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A deadly 1996 school shooting in the United Kingdom sparked a campaign to change gun laws, which resulted in British lawmakers banning private ownership of handguns.
There has not been another school shooting since the law was changed.
Experts said it is difficult to say that a policy change is the only reason a rare event has not occurred. They also said the U.K. has long had low gun violence rates compared with other industrialized nations.
A deadly mass shooting at a primary school in the United Kingdom spurred lawmakers there to ban private ownership of handguns nearly three decades ago.
A social media post that highlighted the U.K.’s swift response to that shooting — and emphasized that there has not been another school shooting in Britain since — was shared widely following a shooting at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee.
"On March 13, 1996, a gunman murdered 16 students and their teacher at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland," read one March 29 post. "The people in the UK (Scotland, England, Wales) took action. Laws changed and certain types of guns were banned. The level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world. The UK has had ZERO school shootings since they changed their gun laws."
This post and others like it echoed an open letter and video message that survivors of the Dunblane massacre sent in 2018 to students who survived the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida.
"We persuaded British lawmakers not to be swayed by the vested interests of the gun lobby, we asked them to put public safety first and to heed what the majority of the British people wanted," the letter said. "Most politicians listened and acted. Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world. There have been no more school shootings."
Although it was initially penned more than five years ago, the letter’s claim remains accurate. PolitiFact reviewed news reports of mass shootings in the U.K. since 1996 and consulted gun violence researchers; there has not been another school shooting.
But experts hesitated to attribute that solely to legislative changes made after the Dunblane shooting.
Twenty-seven years ago, on March 13, 1996, a gunman with four handguns entered a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and opened fire. He shot and killed a teacher and 16 children. The children were all between ages 5 and 6 years old. Fifteen other people, mostly children, were wounded.
To date, the Dunblane massacre is the deadliest mass shooting in the U.K.
Families of Dunblane victims and survivors advocated for stronger restrictions on gun ownership in the U.K. Their efforts spurred lawmakers to action. In 1997, the U.K. banned high-caliber handguns and, soon after, private possession of handguns.
There have been no other school shootings in the U.K. since the Dunblane attack and subsequent law changes.
Deadly mass shootings have occurred at other U.K. locations besides schools, including:
In 2022, a gunman opened fire at a crowded bar in Wallasey, England, on Christmas Eve, killing one person and wounding four others.
In August 2021, a man shot and killed five people, including his mother and a 3-year-old girl, near his home in Plymouth, England.
In January 2012, a man shot and killed three women and injured another person at a house in Horden, England.
In June 2010, a gunman shot and killed 12 people and injured 11 others while driving through Cumbria, England.
(There is no widely agreed upon definition for mass shooting, so this is not a comprehensive list of all incidents that might be considered mass shootings.)
Philip Alpers, director of GunPolicy.org, a website that compiles data on gun violence and firearm laws, said the U.K. does have one of the lowest rates of gun violence globally. But he cautioned against attributing those low rates to the 1997 law change.
"The U.K. has always had much lower rates of gun death — both gun homicide and suicide — than most other industrialized nations," Alpers said. "But the British rate is still higher than, for example, Japan."
Peter Squires, a gun violence researcher and professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton, said that only one school shooting has occurred in the U.K., but other mass shootings have happened, "so it is conceivable that these could have involved schools if the perpetrators had gone there."
"It is always difficult to make the claim that essentially very rare events have been prevented by legal and policy changes," he said.
A deadly school shooting in the U.K. sparked a campaign that resulted in British lawmakers banning private ownership of handguns. Although it is not definitively because of the handgun ban, there has not been another school shooting since the laws were changed.
The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate this claim Mostly True.
Instagram post, March 29, 2023
Instagram post, March 28, 2023
Email interview with Philip Alpers, director of GunPolicy.org and an associate professor of medicine and health at the University of Sydney, March 31, 2023
Email interview with Peter Squires, professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton and author of Gun Crime in Global Contexts, March 31, 2022
The Washington Post, An elementary school massacre spurred tighter gun control in the U.K., May 27, 2022
The BMJ, Higher rates of mass shootings in US states with more relaxed gun control laws, June 3, 2019
The New York Times, Other countries had mass shootings. Then they changed their gun laws, May 25, 2022
The Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. gun policy: Global comparisons, June 10, 2022
Encyclopedia Britannica, Dunblane school massacre, March 6, 2023
Time, These countries restricted assault weapons after just one mass shooting, May 27, 2022
Snopes, No school shootings in the United Kingdom since handguns were banned? Feb. 16, 2018
The Smithsonian Magazine, How the 1996 Dunblane Massacre pushed the U.K. to enact stricter gun laws, March 12, 2021
YouTube, Dunblane Stands With Parkland - #NeverAgain, March 13, 2018
The Washington Post, Britain’s first mass shooting in more than a decade leaves 5 dead, plus suspected gunman, Aug. 13, 2021
BuzzFeed News, Here’s a powerful letter to Parkland students from the survivors of Britain’s last school massacre, March 13, 2018
NPR, In Britain, it took just one school shooting to pass major gun control, June 1, 2022
NBC News, Dunblane's Snowdrops: How a school shooting changed British gun laws, March 13, 2016
The Independent, Firearms Act: Twenty years on, has it made a difference? Dec. 16, 2017
The Washington Post, Britain votes to ban handguns, June 12, 1997
BBC News, Plymouth shooting: Who can own a firearm or shotgun in the UK? Aug. 16, 2021
The Guardian, Plymouth shooting: burst of savagery that began with an attack on a mother, Feb. 20, 2023
NPR, At least 6 die in Britain’s deadliest mass shooting in more than a decade, Aug. 13, 2021
STV News, Mass shooting is first in Britain for more than ten years, Aug. 13, 2021
Newsweek, The U.K. had its first mass shooting in a decade. The U.S. has had over 3,000 since then, Aug. 13, 2021
BBC News, Police name gunman and three victims in Durham shooting, Jan. 2, 2012
The Guardian, Cumbria shootings: 12 dead as gunman goes on killing spree, June 2, 2010
The Guardian, Cumbria shootings: memorial services for the victims, June 9, 2010
The Conversation, Dunblane 25 years on: how a mass school shooting changed British gun laws, March 11, 2021
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