June 05, 2008

Knife Crime

Knife crime is making the news again and something must be done. It does not matter if that something stands a hope of actually working, the government just has to be seen to do something. The obvious solution to this most authoritarian of governments is more pointless bans, this time by saying that they are going to prosecute anybody found to be carrying a knife. It won't work but to show why have a look at these three knives. Carrying any of them in public today would be illegal but 50+ years ago, when the crime rate was considerably lower than it is today, they would all have been carried without anybody batting an eyelid.

This first is a simple pen knife, of the type that the modern swiss army knife and other multi-tools evolved out of. It has a blade, for the multitude of times when you need to cut things, a Marlin Spike, for unpicking knots and making splices, and a tin opener, the purpose of which is obvious. It was a very common tool with all sorts of uses and just about everybody would have one.

Now imagine a dozen teenage boys walking down the street towards you. They are all dressed the same, and they all have one of these:

The only danger you are in is of them trying to find a way of helping you so as to do their good deed for the day. This scary looking sheath knife is a 50 year old Boy Scout knife, everybody would have had a pen knife but only a smaller number would have had the privilege of owning one of these.

The final blade is this one.

It is rather hard to call this a mere knife since it is nearly two feet long. The teenage youth that carried it, who would have been possibly as young as fourteen, would have know exactly how to use it in a fight. They would have been ready and willing to attack and possibly kill if the need arouse. However unless you where an enemy of their King you where perfectly safe and would be unlikely to find a more disciplined, courteous and respectful young man; since this is a Midshipman's Dirk and would have been owned by an officer of the Royal Navy.

Something has changed in our society that has lead to the murders and assaults that we hear about so often, and it is not a sudden increase in the amount of potential weaponry about. If anything knifes are much less common than they used to be, it is just that it has become much more common to us they to try and hurt people. Part of the reason why can actually be seen in the design of the Midshipman's Dirk. This is a stabbing weapon, it has an edge but like many European swords it is designed to make its point with its point. Notice anything about the point? Here is a close up to give you a better idea.

The tip is rounded rather than coming to a sharp point, rather a strange feature for a stabbing weapon. The reason for this is the naval tradition that no knife has a pointed tip. The reason behind this tradition is because no seaman would carry one with a pointed tip since the risk should they accidentally stab somebody was simply too high. On board a crowded ship there is nowhere to hide and so an absolute certainty that they would be caught. When they where caught the punishment was harsh as well. This wouldn't simply be a flogging, itself potentially fatal, should their victim die the perpetrator would be tied to the body of the victim and then thrown overboard the now bloating body acting as a temporary life raft so that they would see their ship sailing away leaving them all alone in the vast expanse of ocean. The punishment was rightly feared to the point that they where willing to do almost anything, including reducing the utility of their tools, to avoid it.

Today things are a little different. If you assault somebody most likely you will not be caught. If you are caught, because you carried out your assault right in front of a police officer, you will have nothing more than a wrist slap. A far greater risk than in the past. It is also the commonly held view that if you defend yourself it will be you, who has just been assaulted, that will end up in serious trouble while your assailant walks away. So many victims are less likely to try and defend themselves, again reducing the risk for the assailant. As the risks decrease it will become less than the potential rewards of unprovoked violence for an increasing number of people, so you will get more.

With the state unwilling to fulfill its duty to protect its citizens the natural, and correct, response of the citizens is to try and defend themselves. This is why there has been an increase in the number of knifes taken into schools. They are not there as tools, as in the past, but as protection by those not cowed by the fear that they would have the law after them should they need to defend themselves. Trying to use the blunt instrument of the law against people carrying knifes will make no difference unless they tackle the root of the problem. Which is the growing feeling that if somebody actually uses a knife against you, rather than just carry it, or a bottle, or their boots, or their fists then the state will look the other way and try to ignore it because it is easier and safer to go after the generally peaceful such as motorists.


Blogger Ken said...

I think that there is another factor at work. The state is basically afraid of losing control of society.

It can control, just, the thugs, but it fears that if the bulk of the population who are not thuggish start to defend themselves against attackers, then matters could spiral out of control.

7:17 am  

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