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Things Like That Don’t Happen in Scotland

by Malky McEwan 13 days ago in opinion

25 years on from the Dunblane massacre

Allan Water at Dunblane - - 1829479.jpg

On 13th March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a former shopkeeper, armed with four handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition walked into Dunblane Primary School and shot at a class of five and six-year-olds.

Hamilton killed sixteen children and their teacher before putting the gun to his own head. Both Andy and Jamie Murray were pupils at Dunblane Primary School and in the school at the time of the shooting. The effects of such a dreadful and evil act on the survivors are hard to fathom.

By Japheth Mast on Unsplash

Dunblane is a town in Central Scotland about six miles north of Stirling. It is a commuter town, with a population of around 10,000 — half of whom are in the well off category; the other half are obscenely rich.

Dunblane is famous for being the hometown of Scottish tennis hero Andy Murray and his brother Jamie. There is a golden post box at the roundabout on the High Street, painted to commemorate Andy’s 2012 Olympic gold medal when, at age twenty-five, he beat Roger Federer to win the men’s singles title.

Dunblane reeks of old money.

It is a commuter town with good transport links to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Those in high paying city jobs like to take their leather-soled brogues out of the grime and scuttle back to their quiet little town with its golf course, tennis club, and pleasant setting on the banks of the Allan Water.

As nice as Dunblane is, it is still remembered for the massacre of 16 school children and their teacher in the deadliest mass shooting in British history.

I was a police officer with Central Scotland Police. I lived eight miles away. I was off duty when I heard the news. The shock and depth of misery were instant. Things like that don’t happen in Scotland.

We had had the Lockerbie Disaster in 1988, the horror of which had numbed me to the core. This murderous act was different. It was more horrific and appalling because it was so close to where I lived and worked.

On my return to duty, I was drafted in to patrol the streets surrounding Dunblane Primary School.

The pavements were soon carpeted with flowers, cards, and Teddy bears. It was a sobering time. I read the notes attached to the bouquets of flowers. The heartfelt sorrow echoed in every word, and I stood there in full uniform and cried.

The thought of parents walking into a mortuary to identify their dead child.

How could you? How could you? How could you!

People crumbled. My colleagues, the press, even our most senior officers were deminished. Forever.

What had that monster done? Why?

Dunblane went into shock. Only just surviving seventeen funerals.

The tears came. Hearts broken.

A mother gathered up her child’s possessions, her school bag, her plate, her mug, her lunch money, and stored it all in a suitcase. A bright inquisitive five-year-old, her beautiful life gone, replaced by an overnight case.

It didn’t make sense.

We are feeling, hurting, human beings. We had to make a change. The tragedy had serious and wide-reaching implications. Public opinion had an enormous impact on the legislative changes that occurred because of the massacre.

The Snowdrop Campaign, founded by families and friends of those affected by the tragedy, petitioned for a ban on private gun ownership and gained 750,000 signatures in a matter of weeks.

The campaign stopped short of calling for a total ban on all guns. Instead, it appealed for all private ownership of handguns to be banned and for those guns to be held securely at authorised clubs.

They weren’t against recreational gun use; they were for sensible gun controls. Yet, there were people against it.

People who only offered their useless sympathies and prayers. Some people protested that their civil liberties were at stake. The people who liked to pull on a trigger. Powerful people.

But powerful people should be aware that ordinary people can be powerful too; they become extraordinary people who refuse to give up.

“You argue a change in the law will take away the innocent pleasure of firing a gun. What about the innocent pleasure of watching a child grow up?” - Sir Sean Connery

Virtue won. The combination of public pressure and the anticipation of the findings of an official inquiry into Dunblane by Lord Cullen caused a near-political crisis for the Conservative Government.

The gun lobby looked out of touch and unsympathetic. Public pressure and the upcoming general election forced the government to pass legislation prohibiting all handguns above .22 calibre.

The Government legislated far beyond the recommendations of the Cullen report. Although the report concluded the attack could not have been predicted, it raised serious questions about Hamilton’s firearms licence.

In my capacity as a police officer, I never hesitated in removing any person’s firearms and questioning their suitability to hold a gun licence. If there was the slightest concern, I’d take all their weapons and ammunition. Dunblane was always at the back of these decisions.

The legislation passed after Dunblane resulted in the UK having some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Since then Scotland has had no further mass shootings.

If it were up to me, I’d make the laws even stricter. I see compelling evidence that countries that have strict gun laws have little or no mass shootings.

If there were any more arguments required, it is the story behind the death of an Idaho woman in a Walmart.

The woman and her husband loved everything about guns. They practised at shooting ranges. They hunted and both had permits to carry concealed firearms. Her husband gave her a present for her Christmas one year that he hoped would make her life more comfortable: a purse with a special pocket for a concealed weapon.

The day after Christmas, she took her new gift on a trip with her husband and her two-year-old son. They arrived at a Walmart store. In the back, near the electronics section, she left her purse unattended for a moment. The inquisitive two-year-old son reached into the purse, unzipped the compartment, found the gun and shot his mother in the head.

The sad part is the husband is angry. He is angry that people use the story to grandstand gun rights. I just don’t get it. How could anyone be part of such a tragic circumstance and still support the wide availability of guns?

The tendency is to concentrate on homicides — they make better news headlines. We don’t hear about gun deaths because of suicide — over 60 percent. It is the second most common cause of death amongst Americans aged between 15–34. Guns are convenient and lethal.

Studies prove you can substantially reduce the suicide rate by limiting access to guns. Guns are like dildos in this respect; the lonelier the owner is, the more likely they are to get used.

Do something. Ignore the sceptics. Take their sympathies and prayers and stuff them where the roses don’t grow. They mean nothing. Don’t stand up for civil liberties, stand up for life.

Because of Dunblane, they changed our laws and our children are safer. It was one of the most successful grassroots campaigns ever. You can’t take away the desire but you can take away the means. Think of your brother, sister, son or daughter, what would a future look like without them?

Victoria Clydesdale, Sophie North, Ross Irvine, Mhairi MacBeath, Melissa Currie, Megan Turner, Kevin Hassell, John Petrie, Joanna Ross, Hannah Scott, Gwen Mayor, Emma Crozier, Emily Morton, David Kerr, Charlotte Dunn, Brett McKinnon, Abigail McLellan.

I wonder what would they have looked like now.


Malky McEwan

Writing about stuff that matters with a twist of funny.

Read next: Free Speech in the Modern World

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