Britain Targets Gun Control after Scottish Tragedy Some Say Tougher Gun Laws, Already Made More Strict after a 1987 Massacre, Would Be Unenforceable

By Alexander MacLeod, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

Britain Targets Gun Control after Scottish Tragedy Some Say Tougher Gun Laws, Already Made More Strict after a 1987 Massacre, Would Be Unenforceable


Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AS official mourning ended and the world's media began withdrawing to let Dunblane, Scotland, grieve in privacy, a single item shot to the top of the British political agenda: gun laws.

By American standards, controls on the use of firearms here are already strict. But politicians who shared the nation's horror at last Wednesday's massacre of 16 children and their teacher by a gunman, who then killed himself, are setting out to make gun laws tougher still.

David Mellor, a senior Conservative member of Parliament, is leading the campaign. In an attempt to prevent another tragedy, he is asking for a total ban on handguns.

"I unashamedly call on Parliament to ban them," he said. "It will inconvenience some people, but the rest of us have a right to say, 'So what?' "

Mr. Mellor is being challenged by Britain's gun lobby, whose members say Draconian measures are unnecessary and, even if they were, would be unenforceable.

Michael Colvin, a fellow Conservative and a member of the House of Commons Shooting Club, says: "I advise against a hasty reaction to Dunblane. Perhaps one answer is to require that handguns be kept on club premises and not in people's homes."

Scottish police are probing how Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer, whose record of psychological disturbance was widely known in the town, obtained a license to possess four handguns and two rifles.

But Mellor says the wider problem is the increasing use of pistols and other potentially deadly weapons, despite Britain having no tradition of a citizen's right to bear arms.

According to the latest government statistics, Britain has issued 910,000 firearm and shotgun certificates. But many of the nation's 2,300 gun clubs do not require a member to hold a certificate if the premises have been approved by the Home Office, or interior ministry.

It is not possible to purchase a gun "over the counter," as in the United States, unless the purchaser has a license issued by police, who are supposed to register the gun's serial number and type.

To obtain a firearms permit, a Home Office official said, an applicant must convince police that he is of sound mind, has "good reason" to possess a weapon (such as membership in a gun club or a need to control noxious animals), and will not "disturb the peace. …

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