How long before the gun community moves to take shooting back from small bore to full bore?

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The Independent Online
Britain is considered one of the world's safest places in which to live, work and visit. But the last 30 years have seen a deterioration in our society for a combination of reasons. What is certain is that the gun culture does exist, as do marginalised citizens. Any firearms licensing procedures will inevitably be subjective.

It is generally agreed that future aberrant behaviour cannot be predicted. The conclusion that most people have reached is that we are safer without handguns than with them. Those of us who have arrived at that conclusion question the values, judgement and self interest of those whose wishes fall short of that target.

We now officially know the government's proposals. Not only are they a compromise on public safety, they are illogical. The government have seen fit to ban multi-shot guns over .22 calibre. But .22 calibre multi- shot weapons are just as fast and as lethal. Even a single-shot .22 pistol can be reloaded in five seconds. The Government's published plans, if they become law, will leave up to 40,000 such weapons available.

Lord Cullen's condensing of the inquiry evidence was excellent. But his recommendations were narrow, vague and legalistic. The Government has converted them into a Bill in a narrow, blinkered way. Key questions that should have been addressed in the light of Hungerford, Dunblane and the intervening years have been conveniently ignored in the headlong rush for Royal assent. These questions now need to be asked and answered.

Should convicted and suspected paedophiles be barred for life from possessing firearms? Guns are an easy way to attract vulnerable boys to a person. Should society allow non-vocational, recreational firearms to be held in residential urban properties rather than be kept fully disabled in secure gun clubs? Should air weapons be brought within the firearms licensing procedures? Currently 66 per cent of all notifiable offences of personal and property damage involving firearms relate to their misuse. Should the police be given the power during the currency of a certificate or licence to inspect secure storage arrangements - unannounced? This may help prevent the high level of suicides among relatives and friends of firearms holders. Should the police be allowed to revoke firearms licences based on local `common knowledge' or unease about a person? After all, this was all they ever had on Thomas Hamilton.

The question of a national database of firearms holders based on National Insurance or NHS numbers has similarly not been addressed; neither has the matter of allocating unique serial numbers to all guns. This idea was suggested in 1972. If it had been done back then, we would have had 24 years of data by now.

I have suggested that MPs, police, the shooting community and groups such as Snowdrop and the Gun Control Network work together in order that future legislation is made watertight and unambiguous, and in order that guidance to the police is equally clear.

We need to make society safer and we need to co- operate for the greater benefit and safety of all. It took only eight and a half years after Hungerford before relaxation of the firearms licensing procedures set in. How long will it take before the shooting community move to take shooting from small bore back to full bore again?

The gun lobby are claiming that the Government today have gone much further than Lord Cullen. They have not.

Ann Pearston is co-founder of the Snowdrop Appeal, the pressure group set up after the Dunblane massacre to demand a ban on all handguns.