Leading article: More is needed than amnesties and laws

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The Independent Online

Britain seems to be in the grip of an epidemic of knife crime. Earlier this month, an off-duty special constable was stabbed to death outside her home. Twelve days ago, Kiyan Prince was killed outside his school in north London. Last week, a 14-year-old schoolboy was attacked in Birmingham. And over the weekend, a student was stabbed to death on a cross-country train. The fact that all this coincides with a knife amnesty by the police, designed to get such weapons off the streets, adds to the impression of crisis.

Yet we should be careful not to assume that knife crime has only recently become a serious problem. This month's cluster of fatal attacks is part of a broader trend. Some 6 per cent of all violent crimes are now knife-related. And, as many of these tragic cases show, it is increasingly young people who are the victims, as well as the perpetrators.

The response of the authorities has been mixed. The knife amnesty is sensible. After a similar initiative in 1995, 40,000 weapons were handed over. But, in response to this latest flurry of attacks, the Government has also mooted raising the legal age for buying knives and allowing school staff to search pupils suspected of carrying weapons. The knife possession legislation has also been placed under review.

The Government should be careful to avoid giving the impression that legislation is the solution. Raising the age at which people can buy a knife is little more than a gesture. Anyone can get hold of a knife if they really want to: they need look no further than the kitchen drawer. We must also be sceptical of calls for tougher sentencing for carrying a knife. There is already a two-year sentence for carrying an offensive weapon in a public place. This is hardy acting as a disincentive. The suggestion of introducing metal detectors in every secondary school is dubious too - technology is not the solution; nor is encouraging teachers to frisk their pupils, as if schools were prisons or airports.

The authorities must question why people carry knives in the first place. Not everyone who carries a weapon intends to use it. An increasing number of young boys admit to bringing knives into schools as "protection". They must be made to understand that carrying a knife does not make you safer; indeed, that it puts you at greater risk. More must be done to protect young people from harassment out of schools too. The "knife culture" also has to be confronted. According to a new Home Office report, half a million young people belong to gangs. The ubiquity of knives must be seen in this context.

Unless our society tackles the roots of this problem, rather than just its outward manifestations, this lethal trend will only continue.

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