High-powered magnum handguns, almost identical to those used by Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane child-murderer, are being legally kept and used by firearms enthusiasts.
They are able to procure the weapons and ammunition, both of which they are allowed to keep at home, by exploiting loopholes in laws brought in to ban such guns after the massacre at a primary school in the Perthshire town 13 years ago.
Hamilton, who shot dead 16 children and one teacher before killing himself, used two 9mm semi-automatic handguns and two .357 magnum revolvers manufactured by Smith & Wesson. After the massacre, legislation was tightened with a view to outlawing all such weapons.
However, guns almost identical to the .357 Smith & Wessons, and even larger calibre handguns such as .44 and .45, are easily available to British enthusiasts who possess a Section 1 firearms certificate, which police usually issue without objection to applicants without a significant criminal record.
To circumvent the legislation, the guns are equipped with longer barrels and wire stocks at the back which together extend their length to 2ft. Only “short” firearms are banned. Another loophole is for the barrel of the .357 to be kept short and the six-shot cylinder adapted to take “front-loading” bullets. Although the guns take longer to reload, they are in most other respects identical to Hamilton’s.
Both types of gun derive from a .357 made by Taurus which is almost identical to a Smith & Wesson. They are readily obtainable in the UK at prices starting at about £500.
Confusion among police forces about how to interpret the law has turned the issuing of firearms licences into a “lottery”, campaigners claim.
Those who have kept up their interest in guns since the ban include Stephen Fyfe, who is standing for the British National party at a by-election for North East Lincolnshire council this Thursday. Fyfe, 34, owns six guns including a seven-shot pump-action shotgun and a long-barrelled .44 handgun. He said that bearing arms was a “right”, adding: “Guns are one of the reasons I am standing for election. I take deep offence at being assumed to be a psycho just because of what someone else has done.”
Gerry Gable, publisher of Searchlight, the antifascist magazine, and a former gun hobbyist who turned in his weapons when the law was changed, said: “I have watched as obsessive single men and boys with access to guns and who play around in the hate-filled atmosphere of the extreme right have sparked dozens of firearms incidents across the western world since Dunblane. If I was the home secretary I would be very worried indeed.”