`Children come before shooters'

After Dunblane: Rejection of weapons ban sparks backlash by massacre victims' families
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Pressure grew on the Government yesterday to outlaw handguns, as a storm of protest greeted the decision by an influential group of Tory MPs not to support the banning of pistols and revolvers.

As reported in the Independent last Friday, an inquiry by MPs, set up after the Dunblane massacre, is deeply divided, with the majority Conservative members refusing to recommend a Labour amendment to ban handguns.

Their rejection has caused outrage among parents of the children killed and injured in Dunblane.

Labour has also seized on the decision by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee as evidence of the Conservatives' kowtowing to an influential gun lobby.

Parents of the 16 children murdered in March said yesterday that they hoped Lord Cullen's inquiry into the tragedy, which is due to report in September, would still recommend a ban, and that public pressure would push this through.

Steve Birnie, whose six-year-old son Matthew survived the massacre, said: "People don't want their neighbour to have half a dozen handguns in a cupboard in his home - and not know anything about it until he breaks down and goes mad with them."

The scale of the anger and dismay expressed yesterday, at the possibility that the 200,000 handguns legally held in Britain would remain in circulation, is certain to influence the Government's thinking in the run-up to a general election.

The six Conservative members of the Home Affairs Select Committee ruled out a ban as "impractical", despite protests from the five Labour MPs who took part in the inquiry.

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, said: "I'm absolutely staggered that Tory MPs should have voted this way against the banning of guns in homes.

"The public want it. It's common sense. The evidence is overwhelming, and that's why the Labour Party would vote to demand the banning of guns in homes."

Ann Pearston, who helped organise the 700,000-signature Snowdrop Petition against handguns, said: "I just hope and pray Lord Cullen comes down on the side of true justice, and protecting people in this country."

She rejected claims that a ban was impractical, and pointed out that the Hungerford massacre was followed by a ban on some categories of gun.

And Susan Leslie, the teacher representing members of the Professional Association of Teachers at Dunblane primary school, said: "There is a small minority of the population whom this would offend.

She added: "Do we put them first, or the security and well- being of our children?"

John Greenway, one of the Tory MPs on the committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "While we entirely understood why people might want to ban handguns in the light of Dunblane, you have got to sit down and look dispassionately at what that would mean, what the effect would be - and would it in all honesty prevent that kind of incident happening again in the future ? We came to the balanced view that it would not."

David Mellor, a former Home Office minister, who supports a ban, said the decision was "profoundly damaging" to the Tory party. He warned that they were in danger of being outflanked by Labour as the party of law and order.

The Government has said it will wait for Lord Cullen's findings before deciding what action to take. The police have already said they support the banning of most handguns.