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15 March 1996

After Dunblane

Mick Hume questions some reactions to the tragic killing of 16 children and their teacher in Dunblane.

The tragedy in Dunblane has led to calls for more surveillance in schools, more controls on guns, more security everywhere. These responses are predictable enough in the circumstances. But they also betray a loss of perspective.

Nothing like the school gym shooting has ever happened in Britain before. There is nothing to suggest that it will happen again. It is precisely the uniqueness of the event that has made it so shocking. So why should we allow this extraordinary incident to set the standards for the degree of security, surveillance and controls we are prepared to accept in our society?

Even in their own terms, the demands for more regulation make little sense. You cannot legislate against the one-off actions of a mentally disturbed gunman. As one of the school governors themselves said, the only thing that surveillance cameras in the school would have achieved was to capture the children's deaths on film. And exactly who would benefit from that?

The implications of the current preoccupation with personal security are more worrying than the minimal threat of Dunblane happening again. Do we really want to live in a society where life is organised and policed on the assumption that any one of us could be a homicidal maniac? If we were to allow ourselves to become obsessed with personal safety at any price, fearing to do anything without the protection and support of a surveillance camera or a counsellor, life surely would not be worth living.

One other aspect of the intrusive media circus in Dunblane sticks in the throat. Why do we have to listen to everybody from Major and Blair to the archbishops and the Queen holding forth on the tragedy in righteous tones? The politicians and other dignitaries have sought to prey upon the collective horror we all feel, and exploit it to recreate a sense of moral and national unity which they have failed to engender themselves. The end result is that, as after every local tragedy of recent years, the whole of British society is in danger of being paralysed by mourning sickness, as a morbid preoccupation with the past and a permanent sense of loss prevent us looking to the future.
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