Friday, May 27, 2005

Knife Control in the United Kingdom

When I heard Neal Boortz this morning make an off-hand comment about a proposal in Britain to ban sharp-pointed kitchen knives, I thought he was just kidding -- just a joke at the expense of Britain's recent laws making self-defense illegal.

Then I found a post at the QandO Blog pointing to a New York Times article that confirms the story that Boortz told:

The authors of an editorial in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal have called for knife reform. The editorial, "Reducing knife crime: We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives," notes that the knives are being used to stab people as well as roasts and the odd tin of Spam.

The authors of the essay - Drs. Emma Hern, Will Glazebrook and Mike Beckett of the West Middlesex University Hospital in London - called for laws requiring knife manufacturers to redesign their wares with rounded, blunt tips.

The researchers noted that the rate of violent crime in Britain rose nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2004, and that in the first two weeks of 2005, 15 killings and 16 nonfatal attacks involved stabbings. In an unusual move for a scholarly work, the researchers cited a January headline from The Daily Express, a London tabloid: "Britain is in the grip of knives terror - third of murder victims are now stabbed to death." Dr. Hern said that "we came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot" to get people talking about crime reduction. "Whether it's a sensible solution to this problem or not, I'm not sure."

In the United States, where people are more likely to debate gun control than knife control, partisans on both sides sounded amused. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, asked, "Are they going to have everybody using plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airlines?"

Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun control, joked, "Can sharp stick control be far behind?" He said people in his movement were "envious" of England for having such problems. "In America, we can't even come to an agreement that guns are dangerous and we should make them safer," he said.
The response in England to this ridiculous proposal -- could it be satire? -- was predictably cool. The Yorkshire Post reported that "police in Yorkshire last night called the idea impractical, unenforceable and even slightly silly." The newspaper cited two prominent police officials who questioned the wisdom of the doctors' recommendation:
[The] president of the Police Superintendents Association, Rick Naylor, a South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent, said the idea was "slightly silly".

He said: "I can see the doctors' point but it would be absolutely tortuous for any law enforcer to try to put down that law in writing.

"I think we would end up catching people who should not be caught and perhaps letting those who should be caught get away."

The chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, Tom McGhie, agreed.

"I would support anything which takes weapons out of the hands of people who use them to do harm to others. But although this is a good idea in principle, it's probably impractical and unenforceable in practice."
If this latest proposal is in fact some sort of parody, it's not hard to see why. The left-leaning quality paper, The Guardian, explains:
The Home Office said the law already prohibited the possession of knives in a public place without good reason, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding 8cm (3in). The government has also announced plans to make knives harder to buy and to raise the minimum age for ownership from 16 to 18.

And don't think that the writers for the British Medical Journal were not comprehensive in their research. They went to great lengths to determine that pointy kitchen knives were unnecessary even in the kitchen. They interviewed fifteen -- that's 15 -- chefs. Surely that is the majority of users of kitchen knives in Britain. Here's the full passage from their article, just so you don't think I'm making this up (emphasis added)
Perhaps the pointed kitchen knife has a culinary purpose that we have failed to appreciate? We contacted 10 chefs in the UK who are well known from their media activities and chefs working in the kitchens of five leading London restaurants. Some commented that a point is useful in the fine preparation of some meat and vegetables, but that this could be done with a short pointed knife (less than 5 cm in length). None gave a reason why the long pointed knife was essential. Domestic knife manufacturers (Harrison-Fisher Knife Company, England, personal communication, 2005) admit that their designs are based on traditional shapes and could give no functional reason why long pointed knives are needed. The average life of a kitchen knife is estimated to be about 10 years.

And if this methodology is not inadequate enough, it's probably also an exaggeration. According to The Scotsman:
The doctors claimed they had consulted leading chefs who said the knives were not needed for cooking - a claim disputed by chefs contacted by The Scotsman.

* * *

Restaurateurs and chefs reacted angrily to suggestions of banning kitchen knives. Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, said: "Kitchen knives are designed for a purpose. It would be like asking a surgeon to perform an operation with a bread knife instead of a scalpel. Anything in the house like a cricket bat could be used as weapon in the hands of an idiot."
In addition to law enforcement officials and chefs who see the idiocy in this proposal, even leading doctors question it. The Glasgow Evening Times quotes Rudy Crawford of that city's Royal Infirmary:
"I would rather focus more on the culture of carrying weapons rather than trying to ban them.

"I would have thought a ban would be very difficult to implement.

"And what else would you outlaw - screwdrivers? We see a lot of people stabbed by them."

Perhaps what is most disturbing about this proposal is that it is taken seriously in a Britain that has abandoned the historical right of the people to keep and bear arms, a right enshrined in the British Bill of Rights of 1689 and described quite clearly by the Recorder of London (that is, the city attorney of London) in 1780, just eleven years before the same right was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution:
The right of his majesty's Protestant subjects, to have arms for their own defence, and to use them for lawful purposes, is most clear and undeniable. It seems, indeed, to be considered, by the ancient laws of this kingdom, not only as a right, but as a duty; for all the subjects of the realm, who are able to bear arms, are bound to be ready, at all times, to assist the sheriff, and other civil magistrates, in the execution of the laws and the preservation of the public peace. And that right, which every Protestant most unquestionably possesses, individually, may, and in many cases must, be exercised collectively, is likewise a point which I conceive to be most clearly established by the authority of judicial decisions and ancient acts of parliament, as well as by reason and common sense.
(I found that illuminating quotation in a review by David Kopel of Joyce Lee Malcolm's 1994 book, To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right.)

It's a sad day indeed when an ancient and respected right is replaced by nannyism and disdain for personal responsibility.

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