Thomas Watt Hamilton's Possible Motives For Carrying Out The Dunblane Massacre

On March 13, 1996, Thomas Watt Hamilton made his way into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire (via Smithsonian Magazine). Armed with four handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition that he had legally purchased, Britannica writes that he walked into the school's gym while several kindergarten students and their teacher were attending physical education. Although the attack lasted less than five minutes, Hamilton shot and killed 17 people before turning the gun on himself (an injured child died afterward, bringing the total dead to 18). His victims included 17 children between the ages of 5 and 6 and their 45-year-old teacher, Gwen Mayor. Hamilton also wounded 15 other people.

Now known as the Dunblane massacre, NPR states that it's considered to be the U.K.'s deadliest mass shooting. Per The Guardian, Hamilton was a local 43-year-old man that was formerly a boy scout leader. Britannica explains that he arrived at the school at 9:30 a.m. and cut the cables on the telephone pole before making his way into the school. Hamilton proceeded to shoot inside of the gym first before shooting at students in a hallway, classroom, and library cloakroom. He then went back into the gym to kill himself. 

Tragically, the motives for Hamilton's actions are still being questioned (per Smithsonian Magazine). According to The Independent, he was a troubled man that was raised to believe that his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister. Nevertheless, the publication explains that Hamilton was not disgruntled by his family life — he was infuriated that his reputation had been tarnished.

He was accused of misconduct

Per Britannica, Thomas Watt Hamilton became a boy scout leader when he was only 20 years old. However, The Independent reports that by the age of 22, he had been asked to leave the organization. Although it's unknown what exactly triggered this dismissal, Britannica notes that it's believed that Hamilton acted inappropriately toward the boys. He continuously tried to return to the boy scouts to no avail. Ultimately, this threw Hamilton over the edge as rumors persisted that he was a pedophile. Meanwhile, he ventured into establishing his own boy's clubs while fighting with officials for over two decades about his banishment from the boy scouts.

According to The Herald, Hamilton believed that the organization was against him and had contributed to his downfall in the local community. The publication explains that seven letters were written for Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth and parents outlining his grievances. Hamilton, who lived in Dunblane, targeted the school and its teachers. Per The Independent), he described himself as being a victim of a "sinister witch-hunt." Hamilton believed that they had labeled him as a pedophile, which he said ruined his name and the boy's club organization that he had founded.

He wrote (per The Herald), "I have always run my clubs in a fair, proper and competent manner and ensured that no child or parent has any proper or legitimate complaint. Nevertheless, this defamation coming from the respected source of local primary school staff has caused untold problems everywhere within the region and beyond."

The Dunblane Massacre led to gun reform

Per The Herald, Thomas Watt Hamilton also wrote a letter to the queen in which he described his rancor toward the boy scouts, including his belief that they had perpetuated rumors about him being a pedophile. He noted that he believed the organization was envious that he had started his own boy's club. In his eyes, this led to his club being banned from holding meetings at Dunblane High School in 1983. The Independent writes that the police received several complaints from multiple parents regarding his inappropriate behavior. In fact, the publication states that several boys that knew Hamilton referred to him as "Mr. Creepy."

One incident involved having eight boys sleep in his van during a camping trip when he had told their parents he had booked a hostel. Nevertheless, in the face of such accusations, he was able to rally support from local officials, including the ombudsman, gun-club managers, and gun-shop owners. In the end, police could not find any evidence regarding the accusations against him, so Hamilton was cleared of any wrongdoing (via The Independent). Although The Herald points out that this evidence does not fully provide a reason for Hamilton enacting the massacre, it does provide context for his horrific actions. Britannica explains that Hamilton began to collect guns after he was eventually dismissed from the boy scouts. 

That being said, Smithsonian Magazine reports that there is a silver lining to the Dunblane massacre — gun reform. According to NPR, Parliament banned private ownership of most handguns and semi-automatic weapons. Additionally, shotgun owners are now required to register their weapons. Since the Dunblane massacre, there has not been another school shooting in the U.K.