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Prince Philip renews his reputation for gaffes

prince.philip December 19, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EST (0030 GMT)

From Correspondent Richard Blystone

LONDON (CNN) -- For a member of an endangered species, Prince Philip, husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, spends a lot of time sticking his neck out and inviting attack. The royal husband had to apologize Thursday for remarks he made opposing a motion to outlaw handguns.

The motion supporting a gun ban was started after a gunman entered a Dunblane, Scotland kindergarten classroom in March and shot 16 students and their teacher to death, then shot and killed himself.

Philip's remarks disparaging the pro-ban movement were seen by victims of the Dunblane massacre as insensitive. His timing was impeccable.


Just as the British government is about to pass the popular bill that bans private ownership of all handguns bigger than a .22 caliber, and the parents of the Dunblane schoolchildren are about to spend their first Christmas without their children, Philip sat down for a BBC Radio interview.

"I sympathize desperately with the people who were bereaved at Dunblane," he said.

"But I'm not altogether convinced that it's the best system to somehow shift the blame onto a very large, peaceable part of the community. If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily ... I mean are you going to ban cricket bats?"


Some shooting enthusiasts backed the prince, who is himself a shooting enthusiast. But there was a fusillade of outrage, especially from Dunblane parents, who are trying to get all handguns banned.

"The hurt that it will cause to those people directly involved, I really just can't imagine what their feelings will be when they hear these comments," said Ann Pearston of the Snowdrop Campaign, a Dunblane group which pressed for the ban.

The head of the Scottish National Party, Alec Salmond: "It is high time that he was told if he can't contribute intelligently with sensitivity to the debate then he should keep his foolish, crass opinions to himself."


And Prof. Stephen Haseler said the comment is yet another sign that the monarchy is on its way out. "People say that the monarchy unites the nation, but I think these kinds of comments show increasingly that they divide the nation, because I think it means that the royal family have no idea of the sensitivities and attitudes of most of the people in this country."

Buckingham Palace issued an apology, saying that Prince Philip "had no intention whatever of causing offense or distress to anyone, and he is sorry if he has done so."

It isn't the first time Philip has insulted a large body of people. But it was the first time the prince, who has a long history of unfortunate remarks, actually said he was sorry.


In the past, he has weathered the storm generated by his remarks, which included asking a Scottish driving instructor, "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"

In 1986, he visited Beijing, where he jovially told British exchange students, "If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed."

As long ago as 1966, he was already insulting his own countrymen, with the remark, "British women can't cook."

By going to Dunblane to express her sympathy in person, Queen Elizabeth worked her way into Scottish hearts. Her husband, meanwhile, seems to have talked his way out of them.


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