DUNBLANE – 25 YEARS ON
by Gun Control Network on 11-03-2021
GUN CONTROL IN GREAT BRITAIN SINCE 1996
Saturday 13th March marks the 25th anniversary of Britain’s worst shooting outrage when 16 young children and their teacher were killed at Dunblane Primary School. Many more children and three other teachers were injured during a shooting spree that lasted for just a few minutes. The Anniversary will be an especially poignant day for remembering all the victims and reflecting on how much was lost.
It is also appropriate to recall how Britain responded to that awful event. The handguns the gunman took to the school were all legally-held, and to prevent such an atrocity happening again people called for a change to the gun laws. Campaign groups formed, petitions were signed, numerous speeches, media statements and interviews were given, and politicians were lobbied. Foremost among those promoting and articulating the case for legislative change, and reflecting the public mood, were the Snowdrop Campaign, set up by a group of mothers local to Dunblane, the families of the Dunblane victims themselves, and the Gun Control Network (GCN). And despite the reluctance of the then Conservative Government and against the express wishes of many in the Establishment change was achieved. As a result of the campaigning two Acts of Parliament were passed by successive governments in 1997, which together led to a complete ban on the private ownership of handguns. Britain became a safer place.
Prior to 1996, and despite a previous gun massacre at Hungerford in 1987, legislators had prioritised the views and desires of the shooting community over issues of public safety. However, following Dunblane the way in which discussions on gun issues were conducted began to shift. It would no longer be appropriate for the only voices heard to be those of the gun lobby. Gradually, it was recognised by legislators that others with alternative perspectives had to be consulted and their views taken on board. When GCN was launched, four months after Dunblane, its aim had been not only to become part of the handgun ban campaign but also to ensure that Britain had an organisation that would continue to promote the case for tight gun controls, and provide a counter, previously lacking, to the frequently self-interested views of the shooting community.
Over the past 25 years GCN has continued to fulfil that role, suggesting further legislative changes and highlighting ongoing concerns and legislative loopholes, which are being exploited by some gun enthusiasts and compromise public safety. Since the handgun ban, GCN has, for example, played a part in the introduction of tighter controls over the sale and use of imitation weapons, of stricter measures on the use of air weapons and, in Scotland, of an air weapon licensing regime. Firearms crime statistics reflect the success of these tighter gun control measures. There has been a significant decrease in the overall level of firearms crime since the late 1990s. Indeed, comparisons with other industrialised nations show that Britain remains as safe a place as any from gun crime.
The path of tighter gun control that was followed by Britain in the aftermath of Dunblane has been held up as an example and, with the notable exception of the USA, adopted by other countries. Britain’s current tight gun laws can rightly be considered the gold standard and are now lauded by politicians of all parties, yet there is never room for complacency. It is imperative that GCN and others continue to alert legislators to practices and developments in the use of guns which pose a threat to the general public. Unfortunately, in spite of all the positive changes made since 1996 there remains a tendency for some politicians to give the gun lobby’s positions undue weight. The misuse of air weapons remains a problem, especially with the UK Government’s failure to introduce licensing in England and Wales along the same lines as in Scotland. Loopholes which are allowing assault weapons to be used for practical shooting are another significant concern. And further progress requires greater governmental accountability over the management of the licensed gun stock and the public reporting of firearm-enabled crime.
An awful truth in relation to too many tragedies is that they happened because legislators had previously failed to act and only did so after the event. So it was with Dunblane in March 1996, with lessons not appropriately learnt after the events at Hungerford. Whilst we remember what happened at the primary school that day in 1996 and in the aftermath leading to the handgun ban and subsequent improvements to gun legislation, it is important to emphasise the need to be continually vigilant. Only by so doing can Britain remain the safer country it has become after Dunblane.