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Government Announces Plans to Ban Most Handguns

October 16, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ Prompted by a school massacre in Scotland, the government announced plans today to ban most handguns, a move that would further tighten some of the stiffest firearms laws in the world.

The legislation proposed for the next parliamentary session would bar the public from owning any handgun larger than a .22 caliber. Even .22-caliber handguns would have to be kept at licensed gun clubs and would not be allowed in homes.

The proposals go far beyond the recommendations of Lord Cullen, whose 200-page report on the Dunblane massacre was presented to government ministers on Monday and released Wednesday.

He called for restricting the availability of self-loading pistols and revolvers used in target shooting or banning their possession by civilians.

The government’s proposals dismayed the gun lobby but didn’t go far enough for parents of the 16 children killed along with their teacher on March 13. They want a ban on all handguns.

``This is about the safety of people in this country,″ said Les Morton, a bereaved parent. ``It is too late for us, but it’s not too late for everybody else.″

Armed with two .357-caliber Smith and Wesson revolvers and two 9 mm Browning pistols, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton went on a shooting spree at the school and then killed himself.

Calling the killings ``an act of calculated wickedness,″ Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth said the government would accept all of Cullen’s recommendations ``and in some respects (intended) to go further.″

The Cullen report also called for stricter school security, a system for checking adults who plan to work with youngsters, and greater powers for police to investigate people seeking licenses to use firearms.

The Cullen report criticized Douglas McMurdo, 56, a senior Scottish police officer who granted the renewal of Hamilton’s gun license. McMurdo resigned today as the assistant inspector of constabulary for Scotland.

The government estimated that the new ban would entail the destruction of 160,000 of the 200,000 handguns legally held in England, Scotland and Wales.

Gun enthusiast Ross Armstrong, owner of the Medway Shooting Club in Langley, southern England, said responsible shooters were being ``tarred with the same brush″ following the Dunblane massacre.

Unlike Americans, few in Britain see gun ownership as a major civil rights issue.

The country already has among the strictest firearms controls anywhere. All handgun and rifle owners must have a license from police. The licenses go only to those considered no threat to the public and those who have a good reason to own a firearm _ such as membership in a target shooting club. Illegal possession of firearms can mean life imprisonment.

Owners of shotguns used for hunting game birds and farm vermin also must have a police license.

After the massacre, Dunblane parents collected 750,000 signatures on a petition urging an absolute ban on all handguns.

``It’s time they went,″ Ann Pearston, a member of the petition campaign, told Independent Television News on Tuesday. ``The price has been paid too many times in blood. You can’t bring a murdered child or mother back.″

But Conservative legislator Walter Sweeney said Tuesday that a handgun ban would be unfair to law-abiding gun owners.

Britain outlawed automatic and semi-automatic rifles after gun enthusiast Michael Ryan shot and killed 16 people, and then himself, in August 1987 at Hungerford, 60 miles west of central London.

Out of a population of 58 million, Britain has 896,000 licensed handgun and rifle owners and 2,118 target shooting clubs.

In 1994, the latest year for which complete figures are available, a total of 75 people in Britain were slain by guns. By comparison, the United States, with 4 1/2 times the population, had more than 200 times the number of gun homicides that year _ 15,456.

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