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16 August 1996

Holding a gun to our heads

The relatives of those killed in the Dunblane massacre are the favourites of the gun-control lobby. They should not be listened to, says Mark Ryan

The refusal of the Conservative Party-dominated home affairs committee to recommend a ban on the private ownership of handguns has led to a storm of protest from Dunblane parents and others calling for gun control. Critics described the decision as a 'slap in the face' for relatives of the victims of the Dunblane massacre. However it is the critics who should be provoking concern, not guns. The debate has dangerous implications which go far beyond the narrow issue of who should be allowed to carry firearms.

It is important first to get Dunblane in perspective. The massacre at Dunblane was a terrible event, but the reason it shocked was not only because it was so bloody but because it was so unusual. The last time anything like that happened was when Michael Ryan ran amok in Hungerford in 1987 killing 14 people. There will never be any way of guarding against such things happening in the future - no matter what gun laws exist. If some nutcase really wants to kill people for absolutely no reason there is nothing society can do to stop him. Thankfully there are very few such people around.

For the very reason that Dunblane was so out of the ordinary and so impossible to foresee, it is absurd that any change to the law should be considered in its wake. It is particularly absurd that changes to the law should be considered in Britain where gun controls are already restrictive. Figures show that Britain has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world with only two of every million deaths resulting from shooting compared with 62 of every million deaths in the US. Any rational public policy would be taking account of that figure rather than the freak event at Dunblane which no amount of law-making could prevent.

The most insidious feature of the whole affair is the way in which supporters of gun-control have used the relatives of those killed at Dunblane to justify their case. The implication is that anyone who makes a considered decision based on the facts of the case rather than going on an emotional bender as everyone else is supposed to do, is dancing on the graves of the dead children. This is pure emotional blackmail.

It is becoming increasingly common for the victim of some tragedy or other to be held up as the moral authority on the subject in question. When a victim speaks (or 'speaks out', as they more commonly do) everybody else is supposed to bow down and accept his word as final. In the case of gun control it is the parents of Dunblane who are set up as the moral arbiters whose word should be respected above all others, while anybody who is opposed to the further tightening of the already too-restrictive gun laws is virtually accused of being complicit in the mass-murder of children.

But why should the Dunblane parents be treated with such awe and reverence? There is no doubt that they all suffered deep personal tragedies, but that is no reason why they should even be specially consulted on a matter of public policy which affects the rest of us. The fact that their children were shot gives them absolutely no insight at all into the broader issue of the private ownership of guns. Quite the opposite, it is precisely because they suffered that makes them less likely to have anything rational to say. Their experience will have distorted their judgement. In a truly civilised society, not only would they be given no extra credence, their views would actually hold less weight because those views would be understood as too charged with grief to be objective.

It is a sick society which allows those who have suffered the most to dictate policy to everybody else. Once that pattern becomes established, then the formulation of any rational public policy becomes impossible. Objective consideration of the pros and cons of any issue can be suddenly shoved to one side while the victims are wheeled on to the stage to fling wild allegations around and generally to make everybody feel guilty for the use of their rational faculties. There should be no quarter given to the

Dunblane parents or anybody else who uses emotional blackmail on issues that affect the whole of society. It is those who have suffered the most who should be listened to the least.
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