Two lobbies: The gun and the snowdrop

Tories caught in Cullen crossfire
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The Independent Online
The two lobbies could not be more different - a highly professional campaign funded by shooting enthusiasts on the one hand, and moral outrage from a small group of parents using a snowdrop as their campaign insignia, on the other.

The pro-gun lobby moved into action after the Dunblane killings, setting up a fighting fund, which it hopes will raise pounds 500,000, to hire sophisticated public relations and lobby firms.

Their campaign to prevent tough new legislation against the country's shooters was channelled in two directions. The British Shooting Sports Council, which set up the fund and represents various shooting associations, hired the Westminster lobby firm Advocacy to influence the views of politicians.

The lobby firm helped draft a letter from the council to all MPs before Parliament began its summer recess. Advocacy and the council had stalls at the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party conferences, and appeared at the Labour Party's fringe events in Blackpool.

Individual shooters have also been urged to write to their MPs and turn up at surgeries.

The shooting lobby historically had a number of sympathisers in positions of power. Occasional shooters include the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Rifkind, and the Secretary of State for Social Security, Peter Lilley, who favours clay pigeon shooting. There is no suggestion, though, that they have tried to influence the current debate. About 60 MPs and peers are members of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club.

The council has also hired PR firm John Kendall Associates whose remit has been to monitor the media and ensure that the voice of the gun lobby is heard in debates. However, not all gun users are happy with the campaign, claiming it has been ineffective and weak in comparison with the anti- gun Snowdrop Appeal.

Organisers of the Snowdrop Appeal vowed yesterday they would "not go away" should the Government opt for anything less than a total ban. Jackie Walsh, one of the appeal's founders, confirmed her group would turn firearms into an election issue. "It's what the Government does with the Cullen report that is important. Even if Lord Cullen does not recommend what we demand, a total ban on handguns, the Gov- ernment can still decide to opt for a total ban," said Mrs Walsh.

Snowdrop's co-founder, Ann Pearston, who delivered an emotional address at Labour's conference, has not ruled out standing as a candidate against Michael Forsyth in his Stirling constituency, where he has a majority of just 703.

The Snowdrop Appeal group, through the 705,000 signature petition handed in to the Commons in July, has become the unofficial voice of the parents of the children killed or injured in Dunblane Primary School in March.

Snowdrop's petition was helped by national school organisations, the Post Office, British Midland Airways and a host of large local firms who have help anonymously.

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