...they gave me a prize for Dunblane. To this day, I have never understood why I am the only person I know who finds the fact unsettling.
Facts: In mid-March of 1996 Thomas Hamilton, 43, warped, morally crippled, dead in his soul, certainly disgusting, the suicide-in-waiting who should have done us all a favour in the privacy of his own nightmare, went into the precincts of Dunblane primary, and into the gym class, with all his precious sex-toy handguns.
He killed 16 infants, then their teacher, then himself. He accomplished all this with four weapons, in three short minutes. Lots of official things - never adequately explained, for my money - had gone wrong before the event. Somehow that ceased to be the point. Half the world was staggered, but Scotland went into a state of near-clinical shock. The human ability even to begin to pretend to comprehend was defeated....
....I allowed myself two simple, possibly simplistic, strategies. First, I was not ever going to attempt to "explain" Hamilton: the bereaved deserved better. Secondly, in my small way, I was going to take on anyone who failed to support the banning of handguns.
There was a lot of American comment, predictably, and much of it abusive. The clichés appeared as if by return of post. "Guns don't kill people," they wrote. "People kill people." So why - this struck me almost as the definition of self-evident - did Thomas Hamilton feel a need for four of the damnable things?
Then the Duke of Edinburgh, and the field sports people, and the target shooters entered the fray. The royal consort, with his usual sensitivity, expressed the view that things were getting out of hand, and that a more considered response was required. I can clobber royals in my sleep.
The most troubling questions came, instead, from those who answered my simplicities with one of their own. They didn't oppose a ban, as such. They merely wanted to know why I was so sure that legislation would work.
That seemed obvious. It even seemed faintly stupid to think otherwise. No guns, no gun-killings. Remove the threat: wasn't that one of the jobs of government?
Sceptics were more subtle than I allowed. What they meant was that it is easy to impose laws on the law-abiding. Criminals, by definition, don't take much interest in well-meaning legislation. If they chose to arm themselves while the rest of society was, in effect, disarming, outraged newspaper commentators and their quick fixes might merely make matters worse.
I'm still not convinced, or not entirely. A rueful young man in Los Angeles told me once that his city boasted more cars than people, and more guns than cars. "Current population?" he added. "Eleven million, give or take." To him, the notion of a country patrolled by unarmed police officers was a kind of fantastic dream. To him, equally, the fact that nice kids could lay hands on the family pistol - bought for "self-defence" - and die while simply messing around in the back yard was not an example to be envied, or copied.
"You know what guns do?" he asked. "They go off. You know what guns are for? To kill. That's their purpose. Only the rhetoric is harmless."
Back then, I believed every word. America had, and has, too many of the instruments that Thomas Hamilton found so alluring. Yet almost 11 years on, what do I read, and what do I say?
I read of three London teenagers murdered in the space of 11 days. I read of firearms "incidents" spreading like an epidemic across our cities. I read of Tony Blair holding a Downing Street summit on a crisis that seems - call me naive - a greater threat to many communities than any terrorism.
What I say then becomes obvious: my idea didn't work
. In fact, I begin to thread certain fears together, like links in a chain. Here's one: if even London teenagers can provide themselves with the means to kill 15-year-old Billy Cox in his bedroom, guns have become commonplace, so commonplace that every would-be terrorist worth his salt must be armed to the teeth. Bans have failed utterly.
.......If that last word still means anything, however, then we are all, in fact, culpable. Who turned Thomas Hamilton into a beast? God isn't talking. That leaves the rest of us. I cling, nevertheless, to one near-instinctive conclusion from 11 years ago. Guns breed guns. When they enter a society they multiply like a pestilence.
Let's concede that all the bans have failed. That doesn't mean we should also fail to ask a practical question. Britain has become a security state in recent years. Nobody strolls unmolested through customs these days. There are terrorist suspects, so they say, at every turn. So why, precisely, are handguns still getting into this country?