Britain's gun laws - as well as its training policies for police officers - are coming under closer public and official scrutiny. The increased attention being paid to these issues follows Wednesday's shooting spree, in which an apparently deranged gunman killed 14 people, including his mother, in the town of Hungerford.
Pressures already have begun to mount for a change of policy on the taining of police officers who may be faced with a person threatening to use a firearm. At present the only policemen who receive such training are those who have authority to carry a weapon. Only a tiny percentage of British police are licensed and trained to carry guns, and there is considerable resistance within local forces to increasing the numbers.
An unarmed constable who had tried to reason with the killer, Michael Ryan, was shot dead.
Ryan had licenses for five weapons and was a member of a gun club. But he also had a reputation as an unstable personality, given to wearing Rambo-style combat gear. Ryan shot himself after his rampage.
The shootings have raised the question of whether there should be tighter control of weapons in Britain. At present, a person can obtain a license to own a firearm only by being a member of a gun club. Police then issue the license. But standards vary widely around the country.
Douglass Hogg, a Home Office minister, said: ``We have very strict gun laws in this country. Obviously they will be looked at, as there are lessons to be learned from this incident.''
One of the lessons is likely to be that citizens should not be allowed to possess semi-automatic weapons except in extraordinary cases. Ryan carried a semi-automatic rifle.
``I am sometimes worried at the number of people who join clubs and try to effect a Rambo image. It suggests that they want weapons to help them act out their fantasies,'' says Michael Yardley, a firearms specialist wh has advised the Police Federation on firearms policy.
``Not enough people in Britain realize that guns in the wrong hands are deadly weapons,'' Mr. Yardley continues. ``Clubs must apply a stricter standard, and the police should pay much closer attention to who they are allowing to possess arms.''
Leslie Curtis, head of the Police Federation, suggests that one necessary measure is to require licensed owners to keep their weapons on club premises and not in their own homes.
The killings at Hungerford have drawn attention to the large number of weapons in Britain. It is believed the numbers are much higher than the 160,000 firearms certificates and 840,000 shotgun licenses on official lists. Hundreds of thousands of unlicensed weapons, many of the dating from World War II, are thought to be in the hands of private citizens.
Last year in Britain there were 2,650 robberies in which firearms were used. In the same period there was a 15 percent increase in gun ownership in the London areas.