The restructuring of the OFB is progressive, but a reform of the rules for civilian gun ownership is also useful

All crime statistics underline the fact that licensed firearms do not contribute to crime; Most, if anything, they help prevent heinous crimes by giving citizens a real chance to defend themselves

The Indian government finally decided to dissolve the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and make room for seven new (100 percent state-owned) companies that are now to take over the operation of the Ordnance Factorys and other facilities.

The move is designed to help improve the disastrous quality of the products that OFB has become infamous for. It consistently supplies overpriced, inferior products to both its government buyers (military, paramilitary, police, etc.) and normal Indian civilian customers.

Most of the excitement revolves around the OFB’s establishment and how it can affect military supplies and workers’ job security, but few people discuss the products they sell in the civilian market and how it is doing Step could affect potential civilian customers.

Since many readers are not familiar with the status of civilian gun ownership in India, a little background knowledge may be in order here.

Civilian gun ownership in India

Before the advent of colonial rule in India, weapons of all kinds were freely owned and carried by all sections of society. At the time, it was unusual for someone to venture out of their home without being in any way armed.

The British rulers, with a deeply ingrained distrust of their Indian subjects, had enacted numerous strict laws with the sole aim of disarming and subjugating the Indian people. These laws liberated all Europeans, while Indians who owned weapons of any kind imposed strict controls and penalties.

After independence, the right to keep and carry guns was recognized as a legal right by the Guns Act of 1959, which allows any Indian citizen who had not previously been convicted of a violent crime or had a history of mental health problems to apply and get a gun license.

Like any other government issued license, this process is highly subjective, corrupt, and degrading, and is obviously designed to deter common applicants. The process ensures that the application will be rejected without exception, unless the applicant is well connected or willing to smear the right palms of hands.

As a rule, the average citizen only has a chance of obtaining a gun license if the applicant has inherited a gun or has achieved achievements in shooting sports. As a result, it is rare in India for an ordinary middle-class citizen to hold a gun license.

OFB and civil firearms

OFB has a long history of manufacturing firearms and ammunition specifically intended for sale to civilians in India. Initially manufacturing sports rifles with a chamber for the .315 (8x50R) cartridge, these were the sporty versions of the same Lee Enfield rifles that were supplied to the government in the British .303 caliber and later in the 7.62×51 caliber. They later also began supplying 12-bore double-barreled shotguns that were a copy of a Birmingham Small Arms design.

Until 1986, when civilian imports of all firearms were banned, these OFB products were generally of acceptable quality and much lower in price than the imported firearms, which were sold here at three times their overseas price, mainly because of import duties and dealer profits. This direct competition with global manufacturers ensured that OFB maintained a certain quality and price level.

A few years ago a friend found some OFB-made 12-hole cartridges from the early 1980s in his shop. We added them to our range and tested them against the ones currently manufactured by OFB: the older batch was far superior in terms of performance, even though it had been in stock for almost half a century!

Following the 1986 import ban, OFB received a virtual monopoly on the manufacture and sale of civilian firearms and ammunition in India. Monopolies are usually never good for customers or the market. This OFB monopoly led to a massive deterioration in quality and constant price increases for civilian weapons. The buyer had no other choice.

In the late 1980s, OFB began making a copy of the Enfield No. 2 revolvers (a simplified version of the centuries-old Webley design) with a chamber for the .32 S&W Long cartridge. They later added a semi-automatic pistol to their product line, a mish-mash copy of the Browning 1910 and Colt 1903 models. Both currently cost around 1 lakh rupees.

In comparison, similar products made by any of the global manufacturers that are of much better quality are sold overseas for a third or even less – this would include the profit margin of the manufacturer, the distributor as well as the retailer.

Take a long look

Will the reform of the OFB make a difference? Before we begin to investigate whether and how incorporating the company could help improve the quality of OFB’s products, let’s consider another major policy change that went into effect in 2016.

As of 2016, the Indian government accepted applications for licenses to manufacture weapons and ammunition from private companies. Previously, only a few small series shotguns and antiquated muzzle-loaders were allowed to manufacture small numbers of items, and no new licenses have been issued for these for several decades either.

Several Indian companies have been licensed to manufacture weapons and ammunition in India. However, the focus of almost all of these companies is on state sales, as this is where the large sales volumes are located. Most of these companies have partnered with overseas collaborators and are trying to bring their product lines here to compete for large military and police assignments.

The government’s vision is a vibrant ecosystem of local manufacturers who will eventually be able to compete in global markets. It should be noted that while all of these companies are setting up facilities in India and competing for some government tenders, what would happen to the huge investment made by those who fail to win the tenders?

In countries with a thriving arms industry, much of the industry is sustained by civilian sales (domestic and export). Even if a company loses a tender, it continues its research and development while staying in business with the support of civilian customers.

When OFB had a monopoly on government contracts and a marginal civilian sales business, these considerations did not matter. However, with multiple companies locating in India, the government must also carefully review the guidelines for issuing gun licenses to law abiding citizens.

All crime statistics underline the fact that licensed firearms do not contribute to crime; If anything, most of the time they help prevent heinous crimes by giving citizens a real chance to defend themselves.

Without the support of a vibrant civil arms market, it is difficult to imagine how we can ever hope to become a center for manufacturing or innovation in the field.

The author is an entrepreneur and founder of the Indians For Guns Community. Views expressed are personal

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