Glum shooters hand over weapons

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Almost all the 160,000 registered weapons covered by the Government's ban on handguns had been handed in before last night's deadline, writes Ian Burrell.

A succession of glum-faced shooters arrived at police stations across Britain yesterday to be relieved of their prized firearms. Many offered up their weapons only hours before the midnight when the possession of a pistol over .22 calibre became a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Police, who have been co-ordinating the retrieval of the handguns since the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act in February, were delighted with the response.

"Very few weapons are outstanding. We think we can collect them all by the midnight deadline," said a spokesman for the Avon and Somerset force.

With some bitterness, the leaders of the pro-gun lobby explained that shooters were law-abiding citizens who, though disappointed, would comply with the legislation.

They said gun-related crime was being allowed to run out of control in some cities, while lawful people had been scapegoated for Thomas Hamilton's massacre of 16 children and their teacher in Dunblane in March last year.

Pat Johnson, a former police officer and secretary of the British Shooting Sports Council, said: "This has illustrated the way that this country has moved into governance by emotion.

``It's not just us, it's single mothers, it's people out of work. We were the first of a series of minority groups who are going to be used for media and political ends over the next few years."

Alun Michael, home office minister, had sympathy for the shooters over the loss of their sport, but was pleased they had acted law-abidingly.