Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Some points about knives

Some points about knives
(and what our Council can do to help)

At a recent meeting of the Hebburn Community Area Forum, Councillor Allan Kerr (pictured) said

"You can buy anything from a penknife to a samurai sword in places like South Tyneside.
"There's got to be some control about this, because these knives have one purpose - to kill someone.
"Young people treat knives like a fashion accessory.
"There have got to be some controls, or an age limit on the sale of knives."

There is a general consensus and real concern at the rise in knife related crime but there are some important points that we ought to remember before making a knee jerk reaction and adding more legislation to an already overcrowded statute book. As Sgt. Bernard McCabe told the meeting it is already illegal for a retailer to sell a knife to a person under the age of sixteen, so the age limit that the Councillor referred to is already in place; however, as the sergeant explained, this law is being flouted all too often in South Tyneside.

I worry greatly about the apparent need in Blair's Britain to legislate about almost everything in our daily lives, and the "respect agenda" is likely to lead to even more overbearing laws which we do not need. What we need is adhearance to our current laws, it is an offence to carry an offensive weapon of any type, perhaps, of course, it is worth beefing up the penalties for this offence. This could be something that the Lord Chancellor (or the soon to be created Speaker of the House of Lords) could look at, a requirement of judges and magistrates to deal out the toughest sentences possible would make a good start. Sentencing needs to be tough enough to act as a deterrent with a requirement to pay adequate compensation to the victims, and this, too, needs to be rigorously enforced. Of greater concern is the efficiency of the prisons and probation services acting under the authority of the Home Office, it will do society little good at all if detained offenders are released early, confidence in the law suffers and the public's safety is put at risk even further.

Here in the Corner Shop we are required by law to ascertain the ages of our customers who may wish to buy a craft knife, a chisel, a hammer, a screwdriver, an axe, or even a pair of scissors! All of these items, and many others, could be perceived as being likely to be used as an offensive weapon, and if we sell them to a minor then we are breaking the law. The company can be prosecuted as well as the individual salesperson, and the range of fines would probably be larger than most of you can imagine! As Cllr. Kerr stated, there are plenty of places where it is quite easy for far more dangerous items to end up being sold to youngsters, one only has to view the displays of knives in the Hobby Shop in Frederick Street and Supertech in Fowler Street to understand the possible scenario (I do not suggest that these retailers fail to uphold the law).

I made a point in a recent post about the current knife amnesty that the knives, per se, do not kill, it is the person holding the knife that does the killing, (a knife cannot have a purpose Cllr. Kerr, only the person holding it can have a purpose) so perhaps we need to take a few steps back and think again about how we educate our youngsters and how we gain parenting skills. As a boy and a teenager I was a member of the scouting movement, some of my friends were members of the Boys Brigade, we were all taught how to use knives, how to care for kives, how to keep knives safe, and how to be responsible with a knife, We were also taught about our duties to one another, God, and the Queen. A knife is an essential tool in the camp environment with many uses, a knife is an essential tool to the angler, a knife can be an essential tool to the wood craftsman, any amount of sharp instruments may be essential tools to joiners and cabinet makers, yet they are all used responsibly. Should we introduce a law that would ban the carrying of these items? Should we, once again, set out to penalise the law abiding majority for the sake of the mindless few? (If the minimum age requirement was raised, then young apprentices for instance could not legally carry their tools from home to work.) I don't think that we should add new laws, just work harder at enforcing the current laws!

So how can South Tyneside Council have an impact on public safety on this important issue?

Let's start by involving the police in educating our young children in schools about the dangers of using knives or everyday items as weapons, let's educate the next generation now about their responsibilities to society and the consequences of failing to heed the message. Let's bring parents into school to see and hear these presentations, let's get the message across that using any kind of weapon in a fight is not "cool" but is deadly cowardly! As a Council, and as community leaders it would be wise to promulgate and foster the good ethics of some old fashioned youth organisations, the Boy Scouts, the Boys Brigade, and the Girl Guides should be offered free use of community facilities to meet and improve their chances of involving more young people in their movements.

Let's reinvest the message to retailers about their responsibilities too, perhaps it would be wise for Trading Standards Officers to use young people to make "test purchases" to check compliance with the law.

The Council does not have the ability to make our streets safer, but by working with the community it can, like the knife amnesty, have a reasonable impact and help map the future prospects of our children.


The Shields Gazette

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