Time to relax India’s gun control laws, to fight militants?

December 11, 2008

Should India ease up on its tight gun control laws to arm citizens so that they can put up a fight next time they are attacked in their hotels, train stations and even a hospital as it happened in Mumbai last month?

Some people are arguing that if the people, or at least some of them such as hotel security staff and police at a railway terminal, had been properly armed there would have been some form of resistance to the Mumbai attackers instead of the spectacle of them moving around a city of 18 million as if they owned it.

You wouldn’t have had a situation where the gunmen killed at will and with such deliberation, shooting up a popular cafe, and then joining their comrades at the Taj hotel.

 Or the other pair that marched up and down the train station emptying their machine guns into commuters, hopping over to a hospital to kill some more in the vicinity. And all this while the police, armed with only batons, watched cowering in the shadows.

There was plenty of heroism, to be sure. Like the policeman who local media said took bullets, so that one of the gunmen could be captured alive. He is really now the key to the Indian position that this was an attack launched and controlled from Pakistan. Or the hotel staff  who stepped in front to take bullets instead of the guests.

[Taj Hotel,Mumbai,Reuters pic by Arko Datta]

But if they could take bullets, why couldn’t they return them? None of the security staff at the Trident-Oberoi had weapons thanks to India’s tight gun laws that make it virtually impossible to get permits, said chairman P.R. S. Oberoi.

Or take the Jewish outreach centre where there were some reports early on that bystanders tried to pelt the militants with stones only to retreat when they opened automatic fire on them.

The gun control laws date back to British colonial times when the authorities severely restricted gun ownership following the 1857 independence battle/sepoy mutiny (depends on which way you look at it). 

Independent India repealed the laws but brought in an equally tight regime, setting up a licensing authority with a carte blanche to deny permits. It also restricted private manufacturing, while banning imports.

Unsurprisingly these restrictions  have meant that there is a thriving black market for arms and ammunition, ensuring a steady supply to all manner of criminals — people who don’t bother about the niceties of remaining within the purview of the law.    

[School children pay homage to Mumbai victims, Reuters pic by Pawan Kumar]

Citizens must jump through several hoops to get an arms licence and then pay high prices for ordinary products. But black market firearms are available at a small fraction of the cost of legal firearms. A country-made single shot handgun can cost as little as US $ 20, imported handguns go for US $ 500- $1,000, and AK-47′s (like the ones that were used in this attack) cost about US$ 1,500 or thereabouts on the black market according to this piece in the The American Thinker.

“There never was a clearer real life example of how gun control takes guns out of the hands of decent law-abiding folk and puts them right into the hands of criminals,” it said.

But can you really open up a nation of a billion people to guns and especially one where sectarian tensions are never far from the surface? Will it not lead to more violence? Is this a remedy worse than the disease?

18 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

The policemen had guns in CST station but those with guns never showed courage to go to front and fight..while the men with batton showed courage to some extent.So whats the point giving them a gun who do not know how to use it or simply doesn’t have courage to act in sucha situation ?? I can tell you if it were unarmed public riot these police with guns have merily shined their guns..
Personelly i do not advocate guns in to be given among public to counter terrorr..lets say few locals at CST station had their private guns and they would shoot at terrorist..when there are many with guns..how do you know who is a terrorist and who is not ?? some other local may kill another local with a gun..lets say there would be no confusion..becuase public will not be given AK-47s..one can say who is a terrorist and a local by looking at the gun he has in hand..but how would a gun prevent a terror attact like 9/11 ??

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

If indian comandoes and the elite forces dont know how to use the gun what difference will it make if they allow oridnary people to have guns.

Simple solution all indians carry on working in call centers and leaders carru on bowing to their masters in the west for contracts. Give us the contract for security to Pakistan.

Simple problem solved nway we muslims ruled India for so long surley you hindus are use to seeing the fighting men are from Muslim n sikh community abd hindues good for work….

Posted by Ali786 | Report as abusive

Ali786, now we are talking solutions what you said is a brilliant idea..Folks if we make pakistan our official watchmen..then there would be no terrorism..because terrorists themselves are working as gaurds to us..now i understand, all these terrorist activities is because they dont have a job..lets give them a watchmen job..again nice idea Ali..i like it.You are perfect to replace my dog..

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

Ali786,

It is leaders & commanders who win or lose war.When your leadership is meritocracy oriented you inspire people to deliver & win.War is about strategy,supply chain,tactics & armament.It is not a street brawl.The most courageous people from what my limited knowledge tells me is one who is adequately qualified,well read,disciplined & can keep his cool.The unfortunate or the saddest part of today’s public life in India is mediocrity has infiltrated in every segment of our society. One of the primary causes also has been poor ownership & sense of urganecy in anything we do.

When an actual war does really break out you will see many sloppiness in your armed forces also like ours,it could be logistics,indiscipline,want of spares & supplies, your over reliance on china for armament supply etc will all come into the open.

I have seen ( some years back) a pakistani army leader in a operation where he told the TV crew, that the militants were so stuborn that they did not find any merit for living also.The most courageous people in the world are not formal army men but those hardened by idealogy, even the most dreaded terrorist will give away his weapon when death whispers close to his ears like kasab who is spilling all the beans.It is rats who leave the ship not the captains, sandeep is a great example for courage he comes from the same city as mine he was a rank holder all through his life & choosed a profession to defend the country,he fought for the defence of his colleague.How would you explain many hindus who came forward to show their chest before the bullet could pierce their foreign guest.It is your mind which makes you a coward or a hero not your genes.If you are really interested to watch courage in action i recommend you to watch this movie “Zulu”.This is a british commander who inspires confidence in his men to fight 4000 african men.

Today i am not employed but beleive me i used to work 16 to 18 hours every day the responsibility of many people’s life teaches you many courageous things.I have not diluted my standards & stood up for integrity that was an ethos which i picked up from hinduism itself,though i do find western ethics, integrity far superior than what we practice in subcontinent.Only thing i do know is this country could have been invaded & plundered but the men who stayed back assimilated & would gradually allow a secular framework alone.My only recommendation to you is you should support your government in brining to justice those criminals including dawood who had killed many people’s life.It is fairness & not politics or jingoism which is involved here. It is worth a cause fighring for against criminals.Fringe elements in 21st century should never be allowed to sabotage civil society.They should also not be allowed to enjoy life like dawood is any civil society since you would always set precedents & weaken your own legal systems.

Specific to this topic i think it is wrong to give weapons to general public,it may cause more chaos than good.

Posted by vijay | Report as abusive

If people had the time and motive to throw pebbles at the terrorists, I’m sure if they had been armed with handguns or rifles the terrorirsts would have been dead before they killed a small fraction of what they did.

Gun control laws are incredibly stupid. How can one think that people are too incapable of using a gun to stop terrorists yet terrorists are so capable of using a gun that they are unstoppable? Guns are pretty simple, its the original point and click interface. The cowardice of some cops armed police who refused to engage the enemy does not mean that someone in the huge crowd might not have more gumption.

Posted by AK47'S FOR EVERYONE! | Report as abusive

Om response to you read it carefuly…

If you want to give the security to us that means Indians are worser then dogs. But I cant disagree the only point I would agree with my indian neighour.

Surely you cant have a dog kos i am sure you worship him dont you sorry that was MONKEY!!

But dont yu think monkeys make better guards there are plenty in all indian cities…give them weapons they will do a better jobs. AFTER ALL WE ARE AFTER SOLUTIONS RIGHT!!!!

Posted by Ali786 | Report as abusive

Where was the International community when the Babri Mosque was destroyed by hindu terrorists?

Where was the world community when inncocent muslims citizen of india were mascared, mudered, homes burnt and raped by hindu terrorists in Gujrat?

Where was the decent people of India or the world when the samjuta train was burnt and innocent were burnt alive. thats how you treat your guests and as now the blame finger was pointed at Pakistan.

Where is the world and decent people of India when every day your smelly solders are burning out homes, murdering inncocent, forcing people to vote no media is allowed in the valley I wonder why surely something to hide.

Where is the World when christian are beinf raped, murdered and their churches destroyed…

If you call this a mother of all democracies then —
SHAME ON ALL OF YOU!!!!!!

Posted by Majid786 | Report as abusive

To all you Indians who think they dont care about Pakistan. Yes you do!!! Dont lie kids cos I read the bloggs and same pathetic indians writing garbage about Pakistan. Never been to the country and think whatever star news portrays is the real Pakistan. I dont think so, that is a simple wishful indian mentality from your leader to scum bags on the streets. Get out of hindu fanatic mode and start to think outside the box.

Grow up and treat your neighours as you would like to treated. Instead of aiding all the terrorism in Pakistan NWFP, Balouchistan and in the cities like karachi. Yes you know too well RAW is involved and we know.

Mini superpower and cant protect its citizens pathetic and your commandoes they are a laughing stock of the world. Seeing your army on the news reminds me of Dads army programme lol.

If you had a margin of hope that you could take on Pakistan, you hindu fanatics would not wait a sec but the reality is that Pakistan is strong because people of Pakistan are strong, hospitable, generous, caring and most of all open, can look after thereself. without bowing down like your leaders to the West for help we stand and deliver! I love Pakistan! Zinda Bad!!!!

Posted by Magic786 | Report as abusive

“Gun control laws are incredibly stupid…..”

Most governements including the United Nations consider social order much more important that individual survival. Social order requires that the ordinary headcount depends on the Community for whatever degree of safety the Community wishes to afford. It is desirable that only those in leadership rolls have such things as guns and then only to protect them from anti social elements.

Posted by mec | Report as abusive

One thing is obvious, gun control did nothing to prevent this attack, and it protected no one but the murderers.

The right to life means nothing without the right to possess the means to protect and defend one’s own life.

Posted by James Mullen | Report as abusive

Absolutely they should have guns. And ammunition should be made available at cost. No one will ever invade a country where there are over 100 million people armed with guns and some basic training on how to use them.
As for not trusting people with guns, you give them cars all the time don’t you. Cars are deadly weapons. Do people go around running their enemies down? NO!
BAsically it’s simple: if you think people are slaves, don’t arm them. If you think they are free, arm them.
What will INdians choose?
Look at Israel , USA & Switzerland. Common people have guns and can shoot well. THose mumbai terrorists wold not have lasted more than 5 minutes in any of these countries.

Posted by expat | Report as abusive

In my country (USA) law-abiding citizens have a right to keep and bear arms. They also have a right to defend themselves from criminal attack.

Many people in foreign countries have a misguided idea of what gun rights in the USA really means. This misguided idea comes from bad Hollywood movies and lying politicians.

It is a very serious crime in the USA to shoot someone. The penalties are quite severe, and can even include the death penalty. Threatening a person with a gun is also a very serious crime in the USA. Even a policeman who uses his gun is suspended at once until the investigation of his actions is complete.

Self-defense in the USA is an excuse from the penalty of the crime.

Suppose that Ms Jones shoots Mr. Smith and kills him. At the very least, she has committed the crime of manslaughter. Ms Jones says that Mr. Smith attacked her with a knife, with the intent of raping and killing her. The police investigation indicates that Ms Jones is telling the truth, and that if she had not shot Mr. Smith, she would certainly be dead.

In such a case, the courts would probably decide that Ms Jones is excused from all penalty because it was self-defense. The police will then return her gun to her.

It is still a very long, and very difficult, and very expensive, legal process for Ms Jones. The incident will interfere with Ms Jones’ life for many years. But, she will still have her life, instead of being buried in the ground with a cut throat and her body raped.

This is the truth about self-defense with guns in the USA. Forget the crazy Hollywood ideas about “trigger-happy Americans”. It is not true. Americans who own guns pray every day that they will never need to use them.

However, the fact that Americans, including women like Ms Jones, have guns is a deterrent to attackers. The terrorist incidents in the USA have happened in situations where guns are forbidden, such as on jetliners.

Criminals and terrorists will always have weapons. The only question is if their victims have weapons too.

Posted by Mark Crispin | Report as abusive

The Emperial Japanese military leaders, after the surrender in japan, were questioned about their actions at pearl harbour and involving the US during world war II. But most pertinent to this discussion was when they were questioned about their inactions. Why did Japan NOT proceed with an invasion of the US? Their answer surprised everyone: With millions of american gun owners, we comprised the largest armed force ever known and that was their reasoning for not trying to occupy the US and detered an invasion. This is not opinion, look it up. There is good reason terrorists have used the same cowardly tactic and not run amok in our streets as they have in india. You may think BAH! Rubbish! but the Japanese were a much more formidable force than the terrorists we face today. God created man, Samuel L Colt made them equal.

Posted by wayne criddle | Report as abusive

Its time to stand up and tell these leaders, who have private security and body guards, that its time to let the people decide if they feel safe or not, and if not, let them own firearms and get training to use them!! If criminals and terrorists know the citizenry are armed, they will be less likely to commit these acts, and if they do… someone may take them out quickly so innocent people do not have to suffer! Refuse to be Victims any more!!

Posted by Eric Tranum | Report as abusive

My heart goes out to the Indian people. Gunmen walked amongst your ranks and killed innocents with impunity. They cared not if you were Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Hindu or Jew. They could do what they did because you were not armed.

In the United States there are also “safe havens” for criminals to do their cowardly acts. The cowards chose Churches, college campuses, shopping malls. These places have laws in place that prohibit firearms and the cowards chose these places for random killing simply because they know they will meet with no resistance. Those laws are being questioned and college students are forming organized reprisal groups to repeal those laws.

I have a concealed weapons permit and most everyone I know has hand guns, rifles, and shot guns. When the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor severely crippled the US Navy the Japanese did not continue to the mainland. Why? The Japanese commander had studied in the United States and he knew American households had privately owned guns and were not afraid to use them. The commander knew Americans could form a militia within hours that even their powerful navy could not take.

Along with carrying a gun comes the responsibility of knowing when and how to use it. I have never had to defend my family or myself. I do not have to use it. But I can’t use it if I don’t have it.

There is a saying in this country. “When you only have split seconds the police are minutes away.” The police will do a good job of notifying your relatives of your death.

Every genocide in history started with the confiscation of guns. Germany, Somalia, Turkey, Uganda, China, the Soviet Union, Cambodia to name a few. I lived in New Delhi for two years. Do not let that happen to my friends in India.

When the English wanted to stop Indian uprising and revolt at the turn of the century what was the first thing they did. Confiscated your guns. Muhatma Ghandi said “This will come as a black day”. He was not wrong. Dan, USA

Posted by Dan Kjer | Report as abusive

Having guns is a human right to defend.

Om above wouldn’t be able to figure out a terrorist from a law abiding citizen, but most sane Indians can tell the “intent” of a gunman by the way he is shooting indiscriminately at anyone in sight, or only at one or group of armed terrorist.

And ofcourse, if you are a law abiding citizen, you will only shoot only when someone shoots at you, and not start shooting at anyone who you think is a terrorist.

And ofcourse, terrorists won’t be going around holding pistols like normal law abiding citizens.

Wake up!

Posted by Ashok Mani | Report as abusive

We do not need guns. There is no justification for carrying a death-dealing gadget around. Any reference to American thought has no relevance to our country. It just further exposes the shameful fact that we have a huge self-esteem problem. America is the world’s largest arms manufacturer and dealer and, hence, will only look to increasing it’s profits. Scaremongering, starting wars, giving seemingly intelligent analyses is their modus operandi. Wake up India, we do not need guns to live a life. It will definiitely lose us lives.

Posted by meap | Report as abusive

I tried to take a walk while visiting my In-Laws in India. I thought my Brother-In-Law was going to die of panic when he found me! I discovered that several woman and girls had been kidnapped off the street (they live in the country) and that I shouldn’t be walking alone. Now I’m sorry, if you think that people should just lay down and let abuse happen, you are a sorry lot!! I’m American, I practice my right to bear arms. Oh and my Husband does too, incase you missed it, he is from India! I shake my head at the inability for a family to defend their children during an attack.

To the above poster, I’m glad that I’ll never be entrusting you with my life :) Oh wait…I am an AMERICAN I will defend myself.

Posted by HeatherM | Report as abusive