Nationwide gun amnesty is ordered

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The Independent Online
A nationwide guns amnesty, in the wake of the Dunblane massacre, could begin in a matter of weeks, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

In a brief Commons statement, John Major said that the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, had been in discussion with the police and that "details" of how and when the firearms amnesty would take place were being worked out urgently. Mr Howard said he would like the amnesty to begin "as soon as possible".

Although a weapons amnesty has been under discussion by the Government since last July, the murder of 16 schoolchildren in Dunblane, and the inquiry that will be carried out by Lord Cullen, have acted as catalysts for immediate government action. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, announced the judicial inquiry's terms of reference. The brief for Lord Cullen is wide, giving him powers to investigate the "circumstances leading up to and surrounding" the mass murders on 13 March.

With Lord Cullen told to "report as soon as practicable", the timetable for the amnesty - if it goes ahead within weeks - will be operative as the Dunblane Inquiry gets under way. The Dunblane shootings and the public's call for action by the authorities have clearly accelerated the Government's plans for an anticipated autumn amnesty. Estimates of illegally held guns in Britain vary from 500,000 to more than 1 million.

In the last guns amnesty, introduced in 1988 as a consequence of the Hungerford massacre where 16 people were shot, 48,000 firearms were surrendered. The amnesty which followed, according to the Home Office yesterday, was organised within a few weeks of being announced. In a similar scheme in 1968 25,000 guns were handed in.

Mr Forsyth said the inquiry will follow the procedures which operated in the Aberfan Inquiry. The inquiry in Wales looked at the causes of the deaths in 1966 of the 116 children and 28 adults killed when a coal slag-heap collapsed and covered a school.

As recommended by Lord Cullen, the Dunblane Inquiry will take evidence on oath and will be conducted under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Mr Forsyth told the Commons the reference would be: "To inquire into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the events at Dunblane Primary School on Wednesday 13 March 1996, which resulted in the deaths of 18 people; to consider the issues arising therefrom; to make such interim and final recommendations as may seem appropriate; and to report as soon as practicable."

The Government hope to submit its evidence on gun control to Lord Cullen's inquiry by the end of next month. Mr Howard will also conduct a review of firearms controls in Britain. The government has invited the Home Affairs spokesmen from the opposition parties to meet them and raise any issue they would like to see the review address.

In Dunblane yesterday funerals of those killed in the massacre continued. In the cathedral a service for the teacher Gwen Major was held. Parents of some of the dead and injured children, and some of the injured children from Mrs Major's class, also attended the service.