16 children and a teacher were killed at Dunblane Primary School
16 children and a teacher were killed at Dunblane Primary School

The Dunblane Massacre was a school shooting that occurred on March 13th, 1996, in the town of Dunblane, Scotland. 16 children (all 5 or 6 years old) and one teacher died before the gunman killed himself.

The killings – the second major spree shooting in the UK, after 1987’s Hungerford Massacre – resulted in changes to Britain’s gun ownership rules. By the end of 1997, private handguns were illegal in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Shooter

The killings were committed by Thomas Hamilton, an unemployed former shopkeeper.

Hamilton had been involved in the Boy Scouts (a group that teaches boys skills) but had received complaints about how close he got to the boys. One said he asked boys to sleep in his van with him whilst on walking trips, and another that he took photos of the boys semi-naked without asking parents.

The Scouts blacklisted Hamilton, who in turn complained that the complaints destroyed his shop’s business and other efforts to be involved in boys’ clubs.

Campaign to Remember Victims instead of Killer

Flowers outside Dunblane Primary School
Flowers outside Dunblane Primary School

Although the name of the killer was quickly known, there was a push from some quarters to remember the dead rather than the killer. Some newspapers put the shooter on the front page, while others opted not to give the perpetrator any publicity.

The Cullen Inquiry and Public Response

All of Hamilton’s guns were legal. After the shootings an inquiry was set up. It suggested tighter control of handguns, but the public asked for more.

The immediate response to the Cullen Inquiry was all hand guns except single-shot .22 guns were banned. Public pressure eventually made the government ban those too. Only historic guns, ‘muzzle-loading’ guns (old-fashioned guns), sports guns, and shotguns (for hunting or farming purposes) were allowed.

On-going Gun Control

The Dunblane incident led to changes in the British law
The Dunblane incident led to changes in the British law

Britain remains a country in which legal firearms are hard to obtain. It is generally supported. The consequences of Dunblane are widely recognised in Britain as the moment that guns were removed from public use.

The Grand-Slam winning tennis player Andy Murray was a pupil at Dunblane during the massacre.  His success and knowledge that he met Hamilton has kept the Dunblane tragedy in the public view.