UK publishes bill to outlaw handguns

By PAUL GOULD  |  Nov. 1, 1996
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LONDON, Nov. 1 -- The British government on Friday published its bill proposing to outlaw most types of handguns in the wake of March's massacre of 16 primary school children in the Scottish town of Dunblane. The Firearms Bill, which has enraged shooting enthusiasts, would ban private ownership of all but the smallest .22 caliber pistols and would require such guns to be locked up at shooting clubs. The bill is the result of mounting public pressure and a six-week inquiry by judge Lord Douglas Cullen into Britain's worst-ever shooting incident. On March 13, local outcast Thomas Hamilton, 43, burst into Dunblane Primary School and gunned down the five-year-olds and their teacher in class before shooting himself dead with one of his four handguns. Home Secretary Michael Howard announced his sweeping ban to Parliament on Oct. 16, and on Friday published the bill -- which is expected to become law by the end of the year if dissenting lawmakers do not obstruct it. 'The tragic events at Dunblane highlight the need for radical reform of our firearms legislation,' Howard said. 'With the cooperation of all parties, I hope the Firearms Bill will be law by Christmas.' Howard's proposals face cross-party opposition from both government and opposition lawmakers. Some want a 100-percent ban while others say the bill is already too drastic for a country with already stringent gun laws. 'This bill would give this country some of the toughest gun control laws in the world,' the home secretary added.

'It would ban all handguns from the home. It would outlaw higher caliber handguns of the kind used by Thomas Hamilton altogether.' If implemented, the law would mandate the destruction of 160,000 guns -- 80 percent of those legally held in Britain. However, estimates for the number of illegally held guns range from 200,000 to 3 million. Howard stopped short of the total ban demanded by Dunblane parents and opposition parties, arguing that it would drive guns underground, and that the rights of target shooters should be considered. His compromise, however, failed to satisfy either the Snowdrop anti- guns campaign formed by bereaved Dunblane parents or Britain's shooting lobby. Ann Pearston, spokeswoman for the Snowdrop campaign, told Sky television news the guns issue had become politicized ahead of a British general election which must be held by May. 'What we will look for is for the British electorate to swing behind all the other political parties,' Pearston said, 'and decide between those political parties and their economic issues, because I think the British electorate will feel justified in thinking that the Conservative government have let us down in this respect.' At the opposite end of the controversial guns argument, the National Pistol Association said it was 'very disturbed' at what it saw as the government trying to kill off recreational shooting. 'We feel the evil antics of one deranged man should not punish those responsible gun owners,' said general secretary Ian McConchie in an interview. 'But the bill still has to pass through parliament, so we will still fight as long as we can.' Albie Fox, chairman of the Sports Association, told Sky news it was more important to tighten the issuing of gun certificates. 'Banning the handguns will not stop another Dunblane,' Fox said.

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