Most Britons will know where they where when they heard of the Dunblane massacre on the 13th March 1996. I was sitting at my office desk in Basingstoke when a colleague came and told me the solemn news that sixteen primary school kids and their teacher had been gunned to death by the madman Thomas Hamilton.
Immediately, the nation curled up into a season of introspection and questioning as a mixed sense of shock and emotion charged the debate over why such a thing had happened in Scotland. Why, indeed? Such a thing had never been seen in Scotland.
Not having Hamilton alive to exact retribution upon left the desire for action very much gnawing at the nation’s conscience. Who would be the sacrificial lamb to expiate this sin? The answer came in the form of others who were symbolically laid to rest as gun owners as 1997 brought in legislation to ban all handguns above .22 calibre and restrict smaller weapons to gun clubs. This ban has since been extended.
Thus, the nation was appeased and the scapegoat wandered off into a legislative wilderness. The campaign of various newspapers and pressure groups such as the Snowdrop campaign had paid off and we could all feel that the problem had been solved. All in all, a time of emotional hysteria but not much reasonable debate.
Now for a look at the current facts and not the emotional bluster of yesteryear.
A report has just been published by the Centre for Defence Studies in London, which shows that criminal use of handguns increased by 40% in the two years immediately after the 1997 ban on handguns. In the years 1997-1998, 2,648 crimes involving handguns were reported. In 1999-2000, that number had increased to 3,685. This is not far off the peak of seven years previous, which reported 4,273 such offences.
As if we didn’t know already, illegal use of firearms has little to do with legal possession of firearms. It is now believed there are over 300,000 firearms in Britain which are readily accessible to anyone with murder on their minds. That is why the ban on handguns was a triumph of democracy but not for morality and reason.
When Anne Pearston, the prime mover in the Snowdrop Campaign, was presented with these figures, she was reported to have said these dismissive words:
This completely misses the point of what we were trying to do. We never thought that there would be any effect on illegal gun crime, because this is a totally separate issue.
What we were campaigning for was to make sure that a civilian could not be legally trained to use a handgun. Our legacy is that there should never be another Thomas Hamilton, and that is what the legislation was designed to achieve.
Pearston is what I would call a busybody or a self-appointed solution looking for a problem. Not content with having played a part in banning handguns, she now wants the possession of airguns to be banned as well. Methinks she has too much time on her hands. No doubt she will move onto kitchen knives after that.
One should note her carefully constructed words. She does not say that they campaigned to make sure a civilian could never possess a firearm, but only that they may never be legally trained to use one. In other words, she knows there is nothing on earth anyone can do to stop anyone else acquiring a gun.
The previous gun massacre of fourteen people in Hungerford in 1987 plainly proves that. Michael Ryan was in possession of two machine guns, which had been banned, in previous legislation. He even had his gun license revoked, but the police did not bother to seize all his weapons (Thomas Hamilton was given a renewed license despite a warning from some police about his paedophilic personality disorder).
Her definition of “illegal gun crime” is rather forced as well, for was not Hamilton’s use of guns an illegal gun crime? We must assume that Hamilton’s actions were not of such a class because Ms. Pearston insists that the campaign did not address the issue of illegal gun crimes!
As I said, the ban was a good example of democracy in action. By that I mean popular opinion was mobilised against gun ownership. Imagine a campaign had been started to ban all cars from side streets because cars kill far, far more children than guns. In a truly hypocritical manner, popular opinion would have baulked at the prospect of being denied access to side streets. The death of hundreds of innocent children a year is acceptable so long as it is smoothed out over the year and not in the short, sharp shock of a high profile gun massacre.
If we had had as many gun owners as car owners in Britain, this ban would have never seen the light of day. If we had had as many gun owners as car owners in Britain, it is doubtful whether Thomas Hamilton would have got as near as he could have to those unfortunate children. When the majority judge themselves to be not inconvenienced by a matter then the rights of the minority can take a walk.
I hope that another massacre will not come along to prove all this dictatorial nonsense unwise. People have to change and not what they have in their possession. The State is presiding over and forming a society increasingly predisposed to violent crime and banning various weapons merely papers over the cracks of a problem they are powerless to change. Ultimately, that problem can only be solved by the love and respect we should have for one another and which no state diktat can cultivate.
July 18, 2001