Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Dunblane Massacre

Gun Law Campaign

Prime Minister John Major
Prime Minister John Major

Following the massacre, many of the victims' families and other community residents campaigned to tighten existing gun laws and ban private ownership of handguns. They took their fight all the way to Downing Street where they met with then-Prime Minister John Major to discuss the issue. An April 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday article stated that, "the group handed over a petition urging tighter controls in the wake of the tragedy." The article further stated that 428,279 concerned citizens signed the petition, an enormous response by any standards. It was clear that British citizens were unhappy with the existing gun laws.

Months later, legislation was passed that banned handguns over .22-caliber. In 1998, the ban was further extended to include smaller caliber handguns. Handgun owners who handed in their guns were fully compensated by the government. A September 1998 Evening News article said that the new rules required those applying for a gun to nominate two referees to "testify in support of their having a license." Great Britain quickly earned the reputation as having some of the strictest gun laws in the world.

Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne visit Dunblane
Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne
visit Dunblane

Not everyone was happy with the new firearm controls. According to an August 1998 article in The Birmingham Evening Mail, the handgun bans severely affected gun retailers, gun clubs and pistol shooting sports. Moreover, many gun advocates complained that a majority of gun related crimes involved weapons sold on the black market and rarely guns held by licensed owners.

Gill Marshall-Andrews of the Gun Control Network was quoted in Philip Johnston's July 2001 Daily Telegraph article stating that "almost all illegal guns start out legal, so it's not easy to draw a neat line between the two." Marshall-Andrews further suggested that the gun laws should remain tough in order to keep gun crime down. Yet, Johnston claimed that a study from the Center for Defense Studies in London found there to be "no link between the legal possession of guns and their use by criminals" and in the two years following the handgun ban crime actually "increased by 40 per cent."

Professor Anthony Busuttil
Professor Anthony Busuttil

Since the study, the Dunblane gun laws were considered by many to be a failure. By summer 2004, Britain's Conservative Party called for a review into firearms laws. According to a May 2004 Daily Record article, the Tories wanted to "ease the law banning handguns" and make it legal to use them in lawful shooting sports. However, some feared that easing the laws would cause more harm than good, possibly leading to an upsurge in gun-related crimes. Most believed that remaining strict on firearms was the only way to prevent another incident like that which occurred in Dunblane from ever happening again.


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