It was an embarrassment the British Government could have done without as a group of Tory MPs this week jumped the gun and, following their own inquiry into the Dunblane massacre, came out against the banning of pistols in Britain. Five months to the day since Thomas Hamilton went crazy in the local primary school and shot dead 16 children and their teacher, six members of the Home Affairs select committee decided a ban on handguns would be a bad thing. The minority five Labour members of the committee thought otherwise, published their own report recommending a ban and Labour leaders made clear that if they win the general election they will bring in legislation for one. The Tories' decision was met by shock, disgust and revulsion in the Scottish town. John Crozier, whose daughter Emma was a victim, said the committee had bowed to the gun lobby. 'I cannot believe this insult to the children and their teacher,' he said. The irony is that when Lord Cullen, who has been carrying out the official inquiry into the massacre, produces his own report next month he may very well recommend a ban on handguns, and if he does so then the government and all its MPs will be expected to duly vote in favour. The conclusions of the select committee have been met by a barrage of complaints from police officers, doctors, other MPs and the public where an opinion poll showed 79 per cent favour blanket legislation against handguns. Observers are pointing to the marked difference between the British MPs' attitude, and the speed with which the Australian Federal Government forced an overall clampdown on all firearms following the Tasmanian massacre of 35 people in Port Arthur. Relatives of the Dunblane victims were critical of the MPs coming out against a ban before the result of the inquiry is published. Duncan McLennan, father of Abigail, five, commented: 'The way to minimise the risk to the best extent is to make the private ownership of handguns illegal. It's as simple as that.' Thomas Hamilton used a 9mm Browning pistol among other weapons and, with the use of firearms in other crimes growing rapidly in Britain, calls for the public to be allowed handguns have, apart from shooting clubs, been muted. A ban would effectively end pistol shooting as a sport. It would also have trade and employment implications and compensation - possibly as much as GBP140 million (HK$1.67 billion) - might have to be paid to owners. The Association of Chief Police Officers pronounced itself 'extremely disappointed' by the report's rejection of even a partial ban on handguns. There were dissenting voices, too, within the Conservative Party. Former Tory minister David Mellor said the whole affair had been mishandled 'at most levels of the Conservative Party'. In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard got state police ministers to agree to tough new gun laws within two weeks of the Tasmanian massacre. In contrast to the embarrassment his own MPs have just caused John Major, the Australian gun laws were a triumph for Mr Howard's new administration. In many states, there was no gun registration and ordering a machine gun by mail was quite legal. The issue in Australia was not one of handguns, which are not widely available, but of powerful rifles kept by farmers. Up to two million are thought to be in circulation, one for every five Australians. By contrast, the issue in Britain is one of the control of weapons increasingly used by either crazies or urban criminals in a growing inner city gun culture. Some Australian state parliaments, ironically including Tasmania, have attempted to water down the reforms. Mr Howard has the upper hand, though; he has threatened a referendum to transfer states' powers over firearms to the Federal Government. John Major, by contrast, has allowed himself to be held hostage to whatever fortune Lord Cullen throws his way. If Lord Cullen stops short of calling for a handgun ban, then the public voice which has been muted so far may well grow stronger at a time when an election is growing nearer. If he recommends one, and the government accepts it, then he may well be faced with an embarrassing backbench revolt.