Who gets to own a gun, and how?

Source: Expressbuzz

The New Indian Express First Published : 10 Sep 2009 11:39:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 10 Sep 2009 01:04:15 AM IST
Our staffers in Kochi filed an item recently on an attempt by a non-government body to probe the records of gun licences in Kerala. The application was filed under the national Right to Information Act (RTI), and there is no way the law could bar the provision of such a record. The first asked the home department, in charge of law and order, which said it didn’t have the information — district collectors did and so the revenue department should be asked. So, they applied to the latter, which said it didn’t have the data — that was the job of the home department. The NGO was also told the fee to access this sort of thing would be Rs 85,000. Strictly illegal under the RTI and this is one of India’s more advanced states, but we digress. Finally, an RTI was filed with each district collectorate, and the response followed no uniformity. Half a dozen districts said they had no record on expiry of licences or, for that mater, of renewals. Thiruvananthapuram refused to give names and addresses of owners, citing privacy laws; Malappuram had no such hesitation. And so on.
Nor is there any common policy in granting or renewing a licence. Else, explain how Kollam, for instance, lists 388 guns, while Palakkad shows 1,811 and Kozhikode, 4,635; there are all sorts of interesting variations every dozen kilometres in a small state like Kerala. All of which provide some food for thought. One, RTI rules, despite all these years of operation and publicity, are still not clear to the state authorities. Or, perhaps, they have no great enthusiasm for exploring and simplifying. The simple principle, that disclosure has to be the rule, and denying information an exception, is still a rather alien concept in even one of India’s most educationally and socially awake state. Then again, given the regularity with which firearms are used by criminals all over the country, the public have a big vested interest in the details of policy in this regard. Who gets a licence, how easily, and what checks are there to ensure responsible use, are all issues of public interest; as we noted, several districts said they had no record of many of these things. Or, if they did, they didn’t think it needed to be made public. And there seems no statewide agency charged with collation and analysis. We’d suggest more citizen pressure, more use of RTI, to move matters.

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