The latest in the string of incidents related to mass shootings in the United States has once again triggered a debate around the issue of gun control in that country. Unlike the United States, the Constitution of India does not contain a right to bear arms. However, a proposal to include such a right was discussed during the constitution-making process.
On 1st December 1948, H.V. Kamath, during a discussion around rights to freedom in the Constituent Assembly, introduced an amendment that proposed to add a right to bear arms to Draft Article 13 (Article 19 of the Final Constitution). In his speech, he put forward three arguments to support his amendment: first, he argued that the demand for a right to bear arms was a significant strand of the freedom movement as articulated in documents like the Karachi Resolution of the Indian National Congress 1931. Second, that anti-social element in India would always find a way to access arms putting other’s safety in danger; and third, if the state allowed its citizens a right to bear arms, citizens would feel that the state trusted them.
Maulana Hasrat Mohani supported Kamath’s amendment. He argued that if the Constitution deprived Indians of the right to bear arms just like the British did, then there would be no difference between a government of independent India and the colonial government. He urged the Drafting Committee, particularly B.R. Ambedkar, to accept Kamath’s amendment.
After interventions by Shiban Lal Saxena who supported Kamath’s amendment, and Ananthasayam Ayyangar who opposed it, Ambedkar rose to defend the Drafting Committee’s decision of not including a right to bear arms provision in the Constitution.
Ambedkar acknowledged that the demand for the right to bear arms was indeed a significant aspect of the independence movement. He told the Assembly that the reason that the British banned Indians from procuring arms was nothing to do with law and order considerations, but to avoid the possibility of Indians overthrowing the British. In this context, agitating for a right to bear arms was appropriate, but in the present circumstances:
‘..I personally myself cannot conceive how it would be possible for the State to carry on its administration if every individual had the right to go into the market and purchase all sorts of instruments of attack without any let or hindrance from the State.’
At the end of the debate, Kamath’s proposal was put to vote; the Assembly rejected the amendment and decided to not include a right to bear arms in the Indian Constitution.