Gun users `should have medical note'

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Chief Political Correspondent

The Government is facing growing demands for tougher medical tests before gun enthusiasts can obtain gun licences.

It has urged MPs to await the outcome of the inquiry by Lord Cullen, a Scottish judge.

But there was mounting pressure last night for action, including a requirement for a medical note to be attached to the gun licence and for gun enthusiasts to be limited to one gun.

It also emerged that ministers bowed to the pressure from the gun lobby in Britain after the Hungerford killings to prevent changes which might have helped to avoid the Dunblane massacre.

"We put down an amendment for a medical note to be attached to all gun licences, but it was rejected. At the moment, you are asked if you are unstable, tick a box, `yes' or `no'. That is completely inadequate," one informed Labour source said.

Doctors expressed anger that the Government had failed to close the loophole under which gun owners who may be known to GPs to be mentally unstable can still obtain gun licences.

The Labour source said the demands for the reform of the gun laws after the Dunblane incident were muted by the cross-party expression of mourning, but there were signs of a powerful campaign emerging for radical changes.

The pressure switched from the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to bring in tougher gun laws to make sure that the slaughter is not repeated in England.

Conservative MPs, who have gun clubs in their constituencies, urged the Government to reject growing calls for a total ban on hand guns, but there was support for a tightening of the rules to limit gun enthusiasts to a maximum of one hand gun each with tougher medical checks.

Tony Banks, a Labour backbencher, said there should be a ban on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, including pistols: "We need to have more rigorous tests on applications. Pyschiatric tests as well as criminal record tests should be implemented and only one gun should be possessed.

"The House of Commons has a gun club but not a creche. We have got the wrong sense of priorities here."

The controls were clearly not working. The inquiry by Lord Cullen into the massacre would need to find out why a "psychotic" like Hamilton could obtain the arsenal of guns he used in the gym hall.

Some senior Conservative MPs said they were astonished that the killer, Thomas Hamilton, could have obtained licences for four handguns.

Tory MP Edwina Currie, a past member of the Commons gun club, also opposed a blanket ban on hand guns. She told The Independent: "There is need to answer how this guy was allowed to have four hand guns. We should restrict the number of guns they can have. I would be a little anxious about any suggestion that all guns should be kept in clubs, where they might be vulnerable to theft."

Michael Colvin, the Tory MP and president of a gun club at the House of Commons, said he was not in favour of banning shooters from using hand guns. "There is a case for holding these hand guns at gun clubs rather than leaving them in the possession of individuals," he said.

A number of MPs and police use the Commons shooting club - in the basement where Guy Fawkes planned the gunpowder plot.

Most use target rifles, but it was recently expanded to allow hand guns to be used.

It also emerged yesterday that ministers considered invoking civil emergency procedures to deal with the slaughter, but tragically, there were too few survivors.

Some senior Conservative Party figures were dismayed at John Major's joint visit with Tony Blair, the Labour leader, to the area.

Although the move was praised in Dunblane, in London, Conservative sources were furious because they felt that it gave Mr Blair a political bonus.