Knives are plentiful and lethal weapons can be found in almost every kitchen in the country, so there is probably a school of thought that questions any attempt to restrict knife sales that goes along the lines of: they are so abundant if someone wants to lay their hands on one they will, so any attempt to restrict will not stop a single incident.
But that is flawed logic. The knives that people, especially youngsters, want to buy are regarded as cool. The have a fascination. In the case of Aberdeen schoolboy Bailey Gwynne, the pupil who fatally stabbed him told police he bought the knife because it was “cool-looking”. He had earlier bought knuckledusters online after seeing them used in a fight in a US TV show. He took the weapons in to school because he said he thought they might make him look cool, and they gave him confidence.
The 16-year-old had bought the knife from online retailer Amazon for £40. He told police the Amazon site said it was legal. But the teenage had pinned a note to the front door when it was due to be delivered to avoid his age being checked.
The law as it currently stands states it is an offence to sell a knife to anyone under 18 unless it has a folding blade three inches long (7.62cm) or less. In Scotland there is an exception in that those over the age of 16 are allowed to buy kitchen knives or other domestic knives.
The blade bought by Bailey Gwynne’s killer was 8.5cm long. That difference of less than a centimetre made it illegal. Now following the inquiry into the schoolboy’s death education secretary John Swinney has confirmed the Scottish Government would be taking forward a recommendation to restrict sales, and had contracted the UK government to seek a “UK-wide approach”.
Mr Swinney said that Scotland acting alone would be of little value because the purchase and delivery of knives crosses the borders of all UK countries. It is to be hoped that the UK government is as willing to learn lessons from the tragedy at Cults Academy as the Scottish government is, because there are some steps that seem blindingly obvious.
The first is that age restrictions work, but exceptions on ages and types of knife north of the Border simply serve to confuse, both in the message about the danger of knives and by introducing too many variables, The second is that the blade length also leaves the message open to confusion.
So new restrictions should be clear and simple and send a direct message about the dangers of knives: it should be illegal to sell a knife to anyone under the age of 18. If people below that age are using knives for any proper purpose it is presumably under adult supervision, with a knife that has been put in their hands for the purpose of the job at hand.
And there needs to be clear monitoring of the online companies that sufficient age checks are made, and appropriate punishment if they are not.
The issue of knives and young people needs to be tackled. It should be done decisively.