A year and a half after a gunman killed 16 kindergartners and their teacher in the Scottish town of Dunblane, handgun owners across Britain surrendered their weapons Tuesday under a new law banning possession of anything with a caliber higher than .22.
Parliament is considering legislation that will outlaw smaller-caliber handguns, possibly by the end of the year - further tightening what are already some of the world’s toughest gun laws.
“The banning of large-caliber handguns is a major step towards improving public safety following the terrible events of Dunblane,” the Home Office minister, Alun Michael, said as Tuesday’s midnight handover deadline approached.
Despite vociferous opposition from some shooting groups, police said Tuesday that most large handguns already had been turned over to be destroyed.
“I think there is little doubt that 99.9 percent of (larger) guns will have been handed in by midnight,” said Mike Yardley of the Sportsman’s Association, which opposes the ban. “There is certainly no intention by the shooting community to make a protest by withholding them.”
Starting today, anyone caught with an illegal weapon faces a jail term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to $8,000.
The weapons may be kept only under close supervision at gun clubs.
Police had no early figures on how many large-caliber handguns had been surrendered, but Home Office records showed that between July 1, when the handover began, and the end of August, 56,000 large-caliber handguns were turned in.
Some 15,253 small-caliber handguns were voluntarily handed in during the same period.
The government is paying compensation of up to $1,290 for each surrendered weapon.
On March 13, 1996, loner Thomas Hamilton walked into a Dunblane gym class and opened fire with four legally owned handguns. Hamilton, who belonged to a local gun club, then killed himself.
A government inquiry into the massacre recommended restrictions on the availability of self-loading pistols and revolvers.
Under public pressure for a gun ban, the former Conservative government introduced legislation banning private ownership of larger-aliber handguns. Parliament approved it in February.
The Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, which swept to power in a landslide election May 1, has prepared legislation to outlaw smaller-caliber weapons as well.
Britain banned automatic and semi-automatic rifles after 27-year-old gun fanatic Michael Ryan went on a rampage with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle in August 1987 at Hungerford, 60 miles west of central London. Ryan killed 16 people, including his mother, wounded another 13 and then killed himself.
Even before the latest legislation, owners of rifles, shotguns and handguns were strictly vetted and required to obtain police licenses.