MPs prepare drastic changes to gun law

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The Independent Online
The Government will be ready to introduce drastic changes to gun law as soon as Lord Cullen's report into the Dunblane tragedy is completed, well-placed Whitehall sources said last night.

Amid strong speculation that the Cullen inquiry will be completed within a few months, it emerged that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has already ordered a high-level internal review of firearms legislation.

The review means that there need be virtually no delay between the Cullen recommendations being published and legislation being drawn up as part of the Criminal Justice Bill being planned for the next parliamentary session.

Tory backbench pressure to take decisive action on tightening gun controls was intensified yesterday by the arrest of two teenagers following the theft of two handguns and two rifles. A 14-year-old was detained peacefully, along with another boy, 16, at a house in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

The four weapons - two .22 calibre rifles and two .22 calibre handguns - had been stolen from 67-year-old Peter Preston on Friday after the boy's disappearance, sparking a huge police hunt. They were part of an eight- weapon arsenal kept in a secure box at Mr Preston's house at Chalfont St Peter. Mr Preston was a member of Wendover Shooting Club.

But Mr Preston admitted he would probably no longer be allowed to keep the weapons, which he said roused much interest in local youngsters.

Downing Street yesterday emphasised that the description given last Thursday by Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, makes it clear that as well as examining the background of Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer, Lord Cullen's inquiry will focus on issues such as gun law and school security.

The mounting Parliamentary pressure to enact gun laws has spread through the Tory party, despite resistance from MPs susceptible to the gun lobby. Ministers are sensitive to the argument that nothing has been done to change firearms legislation since the 1988 Firearms Act.

The main Tory champion of fresh legislation, David Mellor, former Home Office minister, yesterday accused ministers of "procrastination" by suggesting that the Cullen inquiry should include a review of the licensing and control of handguns.

He added: "It is ironic that within a few days of the disaster of Dunblane, we are once again face to face with the total inadequacy of gun-control laws in this country ... The fact that a 14-year-old boy ... can break into a house and arm himself to the teeth with handguns shows that the present arrangements are a grave risk to public safety." Mr Mellor has called for a total ban on the sort of military-style handguns used by Hamilton.

Last night on Channel 4 News, as the Labour MP Tony Banks called for the House of Commons Rifle Club to be disbanded, Mr Mellor declared: "It is important the public know some MPs are more inclined to the gun lobby than they are towards the protection of public safety."

Labour has so far declined to rush into calls for immediate legislation. But George Robertson, spokesman for Scottish affairs, who lives in Dunblane, said the onus should be shifted so that those seeking firearms certificates should have to prove their need for guns.