Punjab is sitting comfortably at the second position among Indian states with the highest number of arms licences, logging a staggering five lakh legal weapons that reflects a growing craze for firearms despite prohibitive licensing measures.
One in every 18 families in the state has an arms licence. It lags far behind Uttar Pradesh that has issued 11.17 lakh licences—a state much bigger in size and in terms of population. However, Punjab is well ahead of the No.3 on the list, Madhya Pradesh that has 2.75 lakh arms licences, and neighbouring Rajasthan (1.67 lakh) and Haryana (1.12 lakh). Under state governments, licences are issued for non-prohibited caliber weapons.
Sources in Punjab’s Home Department say the number of arms licensees has now touched the five lakh mark in the state, up from 3.75 lakh in 2012. The border district of Gurdaspur has the highest number of licences (35,793), followed by Bathinda (32,452), Ludhiana (26,362), Jalandhar (24,365) and Patiala (24,309). Sources add that 11 of Punjab’s 22 districts figured in the list of the top 50 districts in India with the highest number of arms licences. They include Amritsar, Tarantaran, Firozpur, Hoshiarpur, Sangrur and Muktsar.
Every state has to digitise the arms licence information under the National Database of Arms Licenses by October 15. Following this, every arms licence will have a unique identification number, and in case the information relating to the licence is not digitised by the stipulated time, it would become invalid. Punjab Police is now working on digitising the information, say sources.
A senior Home Department official tells The Sunday Standard, “Under the National Database of Arms Licenses, we have told all the districts to complete the digitalisation of licences by September 30. Also, we will be shortly sending our feedback to the Union government on their draft of the new arms licences policy.”
Says Rakesh Gupta, vice-president of the Punjab Arms Dealers Association, “It is a status symbol for Punjabi Sikh families to own a weapon like one owns a car. First they had double-barreled guns. Now also, a few of them have these guns but a majority has small weapons (revolvers and pistols), mostly Indian and made in the ordnance factories. The rich landlords have costly weapons, mostly imported ones.
Politicians, landlords, property dealers, officers and other influential people get arms licences and keep weapons. As one can keep three weapons with one licence, some people take licences on their wife’s name, too.
Punjab has 1,000-odd arms dealers, whereas about 200 are members of the arms dealers association.
Mainash Jain of Jain Gun House says the state government was making it tougher for civilians to procure arms licences. “A jeweller in Kharar wanted an arms licence for self-protection and the police recommended his case, but the Deputy Commissioner’s office rejected it. People in need should be given the licences,” he adds.
The state government has relaxed arms licensing norms for professional shooters. According to the new guidelines, an Arjuna awardee shooter can own any number of guns, while an international medalist can possess up to 10 guns and 15,000 cartridges. “Now, many parents are encouraging their children to become professional shooters and getting them trained,” adds Jain.
Barinder Dyal Singh, a landlord in Tarantaran, owns two weapons. He explains, “I have to carry them for self-defence as law and order is poor in our area and snatchings and robberies are common.”
It’s not the male population alone that is sticking to its guns; as many as 33,000 arms licenses have been issued to women.