The restructuring of the OFB is gradual, but the reform of the rules on the possession of weapons by civilians also makes sense

All crime statistics highlight the fact that licensed firearms do not contribute to crime; they most often help prevent heinous crimes by offering citizens a real chance to defend themselves

The Indian government ultimately decided to dissolve the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), making way for seven new entities (wholly owned by the government), which will now take over the management of munitions factories and other facilities.

This move aims to help improve the appalling quality of the products for which OFB has become famous. It has consistently supplied substandard goods at excessive prices to its government buyers (military, paramilitaries, police forces, etc.) as well as ordinary Indian civilian customers.

Most of the buzz revolves around the corporatization of OFB and focuses on the impact this can have on military supplies and the job security of workers, but few discuss the products they sell. in the civilian market and the impact this decision may have on potential civilian customers.

As many readers are unaware of the status of civilian gun ownership in India, a little reminder may be appropriate here.

Possession of weapons by civilians in India

Before the advent of colonial rule in India, weapons of all kinds and types were freely owned and carried by all strata of society. At that time, it was unusual for anyone to venture out of their home unarmed in some way or another.

The British rulers, with a deep-rooted distrust of their Indian subjects, had passed many strict laws with the sole aim of disarming and subduing the Indian population. These laws exempted all Europeans, while imposing strict controls and penalties on Indians possessing any type of weapon.

After independence, the right to keep and bear arms was recognized as a legal right by the Arms Act 1959, which allows any Indian citizen, not previously convicted of a violent crime or with a history of trouble. mental health, to apply for and acquire a weapons license.

Like any other government-issued license, this process is highly subjective, corrupt and demeaning, and clearly aimed at deterring ordinary applicants. The process ensures that unless the applicant is well connected or willing to grease the right hands, the application will invariably be denied.

The only times an ordinary citizen usually has a chance to obtain a firearms license is if the applicant has inherited a firearm or has any achievements to show in shooting sports. As a result, in India, it is rare for an ordinary middle-class citizen to have a gun license.

OFB and civilian firearms

OFB has a long history of manufacturing firearms and ammunition specifically for sale to civilians in India. Originally started with the manufacture of sporting rifles chambered for the .315 (8x50R) cartridge, this was the sporting version of the same Lee Enfield rifles supplied to the government in British .303 and later in 7.62×51 calibres. Later they also started supplying 12 bore double barreled shotguns which were a copy of a Birmingham Small Arms model.

Until 1986, when the civilian importation of all firearms was banned, these OFB products were generally of acceptable quality and at a much lower price than imported firearms, which were sold here for up to three times their price overseas, largely because of import duties and concessionaire profits. This direct competition with global manufacturers has enabled the OFB to maintain a certain level of quality and price.

A few years ago a friend found some manufactured 12-hole OFB cartridges from the early 1980s in his store. We took them into the range and tested them against those currently made by OFB: the lot the older one was far superior in performance, although it had been in storage for almost half a century!

After the 1986 import ban, OFB obtained 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 has led to a massive deterioration in quality as well as constant increases in the prices of arms intended for civilian sale. The buyer had no other choice.

In the late 1980s, the OFB began producing a copy of the Enfield No. 2 revolver (a simplified version of Webley’s century-old design) chambered for the .32 S&W Long cartridge. Later, they also added to their product line a semi-automatic pistol, a hodge-podge copy of the Browning 1910 and Colt 1903 models. Both are currently priced at around one lakh rupees.

In comparison, similar products, made by one of the world’s manufacturers and of much higher quality, sell overseas for a third or even less – this would include the profit margin of the manufacturer, distributor as well as retailer.

Take a long look

Will the OFB reform make a difference? Before we start exploring if and how corporatization could help improve the quality of OFB’s products, we should consider another big policy change that came into effect in 2016.

From 2016, the Indian government began accepting applications for licenses for the manufacture of weapons and ammunition from private companies. Prior to that, only a few small-scale units had been authorized to manufacture small quantities of antiquated shotguns and muzzle magazines, and new licenses for the latter had not been issued for several decades either.

Several Indian companies have obtained a license to manufacture weapons and ammunition in India. However, almost all of these companies focus on government sales, as that is where the big sales volumes are. Most of these companies have partnered with foreign collaborators and are considering importing their product lines here in order to bid on large military and law enforcement contracts.

The government’s vision is a vibrant ecosystem of domestic manufacturers who should eventually be able to compete in global markets. The point to consider is that while all of these companies are setting up facilities in India and vying for a few government tenders, what would happen to the huge investments of those who are unable to win the tenders?

In countries with a vibrant firearms manufacturing industry, much of the industry is supported by civilian sales (domestic and export). So even if a company loses a tender, it continues to research and develop, while remaining in business with the support of civilian customers.

When OFB had a monopoly on public orders and a marginal civilian sales activity, these considerations did not really matter. But with several companies relocating to India, the government must also carefully consider the policies followed for issuing gun licenses to ordinary law-abiding citizens.

All crime statistics highlight the fact that licensed firearms do not contribute to crime; on the contrary, they most often help to prevent heinous crimes by offering citizens a real chance to defend themselves.

Without the support of a vibrant civilian firearms market, it’s hard to imagine how we can hope to become a hub for manufacturing or innovation in this area.

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

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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