There is one aspect in the killing of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi – and many other killings – that has not formed part of the discussion: where did the killers get the guns from? Firearms used in such killings are usually unlicensed which indicates that illegal arms are easily available to whoever wants them. In Goa today, there are less than 3,000 arms licences, according to home department. But there have been instances of illegal arms being recovered in the state. Across the country, there is a flourishing trade in illegal arms, despite a very strict licensing regime. The proliferation of illegal arms is evident from contract killing, massacres and communal riots. There is underground manufacturing of illegal arms in many parts of the country. Then there is smuggling of sophisticated and highly lethal firearms that gets into the hands of criminal gangs, terror groups, Maoist and insurgent groups. Given the complexities involved in tackling the illegal arms manufacture and trade, it looks well-nigh impossible for police authorities to put an end to it.
Coupled with the problem of illegal arms was the problem of lapsed or illegally transferred arms licences. State governments did not have the exact record of who were licensed arms holders and who were not. In Goa, there were in excess of 4,500 arms licences, which number after digitization of records has come down to less than 3,000. There were instances of dead people or of those who either surrendered their arms licences or sold their weapons to others on their availing licences continued being shown as holders of arms licences. Digitization actually is going to be of substantial help. Under the new procedure, every owner of arms would be issued a computer generated unique identification (UID) number with a hologram. The UID numbers would be generated by the issuing authorities (district collectors) following the digitisation of details of arms licences using the National Database on Arms Licences, a software developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). With the beginning of the new regime the licences without the UID number and associated hologram would become invalid.
Computerization of arms licence records will ensure that the licenced firearms were properly accounted for. It would be easier to track their movements and identify the arms in the event of misuse. A gun licence is given for self-protection and not for killing or hurting someone. In certain parts of North India, licensed firearms are used during wedding celebrations or other joyous occasions, which is sheer misuse of the licence. People have accidentally fallen victim to such firings. It remains to be seen whether the authorities would take effective measures to prevent misuse of arms during weddings and other celebrations to prevent casualty. The NDA government must also continue to not allow licence holders to get possession of sophisticated firearms. We have seen how easy availability of sophisticated firearms can lead to crazy young men using them to carry out massacres in the United States. While the new arms licensing regime is expected to bring in more accountability as far as licensed arms are concerned digitization alone might not help prevent manufacture, trade and use of illegal arms. To achieve that end, a well-coordinated and focused mechanism is required, with the participation of armed forces patrolling the borders, intelligence agencies and state police forces. Unless we cleanse our society of illegal firearms, fanatical, crazed elements would go on killing Dabholkars, Pansares and Kalburgis using them.