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.