MP calls for gun law debate following Horden shootings

Police cordon around house in Horden Image copyright PA
Image caption The shootings at this house in Horden have left the community searching for explanations

There are many challenging aspects in the day-to-day life of being an MP.

But there's very little that can prepare you for the day a traumatic event affects the area you represent.

That's what Easington's Grahame Morris has had to do since the news broke of the shootings at Horden in his constituency.

Michael Atherton's shooting of his partner, her sister, and her cousin, and finally himself on New Year's Day has focused national media attention on County Durham.

It has also left the community struggling to understand how it could have happened.

Balancing act

The local MP then has to somehow combine various roles in these circumstances.

He or she has to somehow respond to the media, reflect the mood of the community, and consider whether there are lessons that can be learned from something which has only just happened.

It's a potentially delicate balancing act. It's seen as part of your job to be visible, but become too prominent and outspoken, and you could be seen as exploiting a tragedy for political purposes.

Image caption Copeland MP Jamie Reed won praise for the way he responded when Derrick Bird killed 12 of his constituents

No easy task then.

It was something Copeland MP Jamie Reed had to cope with in 2010 when taxi driver Derrick Bird killed 12 people in West Cumbria.

An unimaginable challenge faced him, one which you hope never to face.

But he attracted much admiration for the measured and reflective way he responded to the shootings.

He refused to make knee jerk calls for new laws, and did not seek to rush to judgement in an era when we all crave instant explanation.

His focus remained on the victims' families, and he wasn't afraid of condemning media behaviour when he perceived it was intrusive rather than reflective.

Fresh debate

Grahame Morris is facing up to the same challenge, and has written his own blog to give a considered reaction to what happened in Horden.

Image caption Easington MP Grahame Morris has had to respond to and reflect on the shootings in his constituency

He has also taken a measured approach. Of course, inevitably his first thought is for the mourning families.

The MP too is a shocked member of the community, having gone to school a mile from Horden.

But he does believe there also needs to be a fresh debate on gun law to see if there are lessons to learn.

It has become clear that Michael Atherton came to the attention of police in 2008. They briefly removed his weapons before returning them to him.

He held six valid gun licences before his death. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is now investigating those gun licensing issues.

But Grahame Morris does believe policy makers also need to reflect on the implications of the shootings.

In his blog he says: "Important issues in this debate must be the consideration of whether firearms should be kept in domestic premises in any situation.

"Once issued, gun licences are valid for five years and determining a person's continued suitability to possess firearms over this period raises further difficulties.

"As we go forward in the wake of this terrible tragedy it is appropriate that there should be a public debate over whether gun laws should be reviewed.

"This does not mean the law should or will be changed; ultimately that is a matter for parliament and government following a sober review of the current protections in legislation."

Gun licences

He also talks about the need to consider the impact and implications of depression in communities.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Floral tributes have been placed outside the house in Horden where four people died

He says: "It is essential that the symptoms are recognised and that people receive the right treatment and support.

"There is a strong argument that removing gun licences in these situations should become a matter of course."

Of course, the challenges facing an MP in these circumstances are dwarfed by the impact on the families of those who have died.

But at a time when it is fashionable to rubbish our politicians, it is interesting to note that we still do look for them to represent a community and reflect our feelings at a time of tragedy.

It is to their credit that so many manage to rise to that challenge.