London (CNSNews.com) - New statistics for crimes involving handguns in Britain provide evidence, the pro-gun lobby said Thursday, that a ban on licensed weapons had been misguided and ineffectual - the problem all along had been illegal firearms.
Last year, 3,685 crimes were committed by perpetrators armed with illegal handguns, including 43 murders, 310 attempted murders and 2,561 robberies, according to Home Office figures released to parliament. It is the highest number in seven years.
In 1997 the incoming Labor government banned possession of all handguns after a gunman at a school in the town of Dunblane killed 16 children and their teacher. The ban extended to all handguns an earlier, partial ban instituted by the former Conservative administration.
By a deadline in September that year, some 100,000 privately owned firearms were surrendered to the police. Anyone caught in possession of one after that date was liable to a jail term of up to 10 years.
Richard Law, the secretary of the Shooters' Rights Association, said Thursday the new statistics showed the ban was wrong.
"We took the view at the time the government was imposing the ban that it would have no effect on armed crime, and we said they were penalizing the wrong people," he said in an interview.
"The government was claiming these measure would reduce crime. From previous statistics, we knew they were lying, but this is what they claimed."
Law attributed the move to a "knee-jerk reaction" by the government to pressure from the media demanding drastic action after Dunblane. "It's one of the most blatant examples I think of political scapegoating on record."
Illegal weapons were still circulating in large numbers, and would continue to be, he said. Yet licensed owners were the ones penalized.
"What they passed was a bad law based on a misconception. In our view, no bad law can be sustained."
Law conceded, however, that it was unlikely the government would back down, and restore firearms to their licensed former owners.
"The assumption among gun-owners was that the government had its own agenda."
Law said Britain's gun laws were fundamentally based upon the country's first firearms legislation, in 1920.
That law was presented as a crime-control measure, but was actually intended, he said, to prevent guns from getting into the hands of "people who were not friends of the government," following the revolution in Russia, an uprising and guerilla warfare in Ireland, and with trade unions growing more powerful at home.
"It was thus a counter-revolutionary measure ... a despotic measure in a bid to save their own skins. It was taken under the Emergency War Powers Act and thus should have been revoked, but never was.
"Successive governments have built upon it, creating a monumental disaster that is an insult in a democratic country."
Law said the blanket ban has had a powerful effect on pistol-shooting clubs, forcing many to shut down and leaving gaps in many communities where they had fulfilled an important social function.
Britain's sports minister, Kate Hoey, conceded in a magazine interview earlier this month that the handgun ban had done nothing to stop criminals from obtaining weapons.
"I have never accepted the link between legal holding of firearms and illegal weapons," she told Sporting Gun magazine.
"I represent [the electoral constituency of] Vauxhall in London where there's a substantial number of illegal weapons on the black market, very easily available, and I'm not sure that the handgun ban has done anything to prevent illegal weapons getting into the wrong hands."
Hoey said that after the Dunblane shooting and another in Hungerford a decade earlier, "there was a kind of attitude that somehow there must be something slightly wrong with anyone who was involved in shooting. I knew this to be untrue and I thought even some of my colleagues in the House of Commons took a very unfair attitude."
She said she would continue to work to support shooting as "a very good and disciplined sport that actually would be of benefit to many young people, in the right circumstances and with the right supervision." See Earlier Story