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British lawmakers vote for total handgun ban

brit handgun

In this story:

June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 8:51 p.m. EDT (2051 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- Parents of children slain by a crazed gunman in last year's Dunblane, Scotland, massacre were among those Thursday who welcomed Britain's tough new gun law.

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly late Wednesday to impose a total ban on handguns of all calibers, giving the country some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government argued that including even small-bore weapons was the only way to prevent a mass murder like Dunblane, where Thomas Hamilton killed 16 school children and their teacher in March 1996 before killing himself.

class photo

"It is cold comfort, but at least it's just some way to ensuring that it doesn't happen again," said Alison Crozier, whose 5-year-old daughter Emma was shot dead by Hamilton. Other parents agreed.

Critic: Law won't work

But Michael Yardley, spokesman for Britain's Sportsmans' Society, said the gun ban was "simplistic and will not work; it will not prevent future tragedy. You can't legislate against madmen."

Britain's previous Conservative government had already voted a ban on all larger handguns. The new ban will also affect small-bore pistols, including the .22 caliber, and rifles used by target shooters.

Target shooting

"Shooting sports have been offered up as a pagan sacrifice to appease the gods of political correctness," says Yardley. icon (192 K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"It will no longer be possible to practice handgun sports on the mainland of Britain," although the country will still host some international shooting events, Home Secretary Jack Straw said.

Dunblane changed everything

Laws restricting the possession of guns in Britain -- where shootings and armed robberies are rare and the bobby on the beat does not carry a handgun -- date back to 1820.

Existing penalties for anyone found in possession of illegal firearms are stiff, including heavy fines and prison terms of up to 10 years.

Dunblane

Britain, a nation that often treats sidearms as an uncivilized relic of the American west, has not been preoccupied by random violence.

That changed with Dunblane.

"We should never forget the context of this debate," said Anne McGuire, a member of Parliament who voted in favor of the total handgun ban. "We are criticized for bringing an emotional element to the gun debate, but it's the emotional element which makes us different from other species."

Gun owners to be compensated

Thanks to the new Labour government's solid 179-seat majority, the bill's passage through two more stages in the House of Commons appears assured.

It's estimated that the new law will call for more than $200 million in compensation to owners of Britain's 175,000 registered guns.

The problem, as some critics point out, is the unknown number of illegal guns that will remain.

London Bureau Chief Charles Hoff contributed to this report.

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