Fear and a need for self-protection is a key motivation for children to carry weapons. Neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation and social exclusion generally have the highest rates of gun and knife crime.
Knives and other weapons are far more prevalent than firearms, especially in the case of children. The Offending, Crime and Justice Survey (Home Office, 2005) highlighted that:
• Four percent of children had carried a knife in the last 12 months;
• Less than one percent reported having carried a gun in the same period; and
• Eighty-five percent of those that had carried a knife said the main reason was for protection, and a further nine percent said it was in case they got into a fight. Unfortunately, carrying weapons increases the risk of serious injury or death while defending oneself or fighting, and the risk multiplies in group situations.
What is and is not legal
• It is illegal for any shop to sell a knife of any kind (including cutlery and kitchen knives) to anyone under the age of 18.
• It is generally an offence to carry a knife in public without good reason or lawful authority (for example, a good reason is a chef on the way to work carrying their own knives).
• Knives which have a blade that folds into the handle, for example, a Swiss Army knife, are not illegal as long as the blade is shorter than three inches (7.62 cms)
• If a knife is used in a threatening way (even a legal knife, such as a Swiss Army knife), it is regarded as an ‘offensive weapon’ under the law. This is also the case with items such as screwdrivers – once used in a threatening manner, they are treated as offensive weapons. It is an offence to carry an offensive weapon in a public place, without a reasonable excuse.
The police’s ‘stop and search’ powers
Under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, police officers have the right to search any person they suspect of an offence – including carrying an offensive weapon.
The Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) was a Home Office-led initiative between June 2008 and March 2009 which aimed to reduce the carrying of knives, related homicides and serious stabbings among teenagers (aged 13-19). It was launched in response to a number of high profile knife-related murders and serious stabbing among young people, click here.
Groups, Gangs and Weapons (2007), a Youth Justice Board survey of children known to London Youth Offending Teams, click here.
London Safeguarding Children Board guidance on safeguarding children affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence (Dec 2010), click here.
Tackling Youth Knife Crime Practical Advice For Police (Home Office September 2009) This guidance uses learning from TKAP and police forces to identify approaches to multi-agency working to target those 13–24-year-olds most at risk of becoming knife crime victims or offenders, click here
IDEA Synopsis Tackling guns and gangs, Solving the problem including the Bringing Hope project, dealing with guns, drugs, knives and gangs in Birmingham (2008), click here.
Department of Education, Screening, Searching and Confiscation advice for school leaders, staff and governing bodies, click here.