This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Billy Get Your Gun

Those of you who are long timers on my blog will be familiar with my extreme anti-gun views. One of the few things I agree with where Indian laws are concerned is the licensing procedure.

This procedure, as you can see, and as I said before, makes it almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to buy a weapon.

So it might be a bit odd that I decided to apply for a weapons licence. After all I have never even killed so much as a sparrow (even though I own an air rifle) and I have never been threatened or anything that I should need to pack heat.

But still - I'm applying for a licence for a .32 handgun (official reason: self-protection) and a double-barrelled 12 bore shotgun (official reason: sport). Alternatively I may apply for a .22 rifle and give the official reason as "target practice" if they make noises about the "sport".

Bizarre? It isn't really.   

You see, I have no intention of buying any of these weapons. What I want to do is prove a point.

I have no criminal record. I have never even got a parking ticket. I am, as such things go, a so-called "upstanding" member of society. I pay my taxes on time, my identity papers are all up to date and so on, everything's in order.

So I want to see what reason they give for denying me a licence, as they are almost certain to do. I'll keep you posted.


announced my intention of applying for a gun licence, as an experiment to see on what grounds that licence would be denied me. I had also reiterated my opposition to private gun ownership – an opposition that I maintain today, more fervently than ever.

I won’t waste time here repeating the reasons I’ve given several times in the past for opposing private ownership of firearms; I just want to emphasise the point that my attempt to acquire a firearms licence was to prove how difficult it is for a citizen of this country, who has no criminal record (I’ve never even got a traffic ticket) to get a firearms licence (something which, by law, he or she is entitled to) and then to acquire an actual firearm. I seem, however, to have exceeded my wildest expectations in this regard...

I should explain that in India firearm production is (legally) the sole prerogative of the government arsenals. There are an immense number of illegal weapons floating around, some crude homemade pieces (very popular with petty criminals and known as kattas), some also homemade but of extremely high quality, and some illegally imported. But for the main purpose of this post I am going to confine myself to the mechanics of the legal way of purchasing a firearm, since my purpose was to demonstrate how difficult it would be for me, a law-abiding citizen, to do so.

These arsenals are by and large busy in producing guns for the army and the police. Civilian weapons are not their primary purpose of existence. They produce civilian weapons only when there aren’t any pending orders for police or military weaponry. Therefore their production of civilian weapons is not high. Nor is there any pressure of competition and no reason to modernise or even to produce particularly well-made weapons (by and large Indian firearms are poorly made, as a gunsmith in Jaipur admitted to me last year).

In India, a civilian wishing to purchase a firearm is restricted to certain calibres only (5.56mm to 7.65mm, approximately .22 to .32, on the whole, except for shotguns – single or double barrelled breech-loaders, not pump action types) and each weapon is further licensed for a particular number of cartridges only per year (this number varies from state to state, but is generally somewhere between 25 and 50). So you cannot just waltz into your neighbouring gunsmith’s and walk out with a Cho Seung-Hui type arsenal of handguns and ammunition. Also I want to make it clear that you can only buy the type of weapon you’ve been licensed to buy. If you’ve got a licence to buy a single-barrelled breech loading (SBBL) shotgun, that’s what you can buy, nothing else. Clear so far?

Also, a licence isn’t handed out just like that – you apply for one, you wait while you’re being checked out by the police, and then if they’re satisfied then you may be granted a licence with a specification of how long it’s valid and within what period you must purchase your weapon. If you don’t buy it within that time you’ve got to apply all over again. By and large, the police aren’t all that eager to hand out firearms licences because they aren’t exactly happy about firearms floating around in private hands during the rather frequent riots and pogroms that occur in this country.

Furthermore, this is the North East of the country, which is treated more or less as occupied territory by the government in Delhi and where there are many laws specifically designed to limit the freedoms available to the population – even freedoms the rest of the country takes for granted (for instance, the roaming facility is denied to prepaid mobile telephone connections here). So I was sure there would be some extra hurdles thrown up in my getting the licence. I knew all this at the time I applied. You must understand that.

So what did I apply for? My application was for either a double-barrelled breech loading (DBBL) shotgun or a 5.56mm (.22) rifle. I applied for both, and expected to be granted (if at all) licences for one or the other. In the event, months passed...and months...and nothing happened. I did not get the licence. I did not get any intimation that it was rejected. In fact nothing happened at all. And 2008 passed.

A few days ago, since I was in the administrative building (equivalent of City Hall) I decided to follow up on the licence. I finally found the office which handled gun licences (Room 219, if I’m not mistaken). A bored female clerk looked alarmed when I asked about the licence, not alarmed at my question, you understand – just alarmed that anyone would make her do any work. She flipped through a register and asked what weapons I’d applied for. The conversation went like this:

I: “A double barrelled shotgun and a .22 rifle.”

She (looking suddenly relieved): “Oh, we’re just giving licences for .32 pistols.”

I: “No shotguns?”

She: “No, only pistols.”

I: “How about .22 pistols? Or .32 revolvers?”

She: “No, only .32 pistols.”

I kid you not.

Apparently, there is this special law promulgated for the North East that restricts gun ownership only to 7.62mm handguns, and I’m sure this woman would not be able to tell the difference between a pistol and a revolver to save her life. So for the moment I’m discounting the “no revolver” comment. But what sort of moron thinks a 7.62mm handgun is less lethal than a single barrel breech loading shotgun, for dog’s sake?

An Indian official, that’s who.

As for the licence, she told me I would have to produce copies of the following while applying for the licence: my passport sized photo, a no-objection letter from the local council chief (equivalent to the local municipal head...why? Beats me) and three copies of my electoral photo identity card (EPIC). This is where the first comparison to the previous blog post (about the car) comes in. The EPIC is a government-issued card, to be sure – but it is notoriously inaccurate, often has one person’s photo with another’s name and a third person’s address, and so on. My own EPIC, for instance, has my parents’ names transposed. I asked if I could submit copies of my passport instead. After all, the passport is as official as the EPIC and is issued, in this country, after rigorous police verification. Nothing doing, she said. It was EPIC or nothing. Remember the ration card I mentioned? The bureaucratic brain works in predictable patterns.

Anyway, I am determined to see this through, so I will submit these documents and re-apply and see what happens this time. In the meantime I went over to the appropriate website to see what kind of weapon I would be entitled to (I am, remember, not intending actually to purchase it, merely to get the right to purchase it). Roughly, this is what I found:

The .32 pistol is produced by the Gun and Shell Factory at a place called Cossipore (or Kasipur) near Calcutta. It’s not available through the gunsmiths who sell shotguns and air-powered weapons, but only through a few government outlets, the closest of which to me is the factory itself. Here’s what I am supposed to do in order to get my hands on this weapon (taken from here):

1.    Download the Booking Form from the Web and Complete it.
2.    Payment can be made by way of D.D as per the details in the Application Form or by cash at the Gun and Shell Factory, Cossipore, Kolkata. 
3.    Pre-requisites:
(a) Your arms licence should have valid Purchase Period.
(b) If the license validity area doesn't cover Cossipore (W.Bengal) you should get NOC under Rule 50 of Arms Rules 1962 from licensing authority which issued you the license or the one which issued you P.P.

4.    How to get transport license issued: 
(a) Deposit Rs.100/- in the government treasury by filling Challan Receipt.
(b) Write an application for getting T.L. in Form-XX and attach NOC and Treasury Receipt of Rs.100/- with it and deposit it with the Arms Branch, D.C. office, Calcutta. You will get the T.L issued in a short period of time.
5.    Getting the weapon: 
(a) Please contact the Gun and Shell Factory by telephone before going to the Factory premises for buying the weapon.
(b) Reporting time at the Factory Gate is 8:30 A.M. not later than 9A.M., along with original license with valid P.P. and T.L. issued by DM, Calcutta.
(c) Delivery of the Pistols starts from 11A.M. and continues up to 5 P.M.

From what I could discover elsewhere, there is a waiting period of between two to four months after booking the weapon before they actually make it (depending, as I said above, on how busy they are). Then, one would have to hang around in Calcutta for some days to weeks (that’s what the “you will be issued the TL within a short period of time” means). And, after going through all this red tape, one would have to go to the factory (after contacting them by telephone – and what happens if they tell you not to come? Why, you wait some more) at 8.30am and stand around waiting till 11am, and maybe even till 5pm. Why? Don’t ask me! Maybe they want to see if you’re physically fit to bear the gun?

Anyway, what is the work of art for which you’re going to all this trouble? The .32 Indian Ordnance Factories pistol, illustrated top right, is known as the Ashani (whatever that means) and is a copy of the 1910 Browning semi-automatic pistol. A hundred-year-old design, in other words. I told you they weren’t big on modernising, didn’t I?

Now, the gun factory’s own website details the flaws of this design (spelling and grammar as in the original):

1.    Magazine: The design and construction of the magazine is faulty which results in jamming and/ or improper feeding of the ammunition. There is no support to the feeding lips at the rear end as a result of which feeding problem occurs arize early. The base of the magazine is permanent welded and removal of minor dents on the shell become difficult.
2.    Barrel Lock: The design is faulty as a result of which it gets loose and comes out. Many times the barrel lock along with the main spring gets lost and there are a few cases in which even the barrel gets lost. Now the pistols which are released from the factory have barrel lock permanently fixed by Araldite. 
3.    Grips: Plastic grips break down very quickly. 
4.    Nickle Colour: Most of the people don't like the Nickle colour. 

And suggests the following remedies (from the same source):

1.    Magazine: Improved design magazine can be purchased from your local gunsmith who has years of experiance behind him (or) you can contact us to help in locating one.
2.    Barrel Lock: Better designed Barrel Lock is available which does not gets loose unless intentionally done.
3.    Grips: You can change to a wooden one of your choice which are available in different designs at reasonable price with your local dealer or ask him to source them for you.You can view them HERE.
4.    Nickle can be easily stripped down using chemical provided by us. The pistol can then be easily blued using hot caustic soda method. (email for details)
5.    Ventilated Rib: We provide ventilated rib to be pernmanently fixed by gas welding at the fore-end and back-end on the slide of the pistol. This makes the slide heavy and consequently decreases recoil.
6.    Magazine release button: Presently both hands are required to remove the magazine from its well. We can modify your pistol so that the magazine releases by pushing button on the side of the grip using right hand thumb. After fitting this button your pistol would now fire with magazine removed and would let you safely uncock the hammer.

Since all these modifications are not just possible but apparently highly desirable, why the hell doesn’t the factory simply incorporate them in the initial product itself? Remember the Premier Padmini that leaked? Products needing repair before they’re even used for the first time aren’t anything unknown in India.

Incidentally, all Indian weaponry is wildly overpriced. This pistol, after taxes, will come in at somewhere near seventy thousand rupees (about $1400). At that price one would normally expect to pick up an infinitely superior weapon.

No wonder the illegal weapons market is flourishing.


Some people like to pretend everything comes as an amazing shock.
You long timers on this blog will know of my steadfast opposition to civilian ownership of guns. I’ve written about it many times before and got a lot of hate mail as a result from people who, probably, don’t own guns themselves but just like the idea.
Nor have I been the only one opposing guns – and after Cho Seung Hui’s (in my opinion, somewhat over-publicised) rampage earlier this year, you’d have thought some people in this country (the pro-gun group being America-worshippers to a man) would perhaps change their minds and decide that – just  possibly - guns weren’t the best thing ever to have been invented. Apparently, you’d have been wrong.
So, in July one of India’s less bad newspapers (there are hardly anygood ones, just a difference in degrees of hopelessness), The Hindustan Times, ran a feature pitying the poor forlorn gun owners who (gasp) could buy only three guns of limited calibre on one licence, even if they got a licence in the first place. The poor things! They have to actually prove they need a gun before getting a licence for one, what an infringement on their freedoms! And then the guns are all junk…oh, what a bore.
I need hardly say the guy who blogged about this article, ridiculing it, came in for a rash of vulgar abuse from the crowd I mentioned.
Now a few days back, something just waiting to happen, something I’d expected would happen long ago, finally did. In Gurgaon, a consumerism driven quasi-suburb of Delhi, two schoolboys brought a gun to school and shot dead a third. The operation was well planned – they brought the gun to school, hid it in the loo somewhere, and shot the victim as he was about to board the school bus at the end of the day. The motive was, allegedly, that the victim was a “bully” and that the two budding psychos (now in a remand home and completely sans remorse) who shot him were seeking revenge.
Apparently, the dad of one of these two young killers (they fired several shots at the victim, passing the gun from one to the other), a rich real estate dealer, had left a loaded gun at home near the television set and gone out of town. His gun licence had been given him for purposes of “personal protection”. I would, automatically (given the facts of the case) assume that then he did not need protection when out alone in the wide world away from his normal haunts, and wonder when, therefore, he did need protection, and from whom. But it gets even more interesting than that. The gun didn’t even belong to him. It belonged to a friend of his…and he had it, loaded, near his TV set. Incidentally, he had also taught his son to shoot. An essential survival skill – I think not.   
From the media reaction, you’d have thought that for the first time ever it suddenly became common knowledge that Indian people owned guns and that gun ownership had become a sort of status symbol among the noveau riche and the upper middle class. The same media which was whining about the plight of the poor gun owners suddenly began breast beating on the appalling lack of gun control in India…apart from (and this is matter for a separate blog entry) the stresses on Indian schoolchildren that made them start bullying or prone to violence (that many other sources deny the victim ever bullied anyone is neither here nor there – they contradict each other on everything about him except his name; they contradict each other on his personality, academic record, sports interests, etc, you name it, they disagree on it). Right now I’m talking about the guns.
I’m sure that as soon as the media furore dies down, and it’s back to business as usual, someone or other is going to argue in favour of all schoolchildren being allowed to carry guns in order to defend themselves from one another. It’s only a matter of time.  
Anyone who thinks guns are necessary or should be handed out to civilians on request, which is what 'liberal licensing policies', so called, amounts to, should have their head examined. And I am not just talking about the Gurgaon school shooting. I have myself picked shards of bone and pellets out of the exploded face of a kid who had been shotgunned at close range. I used to see at least one gunshot wound a week in my intern days. Most of them were allegedly “accidental” shootings from licensed, legal, weapons.  
All over the papers these days is the increasing comment about vigilantism. There was, a couple of weeks ago, a very major clash in Guwahati between Adivasi protestors and Assamese locals (remember my post about that?). I can just imagine the situation if one or both sides had had free access to firearms. The Wild West would have had nothing on it.
It's a specious argument to say that firearm possession will either act as a deterrent or reduce crime. People in India who cite gun laws in the US and claim gun ownership reduces crime never actually, one can’t help noticing, provide figures. And of course if they ever quote anyone they quote the National Rifle Association, which is hardly a neutral body.
Incidentally, I am sure you'll have noticed that the number of incidents of shootings in the US is on a steady upswing in the last few weeks.
There are a few of standard arguments by the Indian pro-gun group about gun laws:
1. Liberal Gun laws will prevent crime
 Sure they will. The robber will be so terrified of your locked-down, unloaded gun he won't ever think of entering your house. Give me a break. And if you load it and keep it out in the open, then, well, see what I just wrote.
2. Licences should be handed out after gun safety courses, PROVIDED the safety course isn't made an excuse for denying licences
Excuse me? Did you notice that in this country you can get a driving licence without ever having sat behind a steering wheel in your life? What about the proud gun owner who lent his friend the gun the friend then left loaded on his TV set so his gun-trained psycho son could go shoot someone with? Does a gun safety course ensure future compliance?
3. Gun control won’t prevent suicides or murders – would be suicides and murderers would find some other way.
I’ve attempted suicide thrice, as I’ve said before, and it was only my incompetence at poisoning and hanging myself that kept me alive. If I’d had a gun I would not have been alive to write this today. And as for murders – if you have a lethal weapon ready to hand, it seems to me, it makes murder more likely than if all you have to go at your target is a nail file or a bread knife.  
There is no point in comparing, as gun lovers love to do, gun-owning countries like Finland or Switzerland with India - and even in Finlandthere was a major shooting recently. With liberal social and sexual mores, far lower social and political tensions, and minimal environmental pressures such as catastrophic overcrowding, the people there are much less violent (anthropologists have long noted that sexually repressed societies, and overcrowded societies, are more violent. Here in India we have a society that is both sexually repressed and overcrowded). India, unless you're deaf and blind you can't help noticing, is an extremely violent society, one which is getting more violent by the day.
I said it before and I’ll say it again – no civilian has any legitimate reason, in today’s world, for owning a firearm, anywhere. But then the Indian gun lovers don’t mean that anyone should have ready access to guns. What they mean is that upper middle class people like them should have ready access to guns. But you can’t make laws for only one set of people based on economical criteria, so the hoi polloi will have guns too.
Can’t have your cake and eat it, baby. 

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