From Dunblane to Newtown, Yellow Roses And More

Reuters went to Dunblane, the affluent and sleepy Scottish town that awoke on a horrid day in 1996 to its own massacre of tiny children:

On March 13, 1996, a gunman walked into the gymnasium of a primary school in the close-knit cathedral town and shot dead 16 children and their teacher before turning the gun on himself.

Few residents want to talk about the terrible events that for years made Dunblane synonymous with tragedy, but reminders abound, made all the more poignant by the onset of Christmas.

At the far end of the cemetery on the edge of town, toys, fairies and portraits of smiling children decorate the graves of many of the victims, while small windmills spin in the winter breeze under grey skies.

A miniature Christmas tree stands next to one grave and a bunch of pink roses covered in dew drops rests on the spot where their teacher, Gwen Mayor, 45, is buried.

“The memories are flooding back. It must be hell for the parents. We said prayers for them in my church,” said Harry McEwan, 71, who has lived in the town for 30 years. “Dunblane has so much in common with what has happened in Newtown.”

The Dunblane massacre shocked the world and started a public campaign that led to Britain adopting some of the strictest gun controls in the world.

The Newtown shooting has already prompted calls for new U.S. gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons. President Barack Obama said things must change to prevent more killings.

In Britain, the scale of revulsion over Dunblane’s three-minute rampage led within two years to new laws that effectively banned civilians from owning handguns. Ministers also promised to improve school security.

The Dunblane shootings were particularly shocking for a country where the police are not routinely armed and gun crime is relatively unusual. Of the 636 murders in England and Wales in 2010/11, 60 were shootings. Last year, firearms were used in 0.3 percent of all recorded crimes.

I’ll just repeat here what I wrote in July after the Colorado movie theater massacre. I’m depressed at how relevant it still is.

Let me tell you, if you’ve never been at the site of such a massacre, I was in Dunblane two days afterwards. I went to university a few miles away and had several friends living in the small town, including one couple who’s apartment overlooked the scene. The emergency services were still clearing up, the media were everywhere and I spent several hours with two good friends who had heard and seen things no-one should be asked to witness. Which is more important to you – the words written in a very different age or young lives right now?

Look, my homeland of Scotland is supposed to be the most violent country in Europe. Even so, there were 93 homicides in the entire country of 5.2 million last year. people were outraged because that was a 30% increase on the year before! The place I consider my home city in the U.S. – San Antonio, Texas – by contrast had 97 homicides for 1.3 million people. Don’t tell me that the U.S. being the most heavily armed nation on earth doesn’t have anything to do with that, with 90 guns in private ownership for every 100 people – ahead of even Yemen and Iraq.

Massacres are the price America pays for easy gun ownership and massive arms stockpiles in private hands. Americans need to decide whether that price is acceptable.

More from Dunblane:

Dunblane has tried to move on. The sports hall where the shooting took place has been demolished and the school has been refurbished. However, the U.S. shooting has brought back painful memories.

“A dark cloud came over us,” said lifelong Dunblane resident Nancy, who declined to give her surname. “The heaviness, the sorrow. Just disbelief and shock. Our hearts go out to the people of Newtown. It’s still very painful and when something happens elsewhere it sort of bubbles up to the surface.”

At the memorial garden which replaced the demolished gymnasium, a note attached to yellow roses remembers “All the lost angels of Dunblane”.

Let us all fervently hope that yellow roses are not all Newtown has to remember its dead babies by. Serious legislation is needed too.

On that, though, I’m still cynical. TPM reports:

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that working to reduce gun violence is a “complex problem that requires many solutions.” Carney added that the White House does not have specific proposals to put forward at this time to reduce gun violence.

That’s the whole thing.


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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • From Here –>

    In late May – or maybe early June – of 1999, I ended up at a rave in a field on the outskirts of Denver. I was driving cross-country and I wasn’t thinking about our geography. Like many raves at the time, it was a mix of folks ages 16-30. I set up my tent and was sitting in it writing in my journal when some teens asked me if they could come in. They were trying to light their cigarettes and it was too windy and they didn’t have a tent. I invited them in and we got to talking. I asked where they were from and they looked down. “Littleton,” they said. “Is that near here?” I asked, ignoring the warning signs that I was putting my foot in my mouth as their eyes got big with surprise. And then it dawned on me. Columbine. Sure enough, this group of teens were all from Columbine and they were all there when their classmates were savagely killed. I decided not to ask them about the day itself, but asked how it’s been since. What I heard was heartbreaking. They had dropped out of school because the insanity from the press proved to be too much to deal with. They talked about not being able to answer the phone – which would ring all day and night – because the press always wanted to talk. They talked about being hounded by press wherever they went. All they wanted was to be let alone. So they dropped out of school which they said was fine because it was so close to the end of the year and everything was chaos and no one noticed.

  • I don’t want to sound calous but I get really tired of all the press, and the what-if questions.
    There are many tragedies each and everyday that can be avoided with a little bit of will and a spirit of community. War, torture, climate change, civil wars, genocide (Newton was a genocide)…
    One simple rule to guide our thoughts; never intentionally do another harm. I honestly believe that rule is in the hearts of all of us. However we are constantly bombarded by the need to be better than others; have the bigger colour tv, have the cheap designer clothes… Poccess the right things and you are one of the cool people–for some that is asault rifles. Consumerism and greed, quick stardom through reality tv. A dissonance of ethics in a corporate world.
    Who has won?
    When do we stop living the lie? When do we re-start caring for our neighbours? When do we believe again that we know better than the ethics of consummerism?
    Years ago at university I remember discussing freedom between the US and Russia. This was the mid-seventies and my question to my antaganist was what is the concept of freedom in the US? Which colour tv to buy? Not whether or not to have a tv (and bw tvs where still around)? Freedom defined by a corpocracy. Nothing has changed in forty years.

    WAKE UP!
    Blue pill or red pill?

    We have the answers.

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