A single judge bench of the Delhi High Court has ruled that a member of a rifle association or club cannot hold more than two firearms when seeking an exemption under section 3 ( 2) the Weapons Act 1959. Justice Yashwant Varma stated that more than two firearms could only be possessed by a member on a temporary basis if possession of the additional firearm was authorized by the club or association of which said member was a member.
Briefly, the facts of the case were that the petitioner had acquired a firearms license and was a lifetime member of the National and State Rifle Associations. He acquired a 22 point target pistol in addition to the 22 point rifle and 32 point revolver, already endorsed on his license.
In 2019 the Weapons Act 1959 was amended by the Weapons (Amendment) Act 2019 and reduced the number of firearms a person could carry from three to two. Prior to the amendments, Section 3 allowed individuals to possess up to three firearms. Section 3(3) persons, which included gun dealers and rifle associations or clubs, were excluded from the application of section 3(2) of the Act.
Thus, after the number of firearms that could be possessed had been reduced from three to two, the co-commissioner ordered the applicant to surrender one of his firearms.
The petitioner argued that under Section 3 of the Act, as a member of the NRAI, he was exempt from the requirement to lay down a firearm.
He further argued that the fact that a member of a club or association was treated as distinct was also apparent from the provisions of section 40 of the Act which recognized the distinct character of members of the NRAI or any other rifle association or affiliated shooting club. The petitioner also referred to a notification issued by the central government which granted an exemption to various categories of shooting sportsmen, allowing them to possess more than two weapons.
On the contrary, the respondent argued that subsections (2) and (3) could not be interpreted as imposing no restriction on the number of firearms that may be owned by a member of a club or shooting association.
Here, at the outset, the court declared that it was well established that neither the Constitution nor the Arms Act gave citizens an irrevocable right to hold, possess or bear firearms.
The court, while assessing the law, held that although a person may be a member of a rifle association or club, his or her individual right to carry or possess a firearm was still controlled by the provisions of the law.
The tribunal further held that section 40, as referred to by the claimants, could not be interpreted as granting a member of a club or association a special or separate status. The court said the rule only dealt with the amount of firearms that can be owned by different categories of athletes and sports organizations.
Finally, with respect to the claimants’ assertion under section 3(2) of the Act, the court noted that the category of members excluded from the weapons restrictions included gun dealers, NRAI and the State Rifle Associations and their affiliated units.
The court said the logic behind exempting traders from the two-gun restriction was that a person who engaged in the business of selling, buying, exporting or importing firearms would obviously have more than two firearms in his possession. Likewise, the NRAI and other such clubs would also have more than two guns at any given time. However, this does not mean that an individual member of an association or club will have the right to own firearms without a maximum limit.
The court said allowing club members to own guns without limit would be absurd and–
“(It) would essentially put such a person on a par with a gun dealer and rifle associations and clubs. This cannot be interpreted as the intent of subsection 3(2).“
The Court found no justification for accepting the applicant’s assertion that members of associations or clubs were exempt from the restrictions imposed by section 3(2) of the Act.
However, the tribunal also recognized that while Article 3(3) could have stopped at exempting dealers from the restrictions imposed by Article 3(2), it also applied to a situation in which a member of an association or club was permitted to possess more than two firearms. Thus, the Court came to the conclusion that a member of an association or a club was authorized to be temporarily in possession of more than two firearms only if he held an additional firearm licensed to the club or to the association of which he was a member. of.
CASE TITLE: MEET MALHOTRA v. INDIA UNION AND ORS.
Click here to read the order