Home Office challenges gun lobby evidence

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The Independent Online
The Home Office hit back yesterday at attacks by the gun lobby on its evidence to the Cullen inquiry, which suggests links between gun ownership and crime.

A detailed 29-page document came in response to Lord Cullen's request for a Home Office reply to the criticisms.

The paper insisted: "None of the commentators have seriously challenged the broad conclusion drawn ... that there is a correlation between international levels of gun ownership and gun homicide and that gun ownership probably increases overall homicide rates."

It continued: "It is felt significant, too, that no serious challenge was made of the similar correlation between gun ownership and gun-related suicides, or of the fact that ... marked differences in levels of gun-related crime in the US compared to England & Wales are not echoed in offences in which guns are not involved."

The Home Office said that the document did not constitute Government policy and was not intended to pre-judge the response ministers would eventually make to the Cullen report.

But the paper's emphatic tone will be welcomed by campaigners for a ban on handguns.

"The commentators (and those whose opinions they draw upon) are largely critical of gun control. They challenge specific pieces of research without acknowledging that no single study is ever watertight, including those they themselves quote," it said. "The general message of the research note - that there is evidence from a variety of sources of a correlation between gun ownership and gun crime - is overlooked."

More than 50 times more gun killings take place in the US than in the UK, and for those involving handguns the toll is 150 times higher. For non-gun killings the figure is just two-and-a-half times higher. Numbers of all gun-related crimes appear to be far greater than would be expected from differences in recorded crime for other offences, the paper says.

Donald Dewar, Labour's Chief Whip, yesterday stepped up pressure on the Government to outlaw private ownership of handguns.

"I can assure the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that if they try to rediscover the plot on law and order and introduce legislation to ban handguns, the Labour Party will back them," he said.

Mr Dewar maintained that a significant number of Tories would oppose such a measure. "The question is whether John Major will have the courage to face them down. If he does he will get our support."

According to a compilation by Labour from Dod's, the parliamentary reference book, the following Tory MPs list shooting as a recreation: Rupert Allason, Peter Atkinson, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, Timothy Boswell, John Carlisle, Alan Duncan, Edward Garnier, Charles Goodson-Wickes, Warren Hawksley, David Heathcoat-Amory, Sir Nicholas Lyell (the Attorney General), Sir Hector Monroe, Michael Morris, Sir Cranley Onslow, Richard Page, James Paice, Graham Riddick, Andrew Robathan, Peter Temple-Morris, David Tredinnick and Nigel Waterson.