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Gun and the City: Delhi leads spike in unlicensed arms across the country

Topics Man guns | Delhi | Delhi Riots 2020

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The visuals of the riots in North East Delhi made it clear guns are all over the place in the city. Most of those killed in the violence succumbed to gunshot wounds. It was also clear the weapons used were largely unlicensed. 

Data, even if tangential, shows there is reason to be scared. Police data on the seizure of guns made every year shows the number of illegal firearms confiscated in the city has doubled in just one year from 2017 to 2018. As the table shows, Delhi Police seized 1,025 unlicensed arms in 2017. It was 2,057 in 2018. The data for 2019 is not yet available. 

Assuming that the police search for these weapons assiduously every year and have the same success rate, this is an alarming statistic. The number of these guns caught across the country jumped 19 per cent in one year, and Delhi was one of the largest reasons for the surge. 

If one digs deeper into the statistic, the data for the previous years are also uncomfortable. While there are inter-year swings, the trend for the capital city is clearly rising too fast. The problem is that this data is too recent, as the National Crime Records Bureau itself states. 

Amazingly the police department has begun to compile the data on guns seized only from 2014. “This is a newly included chapter for which data have been collected under the revised proformae. Nowadays, illegal arms, explosives and explosive substances, illegal drugs and liquor pose a threat to security and economic prosperity of the country. The NCRB has made an effort to study the trends and patterns of these illegal activities and is publishing an exclusive chapter of seizures of illegal arms… (sic)”, notes the chapter from the 2014 edition of the NCRB. 

There is no evidence except anecdotes to give a sense of how much of the flow of illegal arms the police is able to tap into. “The actual could be 20 times or it could be more. We really do not know”, said a top police officer of the Uttar Pradesh government. The state records the maximum number of seizures under the Arms Act at over 45 per cent, followed by Madhya Pradesh. The NCRB statistics note these two State together accounted for two-thirds of the seizures each year. This itself is a significant pointer said the official to where the guns are headed. “It is basically the proximity to Delhi NCR, which creates the demand,” he said. The other states from where these firearms are most often found are all in North India. The rankings change but they are West Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana. 

Arms and the money 

While the western UP towns are rich manufacturing zones for these guns, many of these arms are still colloquially known as Munger brand. The Munger district in Bihar has been the largest manufacturer of illegal firearms since Independence. Independent India had decommissioned the gun manufacturing unit located in the district. But few alternatives to employ the skilled workers came up in its place. The workers retreated to their homes and soon developed a veritable cottage industry in the product. The most famous of these is the point 32-bore pistol or revolver that sells for about Rs 35,000. 

It does not take more than a lathe machine to make the barrel of a gun. Even if he churns out one every week, a skilled worker can earn much more than what he would from the legal trade in any profession. The police try to keep the trade under control by squeezing the ammunition chain (dana, as cartridges are called). It is difficult to produce those in the illegal units and thus there is a continuous pressure to smuggle them from ordnance factories or from the supply chain of the legitimate arms dealers. This makes the supply of ammunition often far more valuable than the guns. As the data shows there is a one is to one match of the ammunition seized by the police with the number of guns seized, except for a one off spike in 2015. “It is our way of keeping the incentives low, and thus restrict the trade”, said an officer in the government. There is no data to establish why the spurt had occurred. 

A police source said the shortage of ammunition is one of the reasons brandishing a firearm is often more prevalent than the incentive to shoot. This is also the reason why the bore of the most popular gun is the point-32 variety. It is the one for which ammunition is the most easily available unlike the point 38 that the police force most often use. Meerut is a cantonment city, plus its proximity to Delhi which makes it destination of choice for the arms trade to gravitate there. 

While those who buy the guns often bring their purchase back themselves, there are gun runners who hide the consignment in innovative ways like canisters of ghee and oil to evade checks at the borders. And of course the business runs only on cash. But despite these constraints, it is evident more guns are flowing into Delhi and these are also of better quality. The business spikes during elections, so in 2020 before the Delhi elections the Delhi Police registered 252 FIRs recovering 331 weapons and 381 cartridges. The data from the rest of the months in 2020 is expected to be busy too. 

Data on arms and ammunition seizures
Year  Region Unlicensed arms (pieces)  Ammunition (nos)
2018  All-India  71,135 108,444
Delhi 2,057 6,261
2017  All-India  59,694  92,107
Delhi  1,025 1,854
All-India 36,064  106,900
Delhi  685 1,049
All-India 32,564 342,478
Delhi  413  5,047
All-India  32,319  109,110 
Delhi  859  20,794
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

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