We talked about the British movement toward knife control previously, but since they’re clearly getting serious about it there’s plenty of material to cover. London is busy prosecuting people found to be carrying any sort of scary looking, sharpened blades and they’ve got plenty of reasons to be concerned. Over at Reason, J.D. Tuccille has a lengthy examination of this phenomenon and touches on a couple of important points.
First, there’s the question of the murder rate in London which recently surpassed that of New York City. Plenty of pundits have made note of this fact and used it to point out that the lawless will find a way to break laws even if there aren’t many guns around. But as the author points out, this may be a brief blip on the radar. London’s murder rate has actually been fairly constant over a period of centuries while the Big Apple has historically bested them, even when there were no gun control laws in either city to speak of. It’s only recently that New York’s murder rate has plummeted.
Commentators note that this may be a blip and that New York City’s murder rate for 2017 stood at more than double that for London. In fact, London’s murder rate really hasn’t risen much—instead, New York’s has dropped dramatically. But that still represents a big shift. In her 2002 Guns and Violence: The English Experience, historian Joyce Lee Malcolm noted that “New York City’s homicide rate has been at least five times higher than London’s for two hundred years. For most of that time, there were no serious firearm restrictions in either city.”
New Yorkers didn’t need firearms to exceed the bloodlust of their trans-Atlantic rivals. Even if you removed crimes committed with guns from the comparison, “New Yorkers still managed to outstab and outkick Liverpudlians by a multiple of 3 and Londoners by a multiple of 5.6″ over those two centuries,” wrote the late Eric H. Monkkonen in Murder in New York City, published in 2000.
With or without guns, New Yorkers were just more inclined to kill more of their fellow humans than London’s denizens. That makes the recent shift all the more favorable for New York. But the chief driver, as Tuccille points out, is that the two cities are going in opposite directions when it comes to gang violence. London’s gang culture is on the rise while New York has finally managed to wrestle their gang problem down to more manageable levels.
But what will London do about their increasing (or at least perceived) knife problem? In a strange parallel to parts of the United States, there are “solutions” being put forward from both the public and private sectors. The police will be doing more “stop and frisk” operations, while private retailers are going to stop selling… kitchen knives.
Not to be outdone, his predecessor, Boris Johnson, currently Foreign Secretary, called for increased use of stop-and-search powers by police. “You have got to stop them, you have got to search them and you have got to take the knives out of their possession.”
Poundland (the British equivalent of a dollar store) announced last week that it will no longer sell kitchen knives in any of its 850 stores. Similar stores are being slapped with fines for selling knives to minors.
British politicians propose banning home delivery of knives and police promote street-corner bins for the surrender of knives while also conducting stings against knife vendors. Their goal is to “target not only those who carry and use knives, but also the supply, access and importation of weapons.”
Tuccille comments on the pointless nature of all this. The Brits have managed to almost entirely disarm their law abiding citizens, but gun ownership among gang members (and the corresponding rate of gun homicides) is on the rise. And if you can’t manage to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, how in the world do you propose to curtail their access to bits of metal which can be sharpened on a suitable stone?
What the Brits are doing right now is definitely going to have an impact… on people trying to cook dinner. Meanwhile, those looking to go out and kill somebody will find a way to do it as they always have. Perhaps rather than disarming your lawful citizens and blaming the tools used by criminals, you need to address the cultural issues which make gang activity more common. But that would make too much sense, I suppose.