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Gun control after school shootings: Lessons from around the globe

Australia enacted tougher gun laws and saw a drop in school shootings to zero. After the 1998 hand gun ban, the United Kingdom saw a rise in gun-related crimes.  Do gun controls reduce gun-related crime?

By Ben McConville and Jill LawlessAssociated Press / December 18, 2012

Fresh flowers were left recently for the victims for the 1996 Dunblane Primary School shooting in Dunblane cemetery, Scotland. Does the United Kingdom have lessons to teach the US about gun control?

REUTERS/David Moir

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Dunblane, Scotland

If there's anywhere that understands the pain of Newtown, it's Dunblane, the town whose grief became a catalyst for changes to Britain's gun laws.

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In March 1996, a 43-year-old man named Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school in this central Scotland town of 8,000 people and shot to death 16 kindergarten-age children and their teacher with four legally held handguns. In the weeks that followed, people in the town formed the Snowdrop campaign — named for the first flower of spring — to press for a ban on handguns. Within weeks, it had collected 750,000 signatures. By the next year, the ban had become law.

It is a familiar pattern around the world — from Britain to Australia, grief at mass shootings has been followed by swift political action to tighten gun laws.

Many in the United States are calling for that to happen there, too, after the shooting of 20 children as young as six at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Many other Americans are adamant the laws should not change.

In Dunblane, residents have been gathering at the town's massacre memorial to sign a book of condolence — but are loath to advise grieving Americans what to do.

"It is not for us to tell the U.S. about gun control. That is for the people there," said Terence O'Brien, a member of the Dunblane community council. "What happened here was similar in many respects, but the wider culture is different."

When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. The U.S. has the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

Gun advocates, including the powerful lobby group the National Rifle Association, have blocked attempts to toughen American gun laws in the wake of previous mass shootings. Gun supporters say that the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, makes firearms ownership a civil rights issue, rather than simply an issue of public safety.

Supporters of gun control often cite Australia's dramatic response to a 1996 shooting spree in the southern state of Tasmania that killed 35 people.

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