Knives and Britain


in Law, Politics, Rants, Security, The outdoors

Milan Ilnyckyj outside the Beaux Arts Museum, Montreal

I must admit, I find the ongoing debate about knives in the UK somewhat perplexing. The leader of the Conservative Party wants mandatory jail time for anyone caught carrying one. Editors at the BBC argue that the problem may be overblown. To me, it seems like what people are missing is the fundamental difference between knives and weapons. Obviously, a knife can be used as a weapon. So can a hammer, umbrella, or fork. While we rightly appreciate that it is illegitimate use of the latter that is problematic (and addressed through laws against assault, uttering threats, etc), it seems important to remember that use-as-a-weapon is aberrant, rather than to be expected.

At virtually all times, I have either one or two small folding knives on me: one on the SOG Crosscut on my keychain and a CRKT Kiss in my backpack. When I am travelling or going into the woods, I will often have a Swisstool X with me as well. Probably the most common uses of these are cutting food and paper, though each has been used in dozens of ways. Knives are ancient, highly versatile, and useful tools – one of the first technologies to differentiate the human species from less adaptive animals. Assuming that I am carrying either as a weapon strikes me as unfair, as well as a reversal of the presumption of innocence. The onus must be on the authorities to prove malicious intent, rather than upon the individual to prove their intentions benign.

On a side note, all of this is very different for guns, particularly handguns. The only plausible use for a handgun is as a weapon. One never goes on a picnic and regrets the lack of one. Restricting the ownership and carrying of guns is an entirely reasonable restriction, as a manifestation of their nature.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah July 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

My mother said something similar because she carries at least one sharp knife up to her allotment each day to cut vegetables (and some scary garden shears). I suspect that not many middle class kids get harassed by police as it is & that likely wouldn’t change, but undoubtedly some will get into trouble for carrying normal penknives.
I carried a penkinfe on my keychain throughout high school & was more than once referred to the ‘Head of Discipline’ to have it confiscated – luckily, he carried a penknife too & sent me away good naturedly each time.

Milan July 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

I dislike when governments decide to pass a law, then count on the police not to enforce it in circumstances where it is obviously unjust. I recall the British government doing something of the kind a few years ago, with a bill that would have criminalized consensual kissing between people under the age of 12.

Milan July 20, 2008 at 11:36 am

“Even teenage “canoodling” is now criminalised under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which forbids under-16s from engaging in any sexual activity, though police and prosecutors have been issued with guidance to ignore the law where it seems to them appropriate to do so.

A solicitor, writing to this newspaper recently, told how he had to deal with the case of two teenagers arrested on suspicion of mutual indecent assault, following a complaint by social workers. The case was dropped, though the children had to spend time in custody late at night.”

Anon July 20, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Your terrifying association with knives is well documented.

. July 21, 2008 at 11:44 am

Scary Knife Makes for Great Newspaper Headlines

Who can not feel a little chill of fear after reading this: “Britain on alert for deadly new knife with exploding tip that freezes victims’ organs.”

Yes, it’s real. The knife is designed for people who need to drop large mammals quickly: sharks, bears, etc.

I have no idea why Britain is on alert for it, though.

Sarah July 21, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Law enforcement inevitably relies on the discretion of police and prosecutors, because we have neither the resources nor the desire to intervene upon every illicit act. Often the intent of the law is both to “send a message” to the public and to empower the police (and thereafter prosecutors, courts etc) to intervene in severe cases, but nobody intended that the police would intervene in every single case. For instance, taking $5 from your mom’s purse to buy ice cream is theft unless she has given you permission, but almost nobody would recommend criminalising children for such behaviour. In contrast, taking $50 from your mom’s purse to spend on something of which she firmly disaproves and would never agree to fund (eg. booze or drugs) would generally be regarded as a theft worthy of criminalisation.

Milan July 21, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Isn’t Cameron asking for precisely the abandonment of discretion? “Carry a knife, go to jail.”

That hardly seems in keeping with a tradition of good sense policing, nor with the basic rights that comprise the core of western legal systems.

Sarah July 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Isn’t Cameron asking for precisely the abandonment of discretion? “Carry a knife, go to jail.”

I don’t think that’s what Cameron is calling for and even if he were it likely wouldn’t happen because procedures that the police & prosecutors dislike or consider too minor, time-consuming and/or expensive tend not to be fully implemented (eg. the California Three Strikes provisions, the prohibition on drink driving). I am particularly sceptical about enforcing a prohibition on knife carrying because they are unlikely to be noticed by police unless either a) the knife is used to attack or threaten someone, in which case more serious charges than possessing a knife could be made, or b) the police condict a search of the person & their belongings, which is illegal on non-terrorism grounds unless they have cause to believe you have commited a crime. Such searches are also very unpopular with the individuals & communities concerned, and if we were all liable to police searches for ill-founded suspicions of having a knife then there would be public outcry and a spate of legal challenges.

However, these problems are unlikely to apply (at least on a wide scale) because the BBC article on Cameron’s statement indicates that his intent is selective, saying:
‘He urged police to exercise “common sense” by not prosecuting people carrying penknives for angling, or for bringing home kitchen or garden equipment from the shops. “This is about kitchen knives stuffed down the front of tracksuits,” he told The Sun.’

Milan December 12, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Now the UK wants to take away chefs’ knives. It is becoming easier for me to understand the vitriolic opposition people in the US have to being forced to surrender ‘weapons.’

Sarah December 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Saying “the UK wants to take away chef’s knives” is simply inaccurate hyperbole. A few individuals are cited as holding this view, which the BBC article plainly states is a minority opinion with clear drawbacks and which they do not suggest is being considered as an issue of government policy. If any perspective discussed anywhere in the Canadian media were described as “Now Canada wants to…” then I suspect you would object.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm

The fact that they are even discussing it strikes me as childish.

“If you are the sort of person who flies into insane rages and threatens people with knives, consider replacing your sharp-tipped ones with dull ones.”

Milan December 12, 2008 at 8:39 pm

The article features this quotation:

“But as it stands, you can go into a supermarket and buy for £10 something that’s a murder weapon – no questions asked.”

Why, for just a dollar or so, you can go to a petrol station and buy a litre of highly flammable fluid! Baseball and cricket bats require no background checks! Bottles which can be broken and used to stab people are available in high school cafeterias!

John December 13, 2008 at 8:37 am

This is ridiculous, gasoline doesn’t kill people, people kill people. With Knives! Do you want your children thinking it’s ok to carry murder weapons around? That it’s just “up to them” to use knives responsibly? What kind of world would that be, where we alot people all that freedom. Wouldn’t it be better to just eliminate the unpleasant and maximize good consequences?

Milan December 13, 2008 at 11:31 am

You know what else ought to be phased out? Sharp edges. Rain. Bicycles.

If we just picture ourselves as infants, with the state as our mother, we will end up living much safer lives.

Milan December 13, 2008 at 11:40 am

Joking aside, I do recognize that it was unfair to say that ‘Britain’ wanted to do this.

Supporters listed in the article include Ian Blair, chief of the Metropolitan Police, TV chef Anthony Worrall Thompson, Mothers Against Knives , and some academics.

. January 4, 2009 at 8:15 pm

UK Police To Step Up Hacking of Home PCs

“The Times of London reports that the United Kingdom’s Home office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant. The move, which follows a decision by the European Union’s council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state that drives ‘a coach and horses’ through privacy laws.”

. February 18, 2009 at 1:01 pm

The blunt truth

Feb 18th 2009
Most knives could be much safer yet still do their job

COULD household knives be made less dangerous without being made less useful? In countries such as Britain, where the latest figures suggest that 30% of murders are committed with knives or other sharp instruments, many of which have come out of a kitchen drawer, that is a pertinent question. It is one that Sarah Hainsworth, a forensic-engineering specialist at the University of Leicester, asked herself.

The answer that she and her colleagues at Britain’s Forensic Pathology Unit have now come up with is “Yes”. Using a pig’s carcass, which is similar in some ways to a human’s, Dr Hainsworth and her team studied the wounds made by different blades falling from a height that was adjusted, depending on the weight of the knife, to result in the same force. The team looked at four of a knife’s properties—the radius of the tip, the shape of the tip, the thickness of the blade and the sharpness of the edge—in order to determine what was doing the most damage.

. September 8, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Scouts in the UK are no longer allowed to bring penknives on camping trips because they have been deemed too dangerous. Traditionally scouts have learned knife safety skills, using them to cut firewood or make tools. Dave Budd, a knife-maker who runs courses training Scouts about the safe use of blades wrote, “Sadly, there is now confusion about when a Scout is allowed to carry a knife. The series of high-profile fatal stabbings [has] highlighted a growing knife culture in the UK. I think it is safest to assume that knives of any sort should not be carried by anybody to a Scout meeting or camp, unless there is likely to be a specific need for one. In that case, they should be kept by the Scout leaders and handed out as required.” There is no doubt that soon scouts will get rid of their tents for large sound-proof lucite containers, which will be able to protect the children from the horrors of campfire embers, bug bites and foul language.

. October 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Tucked discreetly away on a Birmingham back street, NABIS has become a key weapon in the fight against gun crime. In a nearby laboratory, and in hubs in Glasgow, London and Manchester, the staff of around 40 identify firearms using the marks left on the bullets from them, using a database to determine whether they are from known guns. Where the bullet is found but not the gun, they list it as an “inferred weapon”. When a gun is found, they fire it and check the bullets’ markings to see if they match previous shootings.

Ballistics intelligence has improved recently in two ways. First, it is faster. Previously, months could pass before police officers knew if a gun had been used before, says Iain O’Brien, the head of NABIS. Now NABIS can tell them within 24 hours.

Second, the general intelligence is better. When it is sent a gun, NABIS identifies every occasion it has been used, no matter when or where, and tells all relevant forces. In the past, forensic scientists would tell investigators about recent cases but earlier ones might slip through the net. NABIS has thus been able to put together a national picture of trends in the availability, supply and use of firearms.

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