CORRECTED: Britain vows no 'knee-jerk' gun clampdown after massacre

3rd June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned Thursday about a "knee-jerk reaction" to gun laws after a taxi driver shot dead 12 people in a rampage through villages in northwest England.

Cameron acknowledged that Wednesday's events in west Cumbria would spark a debate on whether legislation on firearms needed to be changed, but said it was impossible to legislate "for a switch flicking in someone's head".

"The right thing to do is of course to look at all of these issues and have an open mind," Cameron said in a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper which was overshadowed by the Cumbria killings.

"But we should be clear that in this country we have some of the toughest gun control legislation anywhere in the world and we shouldn't make any knee-jerk reaction to think that there is some instant legislative or regulatory answer."

Cameron said: "You can't legislate for a switch flicking in someone's head and for this dreadful action to take place."

However, he added: "We must do absolutely everything to complete this investigation, to make sure that everything is done to make sure that events like this cannot happen again in our country."

The prime minister, who will visit the scene of the shootings on Friday, recalled that he had grown up near Hungerford in southern England, where a loner, Michael Ryan, shot dead 16 people in 1987.

Those attacks and the massacre of 16 children and a teacher at a primary school in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996 led to tighter controls on gun ownership in Britain.

In spite of the tough laws, nearly 600,000 people legally own shotguns, which only fire pellets, and more than 100,000 own a firearm, usually a rifle or high-powered airgun.

Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, said the 52-year-old gunman, Derrick Bird, had held a valid shotgun certificate since 1995 and obtained a firearms licence three years ago.

She told lawmakers: "Mass killings are fortunately extremely rare in our country, but that doesn't make it any less painful and it doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to stop it happening again."

Friends of Bird, a father of two who recently became a grandfather, have described him as an ordinary, relatively friendly man, but reports said a row with colleagues or a family feud may have sparked the rampage.

© 2010 AFP

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