Sunday, January 07, 2007

Should airguns be banned to protect animals?

In 2000 People for Animals went to the Delhi High Court asking for airguns not to be sold at all or, if they were to be sold , they should be sold in gun shops and licenced. This was part of a larger case in which we asked for the gun licences that are issued so freely in the name of crop protection be banned. In 2002 we won the case and got a remarkable judgment from the Chief Justice of the High Court Hon'ble Justice S.B.Sinha and Hon’ble Justice A.K.Sikri.

These airguns that people buy in toyshops are not toys. They are weapons. Children who are given these guns by very foolish parents do not use them on inanimate objects or even in the house. Imagine the hell they would have to pay if they shot an expensive vase to bits.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, in Section 11, makes criminal any person from causing pain or suffering to any animals. But invariably airguns, air rifles, airpistols are used on helpless small animals, in particular birds, by children. The victim does not die immediately. The pellet creates a gaping hole in the small body and the victim takes hours, even a few days, to die. The hole becomes infected, flies lay their eggs in it and these turn into maggots that eat the victim's body. Cows or donkeys make easy targets. When they boast to their parents about their kills, and the parent who has given them the gun merely smiles, then that child is lost to civilized society - we have created a monster.

At the very least it teaches children that violence is easy and condoned by adults. It teaches them that all species other than humans are dispensable.

It is not just animals. I have seen children using it on servants and poorer children. I have seen them laugh when they hide and shoot at random passersby. They often do not tell their parents. This is extremely dangerous.

The torture and killing of little animals can be an early sign of a psychological disorder. The shooters are often just showing off to their friends. This leads to a situation where violence becomes power and then other children ask their parents for guns as well so they can be part of the group.

Some children intentionally hurt animals because they enjoy hurting things, or because it makes them feel powerful. Many of these people would hurt other people if they could get away with it; they just choose to hurt animals because animals are more helpless than people. Killing animals is simply training for when they move on to larger things...like people. Children are not stupid: They know they are being cruel, and when they excuse it by simply saying it is a game, these children who subconsciously believe that violence is o.k. grow up to be insensitive and more violent than normal people.

I am sure Pataudi and Salman Khan were given these guns as children and you can see the result now. The jails are filled with violent criminals who started out life, according to every survey done, by killing small animals and birds as children. It also puts other children in jeopardy.

On 13th July 1962 the Government of India brought out a notification exempting airguns/ airrifles/ airpistols from the provisions of the Arms Act. Obviously no bureaucrat or politician applied his mind while passing this arbitrary order. For while a child of any age is allowed to possess and use airguns, and indeed buy them from toyshops or roadside vendors, if the same gun is used by a Rifle Club, it is mandatory that the person should be an adult above 21 years and all the rules of the Arms Act apply to him/her!

So children are exempt but not adults??

The government, we argued, has a duty to create conditions in which children develop a humane and civilized character, the kind of people who assist rather than harm. But this exemption is completely against that constitutional duty. Article 51 A imposes a fundamental duty " to have compassion for living creatures”. The allowance of weapons to children violates this.

The Government in its defense argued that these airguns were allowed as long as they did not perforate a target made of wood of the thickness of one inch. However, children don't use these on one thick wooden piece. They use them on birds. A sparrow has a skin of less than one millimeter. In the judgement the judges have said " it is difficult to comprehend as to why such a category or firearms would be made freely available in the market." " It does not stand to any reason as to why air rifles,air guns and air pistols which can be used for the same purposes as other guns would be taken out of the purview of the Arms act" The judges also noted "there cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the provisions of the prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 would be violated" by allowing these guns to be freely sold.

Who do you think opposed us in this case (and the judges found this very curious too) - The Ministry for Environment and Forests, then headed by the DMK minister, Baalu! The lawyer gave examples from Nagaland where boys go on bird shooting sprees at the age of 10 - to the extent that the Chief Secretary of Nagaland had contemplated the regulation and sale of airguns to the general public, the Environment Ministry argued that these were non lethal weapons and suggested awareness and education as a remedy instead of banning guns! They were supported by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Bureau of Police Research and development added their two bits by saying that the muzzle of the guns should be reduced so that the energy of the guns would come down.

The Court ordered a consultation between the Home and other Ministries to take place. Months passed. Not a single meeting took place. We went back to court. The Court realised that the government was going to take no action. They passed an order quashing the notification GSR No 988 dated 13-07-62 "issued under subclause (vii) of clause (b) of subsection (i) of section 2 of the Arms Act by the Central Government whereby and whereunder air guns, air rifles and air pistols have been exempted from all the regulations and controls as provided under the Arms Act. This judgment applies to the whole of India.If you see any airguns being sold, you can have the shopkeeper arrested.

Maneka Gandhi

To join the animal welfare movement contact Smt Gandhi at gandhim@nic.in or 14,Ashoka Road, New Delhi -110001

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