Scottish Answer to Crime: Knife Control

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In an effort to reduce the stabbings and slashings that stem from the country's "booze and blade" culture, Scotland is cracking down on the sale of swords, machetes, meat cleavers and other knifes. Knife violence accounts for almost half of the homicides in Scotland each year.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Scotland, a new step in the fight against what the justice minister calls the country's booze and blade culture. Catherine Jamieson announced a multifaceted crackdown on the sale of swords, meat cleavers, machetes and other knives. Knife violence accounts for almost half of the homicides in Scotland each year.

The Scottish government recently held a five-week knife amnesty program. More than 12,000 weapons were turned in during that period, ranging from hunting knives to bayonets.

Magnus Gardham is the political editor at The Daily Record in Scotland. He joins us now. And, Magnus, how big a problem is the culture of knives in Scotland?

Mr. MAGNUS GARDHAM (The Daily Record): It's a significant problem, especially in the west of Scotland and especially in Glasgow. It's confined to gangs, which are part of the culture of the city going back many years. It's not something that you'd be aware of if you were to visit Glasgow, but it accounts for a lot of deaths and it accounts for a lot more maimings and very serious injuries.

NORRIS: Now in many parts of the world, knives are associated with gang culture, usually pocketknives, but we're talking about meat cleavers and machetes and swords. People actually carry these things on their person?

Mr. GARDHAM: They do. The weapon of choice, if you like, is the lock knife, the kind of thing which somebody who is out hunting or fishing might legitimately use. But in addition to that, there's a growing problem with far more vicious weapons. Samurai-style swords, meat cleavers, machetes, really quite brutal weapons.

NORRIS: The medical research council there found that knife violence had doubled in the past 20 years. They said that knives actually represented a public health hazard. How will this clamp down work?

Mr. GARDHAM: What the government has announced today is a near total ban on the sale of swords, and they've also announced a licensing scheme covering the sale of all non-domestic knives. Responsible shops will get a license, but they'll have to take names and addresses of people buying items. They'll lose their license if they're found to be selling irresponsibly.

Nobody is pretending the system will be foolproof, but I think there's a genuine hope that it will crack down on back street, secondhand shops selling, frankly, some quite terrifying weapons for just a few quid. The licensing scheme covering knives and the ban on swords will come into force at some point next year.

But before then, at the start of next month, there are other measures to tackle the same problem. They include raising the minimum age at which you can buy a knife, from 16 to 18. It includes giving the police greater powers to stop and search suspects. And it's also going to double the penalty for being caught in possession of a knife in illegitimate circumstances from two years in prison to four years.

And I think some total of these measures is not only to crack down on the problem on the ground, but to send a very, very clear message that this kind of culture is not going to be tolerated anymore.

NORRIS: Now we've been talking about knives, but are guns also a problem in Scotland?

Mr. GARDHAM: Guns aren't really a problem in Scotland. You have to remember that handguns are banned. You will go to jail if you are caught in possession of a handgun. If memory serves me, there were eight deaths in Scotland which resulted from gunshot wounds last year, compared with 72 people who died from stab wounds.

NORRIS: Magnus, thanks so much for speaking to us.

Mr. GARDHAM: Thank you.

NORRIS: Magnus Gardham is a political editor at The Daily Record in Scotland.

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