Dunblane, a lesson we cannot forget

Twenty-six years ago, Thomas Hamilton shot and killed sixteen primary school kids and their teacher, before turning the gun on himself. The weekend just past was the 26th anniversary of that dark day. I wasn’t even two years old when it happened, growing up in a house just up the hill from the school. This is another piece I wasn’t sure about writing, it might be even more personal than my last article.

I may have been a toddler, but the news footage I’ve seen since – of my frightened parents haunts me to this day. I hope no one ever needs to endure what they did that day. Going into a school not knowing if their own child was dead or alive. We were one of the lucky ones, my brother and sister were unharmed.

The community response to such tragedy is something we as Liberal Democrats cannot forget. A local community, in the face of such horror, came together and made a difference.

The Snowdrop Campaign was led by the people of Dunblane. Their petition gathered 750,000 signatures calling on the government to change gun control laws – this was long before the days of Change.Org. A community came together. They changed the law for the better. A town of less than 10,000 people.

Nigel Farage, that old foe, has previously claimed that laws brought in as a result of the massacre are “ludicrous”. Here is a man who could not show more disregard for a community if he tried. From any record I can find, Farage has never met a survivor or a family from Dunblane – nor even visited the town. I doubt he would be welcome. I long for a day where I can challenge that man on this view. I was a child, but you hear the stories, the kids you grow up with know exactly the horrors their town faced.

Nine of the guns that Thomas Hamilton used on the 13th of March 1996 were legally obtained. That fact alone is a big reason why we can never go back to the way things used to be.

Nigel – freedom of rights does not give you permission to carry a weapon that can take the life of another. The right of life and the right to safety, outweighs your self-interested right to bear arms. I implore anyone that disagrees with me to visit Dunblane, and I challenge them to speak to the families of those who have suffered because of the danger of guns.

Make no mistake, there are sentiments in the Conservative party who would happily go back to the days of less-strict gun control laws. This Prime Minister himself denounced the change in gun control laws.

A “nanny confiscating toys” he wrote. Boris, guns are not toys.

This is a highly personal issue for me, as I’m sure my fellow Liberal Democrats can understand. A right to life must always come first. We must always prevent the political-right-wing from easing these laws.

On a final note, I have some inspiration for those campaigning in the runup to the May elections this year. Father Basil O’Sullivan is a man I grew up knowing as our local priest. Our family knew him very well and he was always incredibly kind and warm-hearted. He lived through the tragedy in Dunblane. He had to hold the services to bury some of the children. He went through it all. In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in America, he wrote to their local priest offering any support he could. He wanted to help, despite it bringing back all of the awful memories of that day in his life.

Netflix made a documentary on the relationship Basil built with Father Bob Weiss – a true lesson in compassion. A local community man going above and beyond to help others. Despite his own trauma, Father Basil went out of his way to help. I think we can all find motivation in that. After all, we want to help change the people in our communities’ lives for the better. It’s why our party exists.

* Neil Alexander is a Scottish Liberal Democrat Executive Member. He is a former GCU and University of Greenwich graduate, currently studying part-time for a PhD in Sports Science (Rugby) and Video Game Design - whilst working full time as a Game Designer in Elgin.

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  • Brad Barrows 15th Mar '22 - 12:45pm

    I like this article. Thought-provoking in its own right but also brings back memories of what I was doing when I heard the news of the tragic events that occurred that day.

    I fully agree that, as you say, “A right to life must come first” though I would also extend that principle to other areas that are not covered by this article.

  • Jennifer Boag 16th Mar '22 - 9:34pm

    I absolutely agree with everything here. I worked for Central Regional Council which ran Dunblane Primary School at the time. As the news filtered in to the Council offices that day, and the horror unfolded, we were in disbelief that this could happen to such young children in one of our schools. We heard the ambulance sirens taking the children and teachers to the local hospital. Several staff members had connections with the children or the school and were in despair about what they could best do. It was by far the worst day of my working life. I will never forget the silence in the office – which was a huge open plan one – that afternoon.
    I was so proud of how the community managed to get the law on guns tightened and I am absolutely certain that that was the right thing to do.

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