Mr Mellor told the Commons that all MPs bore a responsibility for the Dunblane killings because they had allowed legislation to be "watered down" by lobbyists after the Hungerford shootings nine years ago.
He asked the Government's supporters: "How will Parliament be able to look the electorate in the eye if someone else creeps out of the woodwork of the latest little loophole that we have left and does something dreadful?
"We've run out of road, so far as the public is concerned. If the public were voting on this issue tonight there's no doubt the way that they would be voting."
Because there was no free vote, many MPs were only voting for the Government out of fear, making the result a pyrrhic victory for the Government, he said.
He was also scathing about the role of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary: "Against this background, I do not understand what is so precious about this particular compromise that my right honourable friend [Mr Howard], with all his typical eloquent and attractive imperviousness to any contrary appeal - it's a great asset in a lawyer, but a more questionable one in a politician - is putting with customary vigour to the House."
Robert Hughes, MP for Harrow West and another Tory former minister, told the House that if the Government was willing to outlaw up to 160,000 high- calibre weapons, why not go further and ban .22 guns, which could be just as lethal? "I have had a gun pointed at me by a very insistent man who wanted me to hand over a videotape in Beirut," he said. "I said, `Yes, take as many as you like.' I didn't stop to ask him what calibre of gun it was that he was carrying."
Hugh Dykes, Tory MP for Harrow East and another backer of a ban, described the Government's stance as a "solemn mistake", adding: "There is an urgent, overwhelming need for this Government and this House of Commons and this Parliament, to turn back the incipient, menacing gun culture that is beginning to take a grip on our society."
Defending the Government, the Home Secretary said: "The emotions which it has aroused have been deep and intense and they have touched us all, and none of us need make any apology for having opened up both our minds and our hearts to the emotion."
He continued: "We have tried to put the protection of the public uppermost, but it has always been my belief that if it is possible to provide the public with the protection that they need and deserve, if it's possible to do that while allowing some limited and legitimate shooting activity to continue, then it was the Government's duty to take that course and to come to the conclusion which permitted that result."
For Labour, the Shadow Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said: "If elected, we shall in the next Parliament bring forward proposals in Government time to amend this Bill to provide for a complete ban on handguns for general civilian use.
"The party leadership's commitment to a total ban is very clear but we shall, of course, permit a free vote on this issue." The Liberal Democrat Archy Kirkwood said that the Bill was "unfinished business" without a complete ban.
The Government's compromise was "illogical and unsustainable", he said.Reuse content