) Licence to purchase guns
For further instructions on how to apply for a licence, a person needs to visit https://www.police.gov.sg/licence. This website gives all the details to file for a gun licence in Singapore. Further for import/export of guns, applications have to be submitted via Singapore Customs’ TRADENET Portal, details of which can be found here: https://authority.tradenet.gov.sg/intradenet/default.portal.
Carrying guns in public places for the purpose of self-defence is strictly prohibited in Singapore. Under the right of self-defence, a person is allowed to defend themselves or their property, against an offence. However, they are not allowed to use greater force than necessary to defend themselves. Thus, the use of a weapon to defend, whether the weapon is an imitation one or real, might be considered excessive if the attacker was not using a weapon against the victim.
Even if the weapon is not used, possessing a weapon for self-defence (e.g., simply carrying it in your bag) will still be a criminal offence. A 32-year-old man admitted to carrying a 20cm butter knife for self-protection when he went to the home of an acquaintance. He was jailed 3 months for the possession of an offensive weapon.
Under section 2 of the Arms and Explosives Act, ‘guns’ include- howitzers, mortars, quick-firing and machine guns and other guns of a similar nature. The liability of carrying an unlicensed gun is given under section 13 of the Act. Such an offence is punishable with a term that may extend to 5 years and a fine not exceeding $5,000. Conditions of licences in given under section 14 of the Act which are-
- Licence shall expire after the prescribed period
- Licence shall be liable to suspension or cancellation, without any reason being given thereof at any time by the Licensing Officer
- Licence is not transferable except as provided in the Act.
Dissatisfaction with any refusal, cancellation or suspension of a licence is appealable within 14 days in writing to the Minister whose decision shall be final and conclusive. Provision for transfer of guns to other persons is given under section 19(3) r/w section 17 of the Act i.e., transfer of guns can be made to a person who already has a licence for having possession of guns. A Gun licence is an individual authorization. Nobody other than the licensee can use the weapon. The legal age for purchasing a gun is 18 years unless otherwise approved by the Licensing Officer. Furthermore, for sports shooting, a person will need to submit an application to possess an arm with the following supporting documents:
- A letter of support from the management of the shooting club in which he is enrolled as a member; and
- A letter of confirmation from the managing agent (operator) of the armoury and shooting range, stating that he will be permitted to store and use the arm for sports shooting within the said premises. In Singapore, we have the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA)for the National Shooting Centre.
Early this year, a bill on guns, explosives and weapons was debated in Parliament to further tighten use and strengthen penalties for high-risk items such as automatic weapons. The Minister can direct licensees and even those exempted from the Bill to immediately to temporarily suspend, cease or scale down their activities for an unspecified period of time. Further, you cannot appeal this, however it is limited to six months, with non-compliance being an offence. The amendments are also brought to control 3D guns and drone controlled weapons.
The USA has laxity in its gun regulations laws. The legal provision for gun possession is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It provides a legal basis for the “Right of the people to keep and bear arms“.
Guns in the USA are regulated under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). It provides for laws at the federal level and provides 18 years as the legal age for citizens to purchase shotguns, rifles and ammunition. Other weapons like handguns etc., can be purchased only by people above 21 years of age. The following are restricted to apply for licensing of guns:
- Mentally ill persons
- Former convicts/felons punished with imprisonment exceeding one year
- Person guilty of possession of unlawful controlled substances including Marijuana which is legal in many states but remains illegal at the federal level.
- People with restraining orders by courts
- Non-citizens including people who have renounced their citizenship
- Dishonourably discharged military personnel
- Unauthorized immigrants
Furthermore, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which is a division of the Department of Justice administers GCA. It also regulates the standards for granting licences. Background check while granting a licence application is mandatory. You need a permit to carry handguns. Rules for concealed carry and carry open vary from one state to another. Some states have allowed residents to carry handguns without permits.
However, ID is important to carry when people carry rifles and shotguns in public in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Before getting a licence, many states in the US need you to undergo a training period. State licensing laws fall into the following four categories:
- Permit to purchase weapons
- Licence to own weapons
- Weapon safety certificate
- Registration laws
The validity and procedure for the application of a gun licence vary from state to state. For example, in California, a gun licence is valid for up to 5 years whereas in Hawaii, a handgun licence is valid for 14 days and long guns permits are valid for 1 year. In Illinois, FOID (Firearm Owner’s Identification) Card is valid for 10 years.
The US has the ‘Castle Doctrine and the Stand-Your-Ground laws. This doctrine and these laws allow people to defend themselves. However, the magnitude and intensity is always in question. The Doctrine of Castle is applied when you need to defend your home or yard through a deadly force. Stand-Your-Ground, also known as no duty to retreat law, states that people may use deadly force when they believe it to be crucial to defend against deadly force or other severe bodily harm.
India has one of the most stringent gun regulations in the world. It is governed under the Arms Act, 1959. People are only allowed to buy non-prohibited bore guns. To get a licence, you need to prove that there is a threat to your life. After submitting your application, your criminal records will be checked. You are mentally fit to get a gun or not is another factor considered in your licence issuing procedure. In this regard, DCP conducts an interview. Just like in the USA, in India also, a person has to go through the gun licence training procedure.
In the case of Rachelle Joel Oseran v State of Maharashtra, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court relied on the judgment passed by the hon’ble apex court in the case of Sanjay Dutt v State through CBI. It stated that mere possession of guns without knowledge is not punishable under the Arms Act, 1959. In the latter case, the apex court interpreted the word ‘possession’ and held that “it would mean possession with the requisite mental element, that is, conscious possession and not mere custody without the awareness of the nature of such possession.”
In terms of transferability, the original gun licence can be transferred to a person’s legal heirs. If such licence is present during the lifetime of the person who wants to transfer the ownership of the weapon to the legal heirs then it can be done by making an application on a plain paper and such paper will be attached with the Form A of the person to whom the transfer of license is given and in case, if the original license has expired, then the application can be made again in form A.
For such a requirement, two passport size photos are needed and there should be no objection from the legal heirs.
For NRIs, or non-residential Indians to apply for a licence in India, they have to prove their permanent residence in India. Other requirements include stating the reasons for applying for a gun licence. However, for NRIs, getting a licence can be difficult.
‘More guns mean more violence’
The question as to why we need gun regulations in India or anywhere lies in the fact that people’s notion of unsafety made them push towards applying for gun licences. According to the news reports in 2016, India shifted from a century-old method of record-keeping and put into national database information on about 2.6 million gun-license holders.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau published in 2016, gun-related deaths increased from 3,063 to 3,655 between 2010 and 2014. This is 10 times the number than that in 2013 in the United States. But only 14 per cent of the victims in 2014 in India were killed by licensed guns which means that side-effects do exist and it needs work even if it is as small as 14%.
The remaining were killed by illegal weapons. In fact, an American is 12 times more likely to be killed by a gun than an Indian, according to an analysis by the group IndiaSpend, based on a database collated by Gun Policy, a global gun watch group.
Thus, with implementing and ensuring strict gun licensing policies, it is also important to ensure the control of illegal weapons. It is a symbol of doubt, distrust and a non-safe environment for citizens. Forget the gun licence, did you know, in Iceland, even the Police often do not carry any arms on them.
Since its independence, Iceland has seen just one arms violence when a person was shot dead in public in 2013. That’s how safe and amazing that nation is! With the kind of environment we live in, it is important to build community spirit to use guns only for athletic purposes. Until that happens, the rules need better execution policies, especially in India.
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