ISLAMABAD: The government is set to announce a new arms policy that is likely to be far more restrictive than the current law, according to sources privy to the matter.
Under the new law, only the prime minister and the president will be allowed to issue authorisation for licences of “prohibited bore” guns, weapons that are proscribed by law except under limited circumstances. The current law allows for the interior ministry to grant licences of otherwise proscribed weapons.
“Prohibited bore” refers to most automatic and semi-automatic rifles and other weapons as well as hand-guns with a larger gauge or larger capacity for bullets.
While the police, military and licenced private security companies are generally able to carry such weapons, individuals are often prohibited from obtaining a licence for them, regardless of whether or not a person has a criminal record.
The proposed amendment, however, is designed to close what many consider to be a loophole in current legislation: the interior ministry has been accused by many observers of being too liberal in the licensing exemptions it grants to individuals for carrying prohibited bore weapons.
A draft of the amended law has been prepared by the interior ministry and is expected to be submitted to the prime minister by the end of the month. The new law will also call for licences of prohibited bore weapons to be issued only to institutional entities such as security companies rather than individuals.
There are currently over 600 private security companies in Pakistan. In Sindh, such companies employ more private security guards than the Sindh Police.
In recent months, the government has stepped up its efforts to crack down on illegal arms and ammunition in the country, partially as a response to the rise in crime, particularly terrorism.
Among the government’s initiatives has been the computerisation of the arms licensing process. Only citizens without a criminal record are permitted to have an arms licence. The computerisation of the process is designed to ensure that the government can keep track of each individual’s arms licence while also ensuring that those with criminal records find it more difficult to bypass the law.
Yet, as restrictive as the new law may appear, it is not without its own share of loopholes. Licences can still be granted to citizens without the mandatory background check on the authorisation of the prime minister or most senior civil servants.
The new law will also include an exemption for senior civilian bureaucrats and all military personnel which would allow them to be provided licences for their non-military weapons without having to pay the licence fee.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2011.
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