Mellor's call for handgun ban must wait

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

The Government looks unlikely to act swiftly on gun laws despite a call yesterday from the former Home Office minister, David Mellor, for tough action in the wake of the Dunblane massacre.

Ministers do not expect to announce changes to the laws at least until after Lord Cullen's public inquiry into Dunblane.Lord Cullen's report is likely to consider whether the tighter gun controls being sought by many MPs are necessary in the light of the tragedy.

However, the Government looks increasingly likely in the wake of the tragedy to legislate for the fitting of V-chips on new televisions - allowing parents to stop children seeing violent or sexually explicit programmes.

An all party consensus building up behind an amendment to the Broadcasting Bill drawn up by the Liberal Democrat MP David Alton has been given added impetus by public horror over Dunblane - and has the support in principle of Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, though open minded on the guns issue, will not take precipitate action of the sort called for yesterday by Mr Mellor. He will, however, institute new internal discussions in the Home Office on the issue and consider carefully any fresh recommendations made to him by the Home Office's firearms consultative committee.

Mr Mellor said yesterday that the Government had failed to act decisively enough in the wake of the Hungerford massacre and should not "funk" tough action on guns now.

He announced his intention to table an amendment for the next Criminal Justice Bill seeking a ban on the kind of handguns used by the Dunblane killer, Thomas Hamilton. He said that a "crusade" against military-style pistols and revolvers was needed to counter the political influence of the gun lobby in Parliament.

Mr Mellor suggested that the public should keep their anger "bottled up for the time when politicians start to wobble". He added: "We cannot allow the powerful shooting lobby to bend the ears of MPs as they have done in the past."

Scottish Labour MP George Foulkes said there was a "growing tide" in favour of outlawing handguns.

But Tory Michael Colvin warned against "knee-jerk" reactions to the Dunblane tragedy and said he believed it would be better if Parliament considered legislation to ensure handguns were kept on gun club premises. Mr Colvin, a shotgun owner and captain of the House of Commons shooting eight, added: "The differentiation being made between rifles, shotguns and handguns is a bit academic because you can saw off a shotgun and have a very effective handgun."

Meanwhile, it was revealed that prior to last Wednesday's tragedy at Dunblane, the Home Office had commissioned research into how better to identify paedophiles who may be involved in voluntary or public service care of children. Although the research could prove to be relevant to the case of Hamilton - who ran a variety of youth groups - it is not expected to be completed for several months.