Further measures to tackle weapons culture
Proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for the sale of non-domestic knives and banning the sale of swords were announced today.
In a related move, an order was laid before the Scottish Parliament adding knives and batons to the list of banned offensive weapons.
Today's developments are the latest in a series of measures promised by the First Minister in November 2004 to tackle knife crime in Scotland.
Ministers have already consulted, as part of the police bill consultation, on doubling the maximum sentence for carrying a knife, giving the police an unconditional power of arrest when they suspect someone of carrying a knife or offensive weapon, and increasing the age for buying a non-domestic knife from 16 to 18.
Today's consultation seeks views on a range of options designed to tighten the availability of these potentially deadly weapons, including:
- Licensing the sale of non-domestic knives
In this consultation a non-domestic knife means a knife which has a blade or sharp point, and which is not designed only for domestic use, or only for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food. Controlling the sale of non-domestic knives could act as a further deterrent to those wishing to purchase knives for illegal purposes. Under the proposed scheme, licensed sellers would need to record the purchaser's name, address and age. A breach in the license conditions could result in the seller having their licence revoked.
- Banning the purchase of non-domestic knives except from licensed sellers
This would reinforce the licensing scheme by making it a criminal offence for anyone to purchase a non-domestic knife from an unlicensed seller.
- Licensing the sale of swords, with an additional condition that retailers could only sell swords to members of approved organisations
In the consultation, a sword is a thrusting, striking or cutting weapon with a long blade having one or two edges and a hilt or handle. This proposal would not adversely impact on the sale of swords to those who could show they had a legitimate ceremonial, religious, sporting or cultural purpose.
- Banning the sale of swords
A blanket ban on all swords with potential exceptions in the case of swords used for ceremonial, religious, sporting or cultural purposes.
- Banning the sale of samurai swords
A samurai sword is described as a specific type of curved, single-edged sword traditionally used by the Japanese Samurai as a cutting weapon, kept in a sheath and forged with the highly specialized tamagahane steel. A ban on this type of sword would also extend to replicas and swords of a similar design. Views on possible exceptions are being sought as part of the consultation.
- Licensing the purchase of swords on an individual basis
Under this proposal individuals would need to apply for a licence to purchase swords in a similar manner to that required in existing firearms law.
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said:
"I am committed to reducing violent crime and tackling the weapon carrying culture - particularly amongst young males - that contributes to too many young lives being lost or scarred. This remains at the forefront of our drive to improve public safety.
"Making it more difficult to purchase a non-domestic knife will further deter those without a legitimate reason to possess a knife, and will compel the small minority of unscrupulous traders to sell non-domestic knives more responsibly. Alongside the other measures we are taking, we believe that this will contribute to a reduction in knife crime.
"Nobody living in a normal house or flat in an ordinary community needs a sword as part of day to day life. Those with a legitimate reason for needing a non-domestic knife or sword should not, however, be put at a disadvantage by these proposals. Some necessary administrative safeguards are a small price to pay to tighten up the availability of these weapons in the wider community.
"New laws are of course, just one way of addressing this problem. We are working with the police and other agencies to explore the root causes of weapon carrying behaviour, identify preventative measures which can reduce the likelihood of violence and to develop early interventions which can help break cycles of violence and brutality.
"I want to send a clear message to the people of Scotland that knife crime is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
"We are determined to confront this problem by introducing tough new measures to support the police and protect communities. This consultation is the latest step we are taking to review and update existing laws on the sale of knives and swords so that we can drive down knife crime, keep it down and break its grip on Scotland once and for all."
The consultation will last until 30 September 2005.
The first three initiatives - contained within the five point plan announced by the First Minister in November 2004 - have been included in the consultation on the police bill.
From 1998 to 2003, of the 667 murders committed in Scotland, 323 involved the use of a knife. In the same period there were 14,463 convictions for handling an offensive weapon.
The order being laid before Parliament today - The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Scotland) Order 2005 - adds non-metallic hunting or stiletto knives (often referred to as stealth knives) and straight side-handled and friction-locked batons to the list of specified offensive weapons contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This will make it an offence to manufacture, import, sell or hire stealth knives and batons. The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment or a fine of £5,000 or both. Stealth knives can be a particular threat as they are not detectable by metal detectors.