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Britain Launches Handgun Campaign

February 1, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ The British government launched a campaign Sunday to encourage owners of small-caliber handguns to turn in their weapons before a near-total ban comes into force next month.

The campaign to turn in weapons of .22 caliber and below follows last year’s surrender of weapons over .22 caliber, which netted 1,859 rifles and 4,442 handguns.

Britain adopted some of the world’s toughest gun laws after Thomas Hamilton walked into a school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996 and opened fire with four legally owned handguns.

Hamilton, who belonged to a local gun club, killed 16 kindergarten pupils and their teacher before taking his own life.

Weapons over .22 caliber were banned last year and the ban on weapons of .22 caliber and below takes effect March 1.

Exceptions to the ban include pistols of antique and historical interest, starting pistols, and shot pistols with very small caliber charges that are used against rats, mice and other pests.

Gun owners who surrender their handguns to police by March 1 will receive compensation.

The government believes the legislation will improve public safety, but pistol enthusiasts say it will hit law-abiding sport shooters.

Lesley Ferguson, spokeswoman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said the ban will do nothing to combat violent armed crime.

``Target pistol shooting is a sport in which the disabled can compete on equal terms with the able-bodied and women can rank alongside male competitors,″ she said.

Home Office Minister Alun Michael defended the ban, noting that in 1996 there were 294 accident reported to the police in which handguns were stolen.

``By prohibiting handguns, there will be fewer legally held weapons at risk of theft and being used in crime,″ he said.

Even before the latest legislation, owners of rifles, shotguns and handguns were strictly vetted and required to obtain police licenses.

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