After a devastating school shooting, a grassroots campaign successfully lobbied British lawmakers to outlaw the weapons.

In March 1996, a man walked into a kindergarten gym class in the Scottish town of Dunblane and shot and killed 16 children and their teacher. All four handguns used in the atrocity were legally acquired and owned by the murderer, who killed himself at the scene.

In the aftermath, a group of local mothers formed the Snowdrop Campaign, named for the only flower that blooms that early in the cold Scottish spring. It had a singular, simple objective: to get handguns banned in the U.K.

Rosemary Hunter was one the campaign’s co-founders. “That somebody could walk in with legally-owned handguns into a school and our legislation allowed for that was just overwhelmingly depressing,” Hunter told HuffPost. “Something had to be done about it.”

A child looks at the floral tributes outside Dunblane primary school after a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher in March 1996.
A child looks at the floral tributes outside Dunblane primary school after a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher in March 1996.
Mathieu Polak/Sygma/ Sygma via Getty Images

Snowdrop mailed paper petitions up and down the country, collecting 705,000 signatures that were presented to the Conservative government in the fall of 1996. But the Conservative party only moved to outlaw large-caliber handguns.

A full ban on handguns wasn’t introduced until 1997, after Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour government came to power.

“When the legislation passed, there was definite mixed emotions, because we were ecstatic that we’d achieved what we’d set out to achieve,” Hunter said. “But it was just tinged with sadness due to the reason why we’d had to do it in the first place.”

Rosemary Hunter, center, with other Snowdrop Campaign members outside 10 Downing Street with the petition calling for a total handgun ban in November 1996.
Rosemary Hunter, center, with other Snowdrop Campaign members outside 10 Downing Street with the petition calling for a total handgun ban in November 1996.
David Cheskin - PA Images via Getty Images

As a result of that legislation, 162,000 handguns were turned in to the authorities. Now, more than 25 years later, there has never been another mass shooting in the U.K. involving handguns, and shootings of any kind are vanishingly rare. Australia also dramatically reduced gun deaths after it banned assault rifles and certain types of shotguns following the massacre of 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996.

By contrast, the bipartisan gun control bill passed in the U.S. after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, seems incredibly weak. Following Uvalde, many Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators were instead quick to blame the familiar, bogus bogeymen. Social media, video games, porn, single moms, cannabis and even smartphones are what inspire shooters, they said, and not easy access to weapons of war.

Like many foreign observers, Hunter is confounded and horrified by America’s continued failure to pass stricter legislation.

“Another year goes by and there’s still multiple mass shootings in the U.S. I do despair with America,” she said. “I just don’t know why there’s this obsession with guns culturally. I don’t understand it. I think there needs to be a cultural change. People need to realize that it’s not a mature culture.”

Watch the full interview with Rosemary Hunter above.

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