Towards Better Democracy

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It can be done – Number of school killings in the UK (from 61 AD to the present): One

The Dunblane School Massacre

The sole instance of murdered school children and adults in the UK is the Dunblane school massacre, which took place at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 March 1996, when Thomas Hamilton shot 16 children and one teacher dead before killing himself. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history. Prior to Dunblane, there had only been one mass shooting carried out by a civilian in the entire history of Great Britain. This took place in Hungerford, England, on 19 August 1987. There have been none since.

The Hungerford massacre was a series of random shootings which resulted in 16 deaths, all adults including that of a policeman. The outcome of that massacre was the introduction into law of Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which bans the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricts the use of shotguns with a capacity of more than three cartridges.  Prior legislation, among others, are Firearms Act 1982, which was in force at the time of the Hungerford massacre and which itself amended Firearms Act, 1968.

The perpetrator of the Hungerford massacre, Michael Robert Ryan, legally owned the following firearms:

  • Zabala shotgun
  • Browning shotgun
  • Beretta 92FS semi-automatic 9 mm pistol
  • CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32-calibre pistol
  • Bernardelli .22-calibre pistol
  • Type 56 7.62×39mm semi-automatic rifle
  • Underwood M1 carbine .30 (7.62×33mm) semi-automatic rifle

In the aftermath of Dunblane massacre public debate on gun control laws, included public petitions calling for a ban on private ownership of handguns, and an official inquiry began soon after the massacre, which produced the 1996 Cullen Report. In response to this debate, two new Firearms Acts were passed, which outlawed private ownership of most handguns in Great Britain. Note that the arming of police in the UK has been undertaken with the greatest of reluctance, and there are still police chiefs in certain cities, including Manchester, who are reluctant to arm their local police force, at least on a regular basis.

At about 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, was seen scraping ice off his van outside his home at Kent Road in Stirling. He left soon afterwards and drove about 5 miles North to Dunblane. He arrived on the grounds of Dunblane Primary School at around 9:30 a.m. and parked his van near a telegraph pole in the car park of the school. Hamilton cut the cables at the bottom of the telegraph pole, which served nearby houses, with a set of pliers before making his way across the car park towards the school buildings.

Primary Schools in Scotland educate children from age 4 to 5, Primary 1, to age 11, Primary 7, at which point children enter Secondary Schools. Dunblane at the time was the largest Primary School in Scotland.

Hamilton headed towards the North West side of the school to a door near the toilets and the school gymnasium. After entering, he made his way to the gymnasium armed with four legally owned handguns; two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. He was also carrying 743 cartridges of ammunition. In the gym was a class of twenty-eight Primary 1 (4 to 5 years of age) pupils preparing for a Physical Education lesson in the presence of three adult members of staff.

Before entering the gymnasium, it is believed Hamilton fired two shots into the stage of the assembly hall and the girls’ toilet. Upon entering the gymnasium, as he was about to be confronted by Eileen Harrild, the Physical Education teacher in charge of the lesson, he started shooting rapidly and randomly. He shot Harrild, who was injured in her arms and chest as she attempted to protect herself, and continued shooting into the gymnasium. Harrild stumbled into the open-plan store cupboard at the side of the gym along with several injured children. Gwen Mayor, the Home Teacher of the Primary 1 class, was shot and killed instantly. The other adult present, Mary Blake, a Supervisory Assistant, was shot in the head and both legs but also managed to make her way to the store cupboard with several of the children in front of her.

From entering the gymnasium and walking a few steps, Hamilton had fired 29 shots with one of the pistols, killed one child, and injured several others. Four injured children had taken shelter in the store cupboard along with the injured Harrild and Blake. Hamilton then moved up the east side of the gym, firing six shots as he walked, and then fired eight shots towards the opposite end of the gym. He then went towards the centre of the gym, firing 16 shots at point-blank range at a group of children who had been incapacitated by his earlier shots.

A Primary 7 pupil who was walking along the west side of the gym building at the time heard loud bangs and screams and looked inside the gym. Hamilton shot in his direction and the pupil was injured by flying glass before running away. From this position, Hamilton fired 24 shots in various directions. He fired shots towards a window next to the fire exit at the South East end of the gym, possibly at an adult who was walking across the playground, and then fired four more shots in the same direction after opening the Fire Exit door. Hamilton then exited the gym briefly through the Fire Exit, firing another four shots towards the cloakroom of the library, striking and injuring Grace Tweddle, another member of staff at the school.

In the mobile classroom closest to the Fire Exit where Hamilton was standing, Catherine Gordon saw him firing shots and instructed her Primary 7 class to get down onto the floor before Hamilton fired nine bullets into the classroom, striking books and equipment. One bullet passed through a chair where a child had been sitting seconds before. Hamilton then reentered the gym, dropped the pistol he was using, and took out one of the two revolvers. He put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, pointed it upwards, and pulled the trigger, killing himself. A total of 32 people sustained gunshot wounds inflicted by Hamilton over a 3 to 4 minute period 16 whom were killed in the gymnasium, which included Mayor and 15 of her pupils. One other child died later on the way to hospital.

It is not possible to have an exact count of the total number of shots fired at the scene of the massacre, but at least 95 shots were fired, including the one with which the gunman took his own life.

The UK Parliament instigated an inquiry on 21 March 1996, 8 days after the massacre. The inquiry into the massacre opened on 29 May, 2016 and closed on 10 July 1996, and culminated in the Cullen Report which was issued on 30 September, 1996, comprising 193 pages.

In response to the inquiry and subsequent public debate, the government of the time introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales, and, following the 1997 General Election, the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 was introduced banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns as well. This left only muzzle-loading and historic handguns legal, as well as certain sporting handguns that fall outside the UK Government definition of a handgun because of their dimensions.

These laws, including previous gun ownership laws already on the books, tightly restrict the ownership of firearms by the general public. It should be remembered that the UK had, and still has, a long hunting tradition in which firearms are used. Generally, therefore, laws in Britain still seek to retain the right of individuals to own hunting rifles and the like. It should be added, though, that ownership of these is tightly controlled.

The UK has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world.

The point of all this is that citizens of any country, provided they recognize and exercise their duties and obligations, have a right to be protected, and governments have a duty and an obligation to protect them. Democratic governments that do not exercise these duties and obligations are democracies in name only. Depots are not expected to act to protect their subjects.

Finally, the killing of humans by humans under any circumstances is to be deplored and denounced, and avoided at all costs, as is the killing of non food species. The most precious right is the right to life.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 19 May, 2018

The sole sources for the above article are a number of Wikipedia entries.


Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

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