Monday, September 7, 2009

Sharps: Brits & pointy things

Most Americans have an insular perspective. We act as if what happens on the other side of the world or "across the pond" has little bearing on our daily lives.

That's just wrongheaded. Over the last two decades, repressive laws enacted elsewhere have leached into U.S. public policy. Other societies bent on protecting citizens from themselves have had a disturbing influence, both legislatively and socially, on the liberties that American citizens claim to cherish.

Case-in-point: Great Britain's statutory control of edged tools. In simple terms, the UK's Criminal Justice Act of 1988 made it illegal for anyone in a public place to possess a knife with a blade of 7.62cm or longer. (For the metrically impaired, that's three inches.)

Practically, the Act is even stricter -- unless a Brit has good reason or legal authority to carry a knife of any kind, it's against the law.

There's been much talk in the British media recently about the rise in "knife crimes" and a so-called "knife culture." In an inexplicable knee-jerk response earlier this year, The Scout Organization in the UK -- equivalent to the Boy Scouts of America -- issued new guidance to its Scouts and their parents:

"Knives should be carried to and from meetings by an adult."

"Campsites are considered public places...and so knives are not to be carried."

"Knives of any sort should not be carried by anybody to a Scout meeting or camp...they should be kept by the Scout leaders and handed out as required."

Speaking as a former Scout -- yes, I was an Eagle Scout -- that's the height of absurdity. Lord Baden Powell surely is whirling in his grave.

Our children don't need another taboo. Kids should learn to respect, use and carry their own knives -- under adult supervision, of course -- and we must begin teaching them at an early age. The younger, in my opinion, the better.

And while we're on the subject of lessons, Americans shouldn't presume that the UK's ridiculous rules never will visit our shores. Bad ideas, especially those rooted in the illusion of "safety," have a nasty way of sneaking in through the back door.