March 13th 1996 was a Wednesday.
I was working and had escorted a patient to the front door of the practice. I came back and walked into reception where Kirsten, our young receptionist, was sitting sobbing her eyes out. Unusually, she had the radio on and she just said to me “Children have been killed in a shooting in Dunblane” and I remember saying “Dunblane where?”, thinking it couldn’t be Dunblane, Perthshire the place known for the picturesque river with the ducks, two nice coffee shops and a hydro that sits high on the hill. But it was that Dunblane. And that was the day of the Dunblane massacre that killed 16 school children and their teacher.
Shootings like that are extremely unusual occurrence on British soil.
It's a not so strange twist of fate that both Andy Murray and his brother Jamie were in the school that day. It means the event has been given a very human face to touch on and has kept it in the hearts and minds of the public. When children like that are slaughtered at such a young age, it does make you wonder what they would have grown into being. Wimbledon Champions.
Andy and Jamie Murray were 8 and 10 at the time of the tragedy. Jamie’s teacher kept them in the classroom as they heard the gunshots from the gym. Andy was in a crocodile of children moving down the corridor towards the gym. Their teacher and the headmaster pulled them into the headmaster’s office where they sang songs to drown out the noise of the gunshots. Fortunately the gunman. Thomas Hamilton didn’t go any further than the gym. It could have been so much worse if he did, but his target seemed to be the 5 year olds only.
Andy said “Some of my friends’ brothers and sisters were killed. I have only retained patch impressions of that day such as being in a classroom singing songs. The weirdest thing was that we knew the guy ( Hamilton), he had been in my mum’s car. It’s obviously weird to think you had a murderer in your car sitting next to your mum.”
The massacre at Dunblane started shortly after 9am in the morning, it only took a few minutes. 15 children aged 5 and 6 died at the scene, another later in hospital. One teacher and two other teachers seriously injured, all while protecting the children. Then Hamilton, a former scout leader then turned one of his four handguns on himself.
I know two people connected to the investigation. One worked for the council and was involved ( at a low level) in revoking Hamilton's licence to run a scout troupe after he left the scouts in the back of an open topped van soaking wet. The police had questioned him about inappropriate behaviour and he was rejected by both the scouting movement and the local community. The secretary of the local shooting club also rejected Hamilton (for being 'sleazy'). It has always been a bone of contention and a source of conspiracy theory as to how Hamilton ever got a permit to own those handguns.
In 1996, a petition of 750,000 signatures was handed to the government and the Conservative prime minister set up a public enquiry to re-examine the law on handguns. Previously (1988) the Firearms Amendment Act had already banned ownership of semi-automatic and pump action weapons. Within eighteen months of Dunblane the UK had a ban on the private ownership of all handguns on mainland Britain which gives us some of the toughest anti gun legislation in the world. After both the Hungerford massacre and the Dunblane incident there was an amnesty on guns that meant you could just hand them into the police. Thousands of items were surrendered. It would be interesting to know what Zoe thinks as all the guns used by sports shooters were also caught up in the ban?
When I was in Raleigh last year, I was truly astounded at the 'open carry' policy. It was like a different language. Another school massacre had just happened in Oregon. My answer to that is more gun control. My American author friend, said 'No! The answer is to arm the students.' I guess everybody is a product of their environment but to me it’s madness.
Mick North and his daughter. She'd be 25 now.
Mick North who lost Sophie, his 5 year old daughter at Dunblane said that the tragedy changed attitudes completely towards gun ownership in Britain and it has probably saved many lives. A change in the law after Dunblane (campaigned for by the parents) means that it is harder than ever to get hold of a gun in this country. Mick North is quoted as saying “Are we and our children now safer from guns, the answer is a definite yes. Gun crime is significantly lower, gun murders are extremely rare and criminals are finding it harder than ever to get a gun.” He added that “despite similar school shootings in the US many Americans can have a blinkered and uncritical support for guns.”
I think the parents of the Dunblane shootings and the Sandyhook Elementary School shootings will feel exactly the same sense of grief, an overwhelming, life changing grief that will haunt them, every birthday, every Christmas, every family wedding - it will be obvious that somebody is not there.
The Dunblane kids would be 25 this year, setting out on life, maybe parents themselves.
Our politicians blamed a loophole in the laws of gun ownership. From what I see some US politicians seem to blame everything but gun ownership. I don't get it.
I’d just like to finish this blog by repeating what the tour guide said as we were on the sightseeing bus around Manhattan. He said “gun law ownership has nothing to do with murders. There is one country in the world that has more murders than we do and they don’t have any handguns”. He then went on to say that that country was England. I did point out that he was factually incorrect in my quiet and subtle Glaswegian way but I don’t think he understood a word.
The flowers and Teddy in the gym. (Daily Mail)
Caro Ramsay 18th Match 2016