Guns for pleasure, anyone? Aabhas Sharma
On a recent visit to Munger, a small town in Bihar, my cabbie, speaking in a thick Bihari accent, decided to play guide, "Munger has one of the biggest gun factories in India, and guns are easily available here," he pointed out matter-of-factly.
But forget Munger, what about the rest of the country? If one has to buy a licensed firearm, what are the choices and what are the prices? While a majority of arms dealers are tightlipped about the subject, there are a few who are more willing to divulge information.
Shyam Sodhi, owner of Delhi Arms and Armoury, feels, "It is a floundering business which has suffered a lot in the last 10 years or so."
Sixty-year-old Sodhi, who has been running his shop since 1966, admits that there are months when he doesn't sell a single weapon and other times when he sells four-five of them. "The most popular weapons these days are revolvers and shotguns."
But since import of weapons was stopped almost two decades back, the guns in his shops keep doing the rounds. "We have old guns and sometimes people even leave weapons with us, after the owner has died, for safe custody," he says.
Sodhi's shop houses everything from the weapon world including revolvers like Beretta, Walther and Smith, Browning (these are imported), to rifles and shot guns. The business, however, faces a massive lull.
Shabbir Bandookwala, proprietor of India Arms in Mumbai's Crawford Market, feels that most people who buy guns these days, buy them for reasons of security.
He bemoans the strict rules and regulations that govern the procurement of weapons. "There was a time when we used to have frequent visitors looking for hunting rifles, but these days we only manage to sell shotguns and revolvers." The import of guns, he informs, was prohibited by the Indian government almost two decades back, in 1986.
But still, these imported weapons cost quite a bit so although people are left with a choice of only old weapons, the supply is scarce. An imported Beretta .32 revolver, for instance, will cost around Rs 300,000 and a Browning .32 would be Rs 280,000.
On the other hand, the ones available from the Indian Ordinance Factory will come for Rs 70,000 or so.
Similarly, a pump action shot gun would cost Rs 30,000 from the IOF and if you want an imported one, then it would cost Rs 200,000. A .315 rifle from the IOF will cost around Rs 40,000 while an imported one can be yours to shoot at around Rs 250,000.
Among imported revolvers and pistols, Smith and Wesson, Walthers and Brownings are still the preferred choice for most. Apart from revolvers, there are pistols available too, but most people don't usually opt for them. A .22 Beretta pistol, which Sodhi terms a "ladies' weapon", costs around Rs 150,000.
It is not only in big cities like Delhi or Mumbai where dealers are finding it tough to sustain business. Smaller cities like Bhopal, which was once considered a hunting ground for licenced firearms, has seen business dwindle steadily over the years.
"The nawabs and those from royal families who required guns for hunting purposes would purchase their guns here. But now we don't manage to sell guns for months together," says a licensed arms dealer in Bhopal.
For the record, it's the same story in towns like Kanpur and Meerut, once considered favourite spots for buying arms and ammunition.
The only way gun shop dealers can now deal in imported weapons is to wait for professional shooters to sell their guns. That makes sense because renowned shooters are still permitted to import guns and ammunition from abroad. Sodhi says that one of the biggest global markets in this sphere is Italy.
It is not guns alone, because getting ammo is as difficult a task. The cartridges are available at IOF but that, say experts, can prove an arduous task. A bullet for a pump action shot gun costs around Rs 40.
But where is the market for arms and ammunition, given that hunting is banned?
Experts say that guns, rifles and shotguns are usually procured by banks and security agencies for their professional duties.
And even as Indian guns of reasonable quality are being manufactured in places like Munger, Jammu, Kanrut district in Assam, Kolkata, Kanpur, and Jabalpur, it is imported firearms that people still desire. So who says a gun can't be for keeps?
Getting a licence
Getting a gun licence is a big task. In Delhi, an application for a license has to be submitted to the DCP/Licencing with the required forms, photographs, other relevant documents and the approval of the local SHO.
The SHO or the local police station has to give the person a clean chit after checking (in negative) for any criminal history.After that there is a verification process and if one gets through that then a licence can be issued to the person.