In relief to shooters, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Delhi high court judgment, which held that licenses would be necessary for procuring air rifles and air pistols, which was coming in the way of their training and competition.
A bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and J Chelameswar sought a response from Maneka Gandhi-headed NGO People For Animals (PFA), on whose petition the high court had quashed a 1962 government notification that exempted the air rifle and air pistol from all regulations and controls under the Arms Act, 1959.
The Centre, National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and manufacturers of Toy Airgun, Rifle, Pistol and Pellet Association had challenged the May 20, 2011, verdict of the high court which rejected their contention that air guns used for target practice are not firearms as defined under the Act but merely toys, and as such these did not fall under the purview of the licensing regime.
The high court had said "it is safe to conclude that air guns, air rifles, air pistols are not mere toys and they are very much subject to the provisions of the Act, being firearms".
The PFA had also argued that these arms were used for killing or maiming animals and birds.
The high court verdict had come as a setback for shooters and sportspersons below 18 years, as the age limit to get an arms license is 21 years.
It had said "a person under the age of 21 years but above the age of 12 years is also permitted to use the firearms for the purposes of target practice and training in the use of such firearms in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the Rules".
The high court, in its judgment, had said "no citizen has a blanket right to carry firearms. Its grant is subject to his applying for a license and fulfilling the qualifications and criteria spelt out in the Act and Rules.
"The NRAI's position, therefore, that its members have a right to secure a license, is untenable. They have, at best, a right to apply for and be considered for the grant of a license, subject to fulfillment of the prescribed qualifications."
However, the government had taken a stand that as a result of the high court judgment no sportsperson who is participating in international events and is less than 18 years of age will be permitted to participate in shooting events and no minor between the age-group of 10 to 18 years can possess or hold an air pistol.
The PIL by PFA in the high court had contended that although the object of the Arms Act was to preserve public security as also maintenance of public order, the basic requirements thereof have been given a go-bye by liberalizing the policy of grant of license of arms, which resulted in unhampered distribution, sale and possession of firearms in the country.
However, the Manufacturers Association submitted that it has also resulted in closure of manufacturing industry for this category of rifles in India.
The government has maintained that the lead pellets used in such pistols are purely dart items which are not explosive and not used to kill animals.
The high court had said their purpose was squarely to serve persons interested in the sport of shooting and target practice and that the petitioner has attempted to confuse the court into believing that by sport the implication is game-hunting or shikaar.
It said that in view of the enactment of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and India, being a signatory to various international conventions and treaties, the exemption notification had lost its legality and legitimacy.
It had held that the Arms Act has provided sufficient safe guards for the purposes of training in use of fire arms, for target practice and sport purposes by prescribing an obligatory grant of license for the use of firearms for the said purposes to eligible and interested persons.