On March 13, 1996, a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, killed 16 children and a teacher with legal firearms. The murders catalyzed changes to the United Kingdom’s gun laws and was the last school shooting in Britain.
On Tuesday, the families affected by the Dunblane shooting posted a video and wrote an open letter to the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, expressing their support for gun control activism and sending a message of hope.
“We want you to know that change can happen. It won’t be easy, but continue to remind everyone of exactly what happened at your school and of the devastation caused by just one person with one legally-owned gun,” the letter reads. “Never let anyone forget. There will be attempts to deflect you, to divide you and doubtless to intimidate you, but you’ve already shown great wisdom and strength.”
Families and survivors devastated by the Dunblane school shooting fought to get all handguns banned — and won. Now they have a message for America pic.twitter.com/B5dTjm4OsM— BuzzFeed UK (@BuzzFeedUK) March 13, 2018
The letter was organized by Mick North, whose 5-year-old was killed in the Dunblane rampage. North has recently devoted his time to gun control efforts in the UK and participated in the creation of the UK Gun Control Network, which BuzzFeed News described as “the first properly organized group to counter the British gun lobby.”
Dunblane is an infamous name in Britain, and those affected by the incident recounted experiencing a restrictive political climate after the shooting.
“The initial reaction was: You can say how devastated you’re feeling and how you’ve lost your lovely child, but you couldn’t say anything about guns. But I did. I mean it was only: ‘No more guns. No more worship of guns,’” North said.
Like the Parkland students now, the Dunblane families faced a well-organised gun lobby, a conservative establishment resistant to a total ban, and accusations that they were politicising the massacre. But they won. There hasn't been a school shooting in Britain since.— Stuart Millar (@stuartmillar159) March 13, 2018
North’s retelling of overcoming a powerful political lobby seeking to suppress discussion of gun control might offer optimism for activists in the U.S. The video and letter are encouraging signs of international solidarity for student activists who have mobilized to call for safety in schools. The changes in Britain signify that systemic change can occur, despite obstacles posed by gun freedom advocates.
But it would be presumptuous to think Britain’s success at strengthening gun control laws and preventing further mass shootings will be quickly mirrored in the U.S.
BuzzFeed News reports that an emotional speech from a Dunblane victim’s mother significantly altered public opinion and bolstered support for gun control legislation. But impassioned speeches have frequently followed mass shootings in the U.S. and have not resulted in significant legislative change. The National Rifle Association’s influence on national politics will likely only be overcome with sustained activism over an extended period of time.