Notes From Dunblane: Lessons from a School Shooting – an essay

It’s a little difficult to talk about this film without first disclaiming my specific personal connection to the events that caused it to exist. I grew up in the Scottish city of Dunblane for the majority of my childhood and attended the school in which the infamous shooting occurred, which took the lives of 16 young children and their teacher. All innocent, and all gunned down mercilessly by a crazed lunatic with legally owned firearms. This tragedy resulted in the government taking immediate effect to drastically reform gun ownership laws, banning the public’s ability to own handguns and various other firearms. This radical redressing of the law was witnessed internationally and remains one of, if not the, largest action on gun ownership the world has ever seen.

In this short documentary, the Dunblane Massacre is contrasted with the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012 by showing the correspondence between two reverends on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, discussing how they themselves have dealt with hearing out the tsunami of trauma that inevitably comes from events such as these. It’s a perspective I’ve never really seen put to film (aside from arguably Paul Schrader’s First Reformed) or ever really considered, so hearing the reverends described their punished mental wellbeings after this event is heartbreaking. They both had to bury countless children in quick succession, so of course, that would have an effect on a person. The things both have to say about their situations are refreshingly human when compared to the constant ‘thoughts and prayers’ seen on every anniversary. These two men have endured more grief from these incidents than perhaps anyone, and you can tell how much they are still haunted so many years on.

The documentary makes sure to point out how strange it is that the UK reacted immediately to their incident, while the US still endure school shootings to this day. There’s an incredibly affecting moment where the Dunblane reverend gives a speech on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, and the editor cleverly overlayed that with the speech he gave immediately following the Dunblane incident, and the speech is exactly the same, word for word. It’s a little eerie how 22 years on, it still feels as though nothing has changed. These shootings will continue to happen unless action is taken.

This documentary was affecting in a more particular way, in that there came a point where I realised something: I recognised things. I recognised some of the teachers, I recognised a lot of the areas, and I even recognised the reverend, who I remembered listening to as me and my classmates sat in the town cathedral every year at Christmastime. I remember standing at the memorial every year on the 13th of March, as the whole world collectively mourned the dead. As a young child, I never got why we did all of that, but now I understand. It was never just about paying our respects – we remembered every year so that we wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

There was a point while I was watching this film where I stopped and thought for a moment. What if the shooter had waited a few years? What if he only convinced himself to commit that horrible act after another decade or so? What if one day my mum dropped me off at 9am, only for her to receive a call just half an hour later informing her that a madman had infiltrated the school gym and gunned down me and the rest of my class. What if it had been my brother just a couple years later? Hell, what if the man had decided to attack the other school in the town instead? I suppose my point here is it was only a matter of time. It never should have happened, and the same thing can be said about every school shooting that continues to happen in the United States. Every time an incident like this happens in America, I’m reminded of Dunblane and it gives me a slither of hope.

Because one day, it will get better. I promise.


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