Small Arms & Light Weapons: A challenge to the churches

The "Snowdrop" Campaign
The Dunblane Story

On Wednesday, 13 March 1996, a 43 year old man made his way into the gym of the local primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. In his rucksack were two semi-automatic pistols, two Smith and Wesson revolvers and 743 rounds of ammunition.

While in the gym he fired 105 rounds of ammunition. He killed sixteen children, aged five, and their teacher. Thirteen others, including three teachers, sustained gunshot wounds, but survived. His guns and his ammunition were all legally held.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, there developed a massive groundswell of opposition to the legal ownership of hand-guns. The "Snowdrop Campaign", so named because March is snowdrop time in Scotland, was led by Mrs Ann Pearson, a friend of the bereaved families. The campaign was highly successful.

It is no longer lawful to own, sell or buy any hand-gun in Britain.
The British Government of the day, Conservative in complexion, proposed changes to the laws governing these weapons. Debate over these changes developed widely. Local churches, whose clergy and members had been deeply involved in the care and counselling of the bereaved families and of the families of those who had been injured, joined in the debate.

As the debate developed, supporters of rifle-clubs, shooting clubs and other interests, warned against an emotional reaction to the tragedy. In spite of this pressure, the Government introduced legislation and the result was the Firearms (amendment) Act of February 1997. This meant that all hand-guns, apart from pistols able to fire .22 or smaller cartridges, could no longer be bought, sold or possessed in Britain.

When the British Government changed in May 1997, new legislation was proposed to declare all hand-guns illegal. This measure became law in November 1997.

Accordingly it is no longer lawful in Britain to own, sell or buy any hand-gun. Arrangements were made for surrendering such weapons held, and for a measure of compensation. This legislation has been widely supported, particularly in Scotland.

This text is from an article by Rev. Maxwell Craig, Action of Churches Together in Scotland, which appears in Small Arms: Big Trade, the final report of Rio Consultation on Microdisarmament.

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