Camereon: Gun control not the answer

(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow's New York Times.)

c.2010 New York Times News Service@

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday that Britain "should not leap to knee-jerk conclusions" about the need for tougher gun laws in the wake of the shooting rampage in northwestern England on Wednesday that left 13 people dead, including the gunman.

Cameron spoke at a news conference as the police released new details about how the gunman, Derrick Bird, 52, a taxi driver, left a trail of death with few precedents in Britain's modern history through the western edge of the Lake District, one of the country's most celebrated scenic spots.

Cameron said the government would do everything it could to "mend the hurt" caused by the shootings. But while laws and practices involved in gun ownership will be reviewed, he said, there is not always "an instant legislative or regulatory answer."


"Of course we should look at this issue, but we should not leap to knee-jerk conclusions on what should be done on the regulatory front," he said. "We do have some of the toughest legislation in the world."

He added, "You can't legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head and this sort of dreadful action taking place."

Police commanders in Cumbria, the county where the killings occurred, said Thursday that they had recovered two weapons used in the shootings — a shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle with a sniper scope — and that Bird had valid gun licenses for both.

Friends of Bird said he had owned the weapons for at least 20 years and had inherited them from his father.

Although Bird had a criminal record for theft from the 1990s, the police said, it was not considered serious enough to fall under statutory provisions that bar more serious criminal offenders from having licensed guns.

For years, Britain has been keen to compare its relatively modest record of gun crime with the much higher incidence of firearms killings in the United States; official figures show that guns are used in about 21,000 crimes a year here, and that in recent years, killings with firearms each year have rarely reached 100, and often fewer than 50.

Against that background, Wednesday's episode quickly developed into a national trauma, with newspapers and broadcast airwaves filled with agonized debate about what motivated the killer and how the carnage might have been prevented.

News reports that were widely circulated in Britain on Thursday, including one in The Daily Telegraph, quoted friends of Bird, a divorced father of two, as saying they thought the killings might have been set off by a family dispute over a will, possibly that of Bird's 90-year-old mother, Mary, with whom he had lived in recent years.


On Thursday, police investigators would not comment on a motive for the killings, other than referring to "a mixture of grudge, and random."

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