Alarmed by a rising trend of violence in British society, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd is taking urgent action on two fronts: He has announced his intention to pass a law banning semiautomatic rifles and similar arms and to strictly curb shotgun ownership.
And in an attempt to get at the social roots of violence, he has begun to apply heavy pressure to television organizations, which he feels have been too ready to take a permissive line toward programs depicting violent and sexual themes.
Mr. Hurd was catapulted into adopting a tough gun policy by the murder in the English town of Hungerford of 16 people in August by a man with a Rambo-style rifle.
Announcing his package of gun ownership restrictions, Hurd said that ``... there can be no justification for high-powered, self-loading rifles of the type used by Michael Ryan to be held by private individuals. The risks are far too high.''
Hurd plans to declare a firearms amnesty next year to enable people who hold guns illegally to hand them in to the police without penalty.
Hurd is under pressure from interest groups to create laws that would ban violence on television. Acting on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's instructions, he organized a seminar at 10 Downing Street attended by the heads of Britain's leading television organizations.
The object of this unprecedented gathering was to persuade the broadcasters that the trend toward violence had gone too far, and that program-makers should take account of a spreading belief that there is a link between TV violence and the rising incidence of violent crime. Mrs. Thatcher told the group that the government is planning a special policy document on broadcasting, and that one of the key items in it will be measures to curb excessive sexual and violent content on TV.
This continues one of the most consistent themes of Thatcher's premiership: the need for more law and order. But in many ways, it runs against deeply ingrained beliefs.
Michael Yardley, a spokesman for a loose federation of rifle clubs around Britain, said the gun measures had more to do with public relations than fighting crime. Shotguns are widely used for hunting in Britain, and there is deep resistance in ``county'' circles to what enthusiasts see as an unnecessary restriction to freedom.
TV broadcasters, for their part, fear that plans to curb TV violence will turn into an illiberal regimen opposed to artistic freedom of expression. But most TV managers take a more cautious line. ``Thatcher means business on violence,'' one independent TV executive said, ``and the more we resist, the tougher her measures are likely to be.''