The Hungerford massacre occurred in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, on 19 August 1987. The gunman, 27-year-old Michael Robert Ryan, armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, then fatally shot himself. A report on this incident was commissioned by the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, from the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Colin Smith. It remains, along with the 1996 Dunblane massacre and the 2010 Cumbria shootings, one of the worst criminal atrocities involving firearms in British history.
The massacre was used as the reasoning to pass the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricted the use of shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than three rounds. The Hungerford Report had demonstrated that Ryan's collection of weapons was legally licensed.
The perpetrator of the Hungerford massacre was 27-year-old Michael Robert Ryan, an unemployed labourer and antiques dealer. He was born at Savernake Hospital in Marlborough, Wiltshire, near Hungerford, Berkshire on 18 May 1960. Ryan was an only child, and his father, Alfred Henry Ryan, was 55 years old when Michael was born. Alfred Ryan died in Swindon, Wiltshire, in May 1985 at the age of 80. At the time of the shooting, Ryan lived with his mother, Dorothy, a dinner lady at the local primary school. There was extensive press comment on this, suggesting the relationship was 'unhealthy' and that Ryan was "spoiled" by his mother. A Guardian headline described Ryan as a "mummy's boy".
In the days following the massacre, the British tabloid press was filled with stories about Ryan's life. Press biographies all stated that he had a near-obsessive fascination with firearms. The majority claimed that Ryan possessed magazines about survival skills and firearms, Soldier of Fortune being frequently named. Press reports claimed that he was obsessed with the Rambo film First Blood, which was erroneously described as featuring events similar to the Hungerford massacre, when in fact there was no evidence that Ryan even owned a video recorder, let alone that he had seen the film. Sylvester Stallone stated "I carry the can for every lunatic in the world who goes crazy with a gun...but it wasn’t Rambo who sent Michael Ryan mad. In fact Rambo is the opposite of people like Ryan. He is always up against stronger opposition and never shoots first. Murderers are always saying, "God told me to kill" or "Jesus ordered me to kill" - so should the rest of us stop praying? There are always sick people out there who will hang their illness on to your hook."
Ryan's true motives are unknown, and as he and his mother both died in the massacre it is unlikely that they will ever be known. Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital and Dr Jim Higgins, a consultant forensic psychiatrist for Mersey Regional Health Authority, both thought he was schizophrenic and psychotic. Hamilton stated "Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him." The local vicar the Reverend David Salt said on the first anniversary of the massacre "No one has ever explained why Michael Ryan did what he did. And that’s because, in my opinion, it is not something that can be explained."
Licensed firearms ownership.
Ryan had been issued a shotgun certificate in 1978, and on 11 December 1986 he was granted a firearms certificate covering the ownership of two pistols. He later applied to have the certificate amended to cover a third pistol, as he intended to sell one of the two he had acquired since the granting of the certificate, and to buy two more. This was approved on 30 April 1987. On 14 July he applied for another variation, to cover two semi-automatic rifles, which was approved on 30 July. At the time of the massacre, he was in licensed possession of the following weapons:
- Zabala shotgun
- Browning shotgun
- Beretta 92FS semi-automatic 9 mm pistol
- CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32 pistol
- "Type 56" 7.62x39mm semi-automatic rifle (Chinese copy of the Kalashnikov AK-47)
- M1 Carbine .30 7.62x33mm semi-automatic rifle (a rare "Underwood" model)