PM rules out 'knee-jerk' reaction to shootings

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Indy Politics

There will be no "knee-jerk" overhaul of gun laws after Derrick Bird's killing spree, according to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who will visit Cumbria today.

He said: "Of course we have to do everything we can to stop these dreadful events. But you can't legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head and for this dreadful sort of action to take place."

The Prime Minister and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will meet police chiefs and emergency service workers when they visit Cumbria.

In a statement to MPs, Mrs May indicated that the largely rural force would get all the money it needed to help it cope with the huge murder investigation. More than 100 detectives are working on the case, which involves examining 25 crime scenes.

The Government insisted that, since the massacres in Hungerford and Dunblane, Britain has had some of the toughest firearm controls in the world. It acknowledged, though, that the legislation would be further scrutinised and that Mr Bird should perhaps have been banned from owning a shotgun because of his criminal record for theft. But it stressed that, for now, the focus should remain on helping Cumbria police to investigate the rampage.

Mr Cameron said: "All of us should be thinking of the people of West Cumbria, of the appalling suffering that they went through.

"We must do everything to complete this investigation, to make sure that everything is done to make sure that events like this cannot happen again in our country and to help bring those communities back together."

Cautioning against any rush to judgment over the gun laws, he said: "The right thing to do is to look at all of these issues and have an open mind.

"But we should be clear that in this country we have some of the toughest gun control legislation anywhere in the world and we shouldn't make any knee-jerk reaction to think that there is some instant legislative or regulatory answer."

The most recent figures show that 575,000 people in England and Wales are registered to own shotguns, possessing 1.4 million weapons between them. A total of 139,000 people are certificated to hold firearms such as rifles or airguns, owning 435,000 weapons. All applicants are interviewed by police before licences are issued and they must demonstrate they have a secure locker to store them in.

Mrs May promised MPs they would be given the chance to debate the adequacy of the gun laws before the Commons rises for its summer recess.

"Mass killings as we saw yesterday are, fortunately, extremely rare in our country. But that doesn't make it any the less painful, and it doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to stop it happening again," she said.

Mrs May said the police investigation would examine Bird's "history, his access to firearms and the motivations for his actions".

Alan Johnson, the shadow Home Secretary, agreed that there should be no rush to change firearms laws. But he argued that they should be reviewed to consider whether follow-up checks on licence holders – notably their mental health – were sufficient.

He also questioned whether a small force like Cumbria was "properly equipped to deal with events that are more often predicted to happen in urban areas".

The Home Secretary replied that Cumbria's chief constable had assured her that the force had been able to use a helicopter from Lancashire and had been offered continuing support from several other forces.

She added: "There is always room for ensuring that good practice is always spread across our police forces and that they are able to learn from experiences elsewhere."

John Woodcock, the Labour MP for the Cumbrian constituency of Barrow and Furness, called for mental health services, as well as gun laws, to be reviewed to examine "how an apparently reserved member of the community suddenly snapped and was capable of such evil deeds".