Thiruvananthapuram: A police investigation into the use of unlicensed firearms by security personnel in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram has extended to Kashmir, and the incident has sent shock waves across Kerala.
Police have recorded the arrest of several persons in both the cities. The firearms were used by security personnel accompanying bank officials refilling ATM machines in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
The incident has come as an eye-opener, besides throwing up several questions. How easy it is to get a firearm in Kerala is one among them.
Who all are eligible for a gun?
Kerala has separate sets of rules for allowing security agencies under the government and individuals to keep firearms. Private individuals are banned from using advanced firearms issued to security forces. Private citizens are normally permitted to keep firearms for self-defence, and they need to apply to the collectorate in their district of residence for a gun licence.
On receiving the application, the collector concerned seeks reports from the district police chief, revenue divisional officer (RDO) and divisional forest officer. If the report submitted after adequate enquiry is satisfactory, the applicant will be issued the licence, initially for a year, which can later be extended to five years.
The licence holder, however, should surrender to authorities his/her firearm during law and order situations, elections, besides whenever the government instructs.
Can ex-servicemen own firearms?
Commoners, including ex-servicemen, should submit their applications to the district collectorate concerned. Ex-servicemen mostly seek gun licence for working in private security agencies, since licence-holders get priority in getting employment. The agencies do not grant licences directly.
Normally, banks have their armed security personnel. The security teams of financial institutions are mostly headed by former senior military or police officers. The application for a gun licence will be made under the name of the bank's branch head. However, banks depend on private security agencies to ensure the safety of officials entrusted with the task of refilling ATMs.
Can all guns be used?
The annual licence fee is Rs500. Private institutions and individuals could possess only permissible arms, such as revolver, pistol, double-barrel rifle, etc. The details of arms and ammunition, viz., model of the firearm, calibre, the gun's serial number, etc., should be submitted to the authorities. Only 200 cartridges will be provided in a year. Once the licence expires, the firearm should be surrendered to the authorities until it is renewed.
Gun licences are issued to those facing threat to life, after a comprehensive enquiry. Plantation owners, too, are issued licences, but gunning down wild animals will put them in the dock. The district collector is the licence-issuing authority. However, the district police chief's report is enough for renewing the licence.
Mental health counts
A first-time firearm licence applicant will have to submit a medical certificate on mental fitness along with his/her application. A police report on whether the applicant knows to use a firearm is also required. Additionally, authorities should be convinced that the applicant has the facility for keeping the firearm safe. The onus of keeping the firearm safe is on the licence holder.
The firearm should be used only for self defence. Pointing the firearm, even if it is an air gun, in a non-threatening situation is an offence; so is the case in case of deaths also.
Any individual aged between 21 and 75 can apply for a gun licence. Authorities said the number of applicants in Kerala is on an uptick, and more women are now applying for the licence.
Does an air gun need a licence?
Guns fall under different categories such as air arms, firearms, gas arms (gas-operated reloading), laser arms, atomic arms (gun-type fission weapons), etc. The last two categories mentioned are used by defence forces. Certain air guns require a licence. Revolver, pistol, and rifles fall under firearms, and private individuals can own them if they have a valid licence.
Foreign-made pistols cost upwards of Rs 75,000, while revolvers will cost Rs 86,000 and above. Rifles' cost starts from Rs 1.15 lakh.
State police personnel mostly use Enfield-made .303 rifles. Those on sentry and security duties, and officers ranked sub-inspector and above use pistols and revolvers. Currently, pistols are the preferred sidearm.
The armed reserve police use self-loading rifles (SLR) and INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles. Carbine automatic rifles, AK-47, Trichy assault rifles, and rifles from the Ordinance Factory, too, are used.
The pistols issued to police offices are of 9mm bore from Glock, Browning and the Ordinance Factory. The force currently is not procuring new revolvers.
Police officers are issued based on the duty assigned, and they cannot select a firearm of their choice. Those in law and order are allowed to take the issued firearm home since they are expected to report to duty at short notice.
The police's arms and ammunition are kept at the armed reserve camp, battalion headquarters and police stations. The police headquarters has a separate section to oversee the weaponry and to issue them.