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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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  GUNS, CRIMES AND VIOLENCE - Sankar Sen, IPS
Former Director General, National Human Rights Commission Former, Director, National Police Academy Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences sankarsen_ips@yahoo.com
 
 

The massacre at the Virginia State University on April 16, 2007 was perhaps worst peacetime shooting in the history of United States. The demented psychopathic student Cho-Seung-Hui in cold blood killed and injured large number of teachers, students and others. Cho killed his victims with two guns - a Glock 9mm semi automatic pistol and another Walther P22. Both are deadly semi automatic weapons and can fire bullets very quickly. One Professor Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, blocked the door of his classroom to restrain and slow the advance of Cho. This provided time for his students to escape through the window, but the professor was killed by Cho's bullets. The massacre at Virginia highlights the curse of gun culture in America. Earlier in 1999 in Colinbine 13 fellow high school were slaughtered by two of their classmates.

At present it is estimated that there are about 240 millions guns in America and a third of them are handguns, which are easy to conceal. It is reported that in 2005 nearly 14000 killings were committed with guns to which may be added 16000 suicides by firearms and 650 fatal accidents. In 2005 more than 400 children were also murdered by guns. It is said that "since the killing of Kennedy in 1963, more Americans died by American gun fire than perished on foreign fields, in whole of the 20th century"(Economist, April, 21-27, 2007).

In America gun crimes, which were steadily falling throughout in 1990's, are again showing signs of going up. The Police Executive Research Forum, (PERF), a police think tank, reported that violent crimes including homicide have been rising rapidly in USA since 2004. There has been a sharp escalation of gun crime in many cities of America during 2006.

The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties have remained discreetly silent over the issue of stricter gun controls. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has lamented that shootings like these happen because of the unparalleled ease with which people can procure weapons in the USA. But senior leaders of both the parties have been diplomatic. President George Bush feels that this is not the appropriate time to start "debate on gun control". Democratic senators are also not in favour of "rushing to judgement". Earlier the Democrats had energetically pressed for gun control. In 1994 President Clinton approved the bill banning assault weapons (semi-automatics rifles, hand guns etc.). But many Democrats now feel that they had to pay a heavy political price for banning assault weapons. They lost the House of Representatives in 1994 because of the ban on assault weapons and then the Presidency in 2004. Hence, now before the Presidential election 2008 the Democrats are not willing to antagonize the south and the west by asking for gun controls. This is the reason why the Democrats have abandoned their gun control crusade and in several states the parties recruited gun enthusiasts as their candidates.

There is constant and unyielding opposition of National Rifles Association (NRA) to any curb on gun rights. NRA feels that without guns the Americans will be defenceless not only against criminals but against also tyranny. William Branton, the former Police Chief of New York (known for his zero tolerance of crime slogan) is of the view that politicians on both sides have been captured by the vocal National Rifles Association. Perhaps, he has a point.

In 1994 President Clinton signed a limited ban on assault weapons, but George Bush's allowed this ban to lapse in 2004. Bush administration has also opened the debate on the Second Amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms. On March 9, an Appealate court in Washington overturned the capital's long standing ban on hand guns on the ground that it violates the second amendment. In a 2/1 decision the judges rejected the district's claim that second amendment applies only to the militias. The rights protected in the Amendments "are not limited to militia service". In 1939 the US Supreme Court ruled that in the United States vs. Miller "the amendment was adopted with the obvious purpose of the protecting the ability of states to organise militias and must be interpreted and applied with that end in view". But recently individual rights view has been gathering support. The case may go to the conservative Supreme Court, which is likely to quash state and local efforts on gun control. Some states and cities in USA have tough gun control laws but these are being undermined by neighbouring states with weak laws. Only a serious effort at federal level will perhaps work. It is learned that Michael Bloomberg the Mayor of New York has been able to pull together a group of 180 Mayors to fights for this. The success of this initiative, however is doubtful.

It may be mentioned in this connection that two democracies with low crime and murder rates are Japan and UK. Both countries have strict control on firearms. In Japan possession of firearms licences is a rare privilege and the total number of licensees will be barely a few thousand. In England also the total number of lawfully owned weapons is limited. Most of the firearms are deposited in rifle and pistol clubs and individuals cannot take these outside. In short, there are few firearms available with individuals to carry along. According to Chris Nuttal, former Director of Research and Statistics of British Home Office, the gun lobby's argument that it is the people that killed not the guns is not valid. The very presence and availability of guns escalates the risk of wounding or death in every case of crime including fights in a pub or at home.

INDIAN SCENARIO

In India unfortunately at present too many persons possess licences for holding arms and for every licensed firearm there are at least 4 or 5 unlicensed ones. According to a veteran police officer who was once Director General of Police, UP there are more fire arms both licensed and unlicensed ones with private individuals in the Moradabad district of UP than in the whole of United Kingdom or Japan. In many dacoity-prone districts of Bihar and UP the organised gangs of dacoits use weapons from the licensed holders either by threatening them or by making payments of money to them. Again the bulk of the ammunitions used in country-made unlicensed weapons come from the licence-holders as manufacture of ammunitions is a complicated job requiring instruments not easily available.

Now before the elections in UP, guns are in great demand. Kanpur in UP has become the North India's gun capital. With little industrialization in neighbouring areas, guns are also one of the few status symbols available to the locals. There are approximately 8 lakhs arms licence holders in Uttar Pradesh. According to state Home ministry more than 20,000 of them are in Kanpur.

Indian Arms Act, 1959, did not provide strict penalties for illicit possession of arms. The old Arms Act of 1878 was viewed as a law by foreign rulers to disarm a subject nation. The new act of 1959 gave arms freely to law-abiding citizens to save themselves, but the benefit have been reaped largely by the bad characters. They have acquired sophisticated arms on a large scale.

The new Arms Act of 1983 embodies some of the recommendations of National Police Commission and lays down enhanced punishment as well as minimum punishment for serious offences with the object of necessary deterrence. But mere amendment of the law, though helpful, will not be adequate to contain the problem, which has assumed alarming dimensions. The National Police Commission further suggested that arms and ammunition should be kept at safe places to avoid their falling in the hands of unauthorised persons. Before issuing licences it should be specifically ascertained if the licence holder is in a position to keep them in safe custody.

Smuggling of arms from Pakistan also poses a problem. In Pakistan a large number of authorities can grant licences for possession of even automatic weapons. There is a thriving clandestine arms trade across the border. Many of these weapons are Dera made. Dera is a bordering town in the Western Punjab where arms manufacturing is like a cottage industry.

There is also leakage of arms and ammunition from army stores because of inadequate security arrangements and lack of accounting and supervision. Some years ago in a case of theft of cannon shells from an important army establishment, the officers of the Crime Branch of Orissa Police found during investigation that arrangements and procedures for accounting, storage and checking of arms and ammunition were far from being adequate and satisfactory.

 


The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
     
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