It is good that the Manipur government has come alive to the serious problem of violence unleashed by holders of licensed guns in recent times. A general notification issued through the district magistrates of various districts has asked the holders of arms licenses issued by the magistrate to submit the arms licenses along with the registered arms by March 1 to the respective police stations as mentioned in the arms license.
Failing to comply with the notification will result in the cancellation of the license without further notice, it added. Now, the rat race will start among the license holders seeking exemptions from the authorities on various grounds like imagined threat perceptions to themselves from anti-social elements or whatever. We have been calling for such an exercise or overhaul for quite some time in this column.
We gather that, such an action was mandated by the recent spurt in political violence in Imphal. It was triggered by an uproar in a recent local TV debate on the government’s much publicised ‘War on Drugs’ where two youth leaders of BJP and Congress practically came to blows.
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On the day of the recent controversial debate, the Youth Congress leader N Popilal was accosted by BJP youth volunteers and with police intervention he had to be escorted home. On the next night, the BJP youth leader Sureshkumar and another were waylaid by some miscreants on his way home and thrashed. The next day, petrol bombs were hurled at the Congress Bhavan located in the heart of the city, followed by rotten eggs and shots fired at the home of a Congress Vice-President. Why is this happening? The culprit here is surely the recent rise in gun culture in the state.
Gun licenses were issued by the state Home Department through the DCs under strict supervision and not everyone who applies gets the license and there is even talk of a racket handling these cases for the right amount to grease the palms of those involved in handling files and issuing clearances. Interestingly, many of the licensed guns ended up in the hands of the insurgents and yet again crimes involving licensed guns were very rare then.
In recent times, there is a proliferation of licensed guns everywhere. Anyone with means and political backing or the right connections can obtain a gun license and procure guns of any variety or calibre. Generally, gun licenses are first issued for single bore or double barrel guns for self-defence or protection from anti-social elements or the motley crew of rag-tag factions of militant groups for whom militancy had somehow become a cottage industry.
But now, many license holders are going for the small guns which one can carry around everywhere. But who are these license holders with small guns? They are the moneyed people mostly with ill-begotten wealth like those with shady business deals, contractors and suppliers, top bureaucrats and of course politicians of all hue. The mental state of a person having a gun license starts changing as soon as he or she acquires the gun and feels it in their hands and the smell of gunpowder stimulates a hidden power in him. A license gun holder begins looking at every situation even if unthreatening through the prism of the barrel. So, there were instances of pulling out guns in even domestic squabbles. Add to that, when the said licensed gun holder is tipsy or drunk.
Most sadly, it has become a prestige symbol in recent times. Now that, the state government seems determined to begin an overhaul of the licensed guns and their owners, we feel there must be no exceptions or exemptions to the rule. To set an example, the VVIPs should lead in depositing arms and licenses to the district magistrates instead of seeking exemptions so that district authorities and the police are given a free hand in the exercise.
And a matter of utmost importance is checking how many bullets or cartridges have gone through the barrel or how many have been used from those officially issued during the time of possession of the gun with the license holder. Everyone knows, one can buy bullets or cartridges in the black market. Simply put, the exercise needs to be thorough and not just lip-service.