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A new lobby group modeled on America's NRA is pushing for Indians' right to bear arms.
With less than one officer per thousand people, India has one of the world's most understaffed police forces. And while it's true that a third of Indian districts are affected by terrorism and the crime rate is increasing, only a tiny fraction of that violence can be attributed to licensed guns. For instance, National Crime Records Bureau figures show that just 574 of 4,101 gun murders were committed with legal firearms in 2008 — while nearly 30,000 murders were committed with knives and other weapons. Moreover, only about 5.5 million of the 40 million odd guns in India are legal.
"If a guy can get [an illegal] katta for 200 [rupees], on what moral grounds can the government deny a law-abiding citizen a license for a gun on which he will blow a packet and [then face] all sorts of restrictions and encumbrances?" Singh said.
"An armed society is a polite society. I think if people are armed, other people will think twice before attacking them."
But in at least one court case, a judge has ruled that "the right to bear arms is embedded in Article 21 of the Constitution," which states "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law."
And NAGRI and others point out that the Arms Act itself was not written to restrict the ownership of weapons. It was drafted to repeal British regulations that disarmed the general population after the Uprising, or Mutiny, of 1857 — of which Gandhi himself wrote, “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.”
With that in mind, NAGRI stakes its own claim to the Mahatma's legacy.
"An armed society is a polite society," said Rai. "I think if people are armed, other people will think twice before attacking them. I think if a nation is armed other nations think twice before attacking them. This is how we get more ahimsa. This is how we get less lawlessness. This is how we get a better society."