The Hungerford Massacre
It was Wednesday, market day in the quiet Berkshire town of Hungerford: August 19, a nice English summerís afternoon, with the children on holiday and the sun shining for them. Michael Ryan, born and bred in the town, chose that day to go on a deadly rampage that would see him murder 16 people and injure 15 more.
Ryan was a gun-collector: he had gained a shotgun license when he was 18; then the year before his murder-spree he was given another firearm license entitling him to own two pistols; in April 1987 he was enabled to add another pistol to his growing arsenal; on July 30 his application to hold two semi-automatic rifles went through. When Ryan turned killer the local police were completely outgunned by him, as were the Tactical Firearms Unit sent to confront him in the school where he eventually barricaded himself in and committed suicide: he used a Kalashnikov copy; an M1 carbine; and a Beretta semi-automatic pistol during the rampage.
British gun laws were changed in light of the incident - though Ryan had concerned police officers involved in gun license checks, their powers to prevent him owning such weapons were limited. It remains unclear precisely what made Ryan snap that day, beginning his slaughter with the cold-blooded execution-style shooting of a woman picnicking with her children before collecting more weapons and roaming the town killing at random, but his profile sadly fitted the stereotype for such murderers: a loner; a failure; the only child of a cold father and indulgent mother; someone who got a feeling of power from owning guns. The law changes did not prevent Thomas Hamilton nine years later carrying out a massacre at Dunblane with legally held weapons.
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