Reader Contest Submission: Knives and Crime

This is the first new submission for our “Reader Essay Contest”. A full formal announcement will be forthcoming, but you can read an overview of the rules here.

Knives And Crime – A Complicated Issue

by Gemma Perry

In the right hands, knives are great tools. Forbes readers have ranked the knife “the most important tool of all time, in terms of its impact on human civilization” [1]. However, there are those who would like to see knives banned for all but the mist utilitarian of purposes, for it is certainly true that, in the wrong hands, they can be devastating. The propensity of the criminal fraternity to brandish knives has made these tools a symbol of fear for many.


Drugs And Knives

Like it or loathe it, the simple fact is that knives can be used to threaten, intimidate and injure people. While most of us use them for the purposes for which they are intended (and very useful purposes they are, too, let us not forget), knives have for centuries been used as offensive weapons against other humans, and continue to do so. This is incredibly unfortunate, as those brandishing blades with ill-intent give all knife-aficionados a bad name. Reporting often focuses on the irresponsible use of knives in drug-related incidents, as in last summer’s case of the New Jersey baby left to sleep on a mattress covering knives and heroin. Obviously this is an appalling state of events which should be deplored, but it also encourages certain elements of society to attempt to clamp down on knives, reasoning that their ready availability makes it all too easy for drug addicts to arm themselves. In fact, rather than dealing with one of the unfortunate attributes of drug addiction, we should probably minimize the problem by trying to get people off the smack for good. The problem with most drugs is that they not only encourage criminal behavior through the need to obtain more, they also remove a degree of impulse-control and make them act irrationally, thus making them very dangerous indeed with a knife in their hand. Eliminating the drugs, rather than eliminating the knives, would reduce this issue far more effectively.

Questionable Statistics

There are as many different types of knife as there are uses for a knife. Unfortunately, some of those knives are peculiarly well adapted for inflicting harm upon humans. Switchblade knives are legislated against under federal law [2] for this very reason, and many states have specific laws prohibiting the carrying of certain kinds of knives in public places. US knife law varies immensely from state to state, and is often rather vague and undefined. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to gauge the precise knife-crime figures, and the severity of the crimes in question. For example, in many states, one can be arrested for carrying a switchblade. Regardless of whether or not one used it against another person or merely had it in one’s pocket, this would be logged as a crime involving a knife, and thus enter the ‘knife crime’ statistics list. When one gets down to the actual homicide statistics [3], knives score really rather low in comparison to other weaponry, being far outstripped by firearms. This is partly because the human body is designed to shield its most vital organs from slashing and tearing with “a protective cage around the heart, lungs, and  great blood vessels” [4] (most stabs to the chest glance of a rib – only the unlucky, or those attacked by a skilled knife-wielder succumb to a blade to the heart). Gut wounds, thanks to modern medicine, do not take nearly so many lives as they used to. This is not to say that people should be allowed to run around brandishing knives to their hearts’ content – these are clearly potentially very dangerous tools which should be respected as such. However, it is worth getting a little perspective when it comes to this issue.

Guns And Knives

Firearm legislation is an emotive issue in the US, but, when it comes to the problem of knife crime, it’s an issue worth exploring. In the UK, where guns are severely restricted, the firearm homicide rate per-capita is far, far lower than here in the US. This does not mean that people do not try to kill each other in the UK – they do, but they use knives instead of guns, and knives are not as deadly as guns. The UK is trying to bring the homicide level down even further by placing restrictions upon knives, voting last year for “mandatory jail sentences for anyone caught twice in possession of a knife” [5]. Knives are the weapon of choice for the criminal elements of Britain, giving them a far more sinister reputation over there than they have here. On this side of the Pond, the ready availability of guns renders knife crime something of a poor substitute for the deadly potential inherent within a firearm. Clearly this is not a good situation, but it is perhaps worth tackling the issue with guns in whatever way seems most suitable before considering clamping down on the comparatively far less problematic issue of knives.

[1] David M Ewalt, “No.1 The Knife”, Forbes, Aug 2005

[2] Legal Information Institute, “U.S. Code Chapter 29 – Manufacture, Transportation, Or Distribution Of Switchblade Knives”, Cornell University

[3] FBI, “Expandeed Homicide Data Table 11”, 2011

[4] Benjamin Cummings, “The Thoracic Cage”, 2001

[5] Patrick Wintour, “Knife crime clampdown wins Commons backing, leaving Lib Dems isolated”, The Guardian, June 2014



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