By Jean Morgan
Regional newspapers around the country are claiming their campaigns for tighter controls on airguns prompted Home Secretary David Blunkett’s tough new gun laws.
The age limit for owning an airgun has been raised from 14 to 17 and the carrying of replica guns has been banned.
The Evening Chronicle, Newcastle, conducted a 14-month campaign after 15-year-old schoolgirl Nicola Diston was left blind in one eye after being shot in an airgun attack.
More than 21,000 readers signed a Chronicle petition delivered to 10 Downing Street calling on the Government to raise the age limit for using airguns and for a licensing scheme.
A delegation led by Gateshead MP Joyce Quin and Chronicle deputy editor Murray Morse met Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth to press for urgent changes to the law.
The Chronicle’s campaign was backed by Nicola’s local authority, Gateshead Council.
The Evening Gazette, Teesside, began its “Ban Young Guns” campaign in June after 14-year-old Matthew Sheffield was accidentally shot dead with a .22 rifle by a 13-year-old friend.
Prime Minister Tony Blair was shown a dossier of stories illustrating the dangers of airguns when he visited the Evening Gazette in July and was handed petitions signed by more than 4,000 readers.
Both papers have won praise for their efforts, from Nicola’s mother and Matthew’s father in particular, and from local MPs, organisations and the police.
While signalling that the Chronicle would continue to campaign for an airguns licensing scheme in which owners will have to hold a licence and register with the police, Chronicle editor Paul Robertson said: “We have lobbied the Home Office consistently and are delighted the Government has listened to and acted on the arguments put forward by our readers. The campaign shows newspapers can make a difference.”
Evening Gazette editor Steve Dyson said: “This was a real example of how papers can connect with their communities.
“When we launched the Ban Young Guns campaign, it wasn’t a trickle of petitions that came through the post, it was an avalanche.
“I’m now really proud of our readers for the way they helped persuade the Government that a change in the law was necessary.” The Citizen, Gloucester, is also convinced of the success of its campaign. Its headline on the gun law news was “The Citizen gets action”. The campaign, which saw a petition bearing hundreds of names being presented to the House of Commons, began in November after a local headmaster called for a ban on BB (pellet) guns when a pupil at his school accidentally shot a 12-year-old girl in the face, nearly blinding her.
The Citizen joined the headmaster and local MP Parmjit Dhanda to campaign for what it described as a “vital change in the law”.
Editor Ian Mean’s leader welcoming the new restrictions on guns said: “It just goes to show the power of public opinion is as powerful as ever – perhaps even more powerful than the gun itself.”