Gun Control graphic

Strict laws did not keep guns out of hands of Scotland killer

March 14, 1996
Web posted at: 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

LONDON (CNN) -- By most accounts, killer Thomas Hamilton was odd -- a loner obsessed with young boys, someone who didn't fit in.

Yet Hamilton held a permit to own handguns, possibly including the ones he used to slaughter 16 schoolchildren and their teacher Wednesday in Dunblane, Scotland.

In the wake of the massacre, some are asking why.

Thomas Hamilton

"There seems to have been a failure of process or procedure in this case because although the law is pretty strict, it is still dependent on police to enforce it," said Michael Yardley, a firearms expert.

Hamilton was one of 32,000 people in Scotland permitted to own a firearm. Most of the permits are for sport shooting. Yet a local shooting club rejected Hamilton for membership.

Raymond Reid secretary of the gun club that rejected Hamilton described him as "sleazy."

"He was just one of these people that you got a gut feeling about ... didn't like -- or at least I didn't particularly like him," Reid said.

Baillie Hamilton

Townspeople concerned about Hamilton's peculiar behavior over the years reportedly had talked to police about him. Despite the sounding of alarm bells, no one took his guns away.

"It's absolutely astounding to me that somebody who has some sort of history like this can have got anywhere near firearms," said Mike Baillie-Hamilton of the local Callander Rifle and Pistol Club. (85K AIFF sound or 85K WAV sound)

"He committed no offense and he was not as far as we know, known to the medical services," said Marjorie Wallace, a mental health expert. "So, really it was up in a way to the community to be a little bit more interested in him. We have in this country a culture which says, 'Just let people, leave them to themselves, let them be.' And I think this is something that can go wrong." (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)


It did, indeed, go tragically wrong for the tiny Highlands town of Dunblane.

The incident has forced Britain, despite having some of the most stringent regulations in the world, to think about making its regulations even tighter.

"I accept we should look at legislation again and the public will demand government does that," Yardley said. "... But the bottom line is you can't legislate against something like this happening. We've seen incidents like this not just in United Kingdom but in the (United) States. ... We've seen them in Israel, France and New Zealand." (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)

Gun owners in Britain, where there is no constitutional right to bear arms, face rigorous police checks and usually a six-month probationary period at a gun club. Licenses are reviewed every five years.

Hamilton had a license for many years, according to some reports. Scottish police, sensitive to charges they may have failed in their duty, point out 23 gun licenses were revoked in Scotland last year.

The people of Dunblane may well wonder why it wasn't 24.

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