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Not the sharpest idea in the drawer

by Mark Lenz

Two contrasting stories half a world apart caught my attention last week. One was about a proposed kitchen knife ban in Great Britain. The other was about a 70-year-old Detroit gun owner.

In London, a group of doctors has proposed a ban on long kitchen knives in an effort to cut down on stabbing deaths. Yes, we once joked that after handguns were banned people would go on killing each other with knives. Government would need to prohibit everything from golf clubs to medium-sized rocks.

This, however, is not a joke.

The researchers from West Middlesex University Hospital wrote in the British Medical Journal that long, pointed kitchen knives may be used in up to half of all stabbings. Although Britain banned most private guns in the wake of a Scottish school shooting in Dunblane in 1996, its murder rate in 2002 was the highest since record-keeping began 100 years ago. Britain's violent crime rose nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2004.

According to the BBC, the medical researchers said that short pointed knives are all that most cooks need. Researchers cited "10 top chefs around the UK" who agreed longer knives have little practical value in the kitchen, and said such knives can pierce a person's organs like "cutting into a ripe melon."

Not all chefs agreed. Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, noted that anything in a house "in the hands of an idiot" can be used as a weapon. Regulating kitchen knives, he told The (Edinburgh) Scotsman, would be equivalent to telling a surgeon to operate with a bread knife instead of a scalpel.

The researchers also call for long kitchen knives to be made with rounded, blunt tips. I suppose there may be a niche market for those (are any progressive knife manufacturers listening?).

However, two much bigger issues exist. First, why aren't the British more concerned about protecting themselves from the sort of people who carve up others with knives? Second, who would want government to pass laws regulating how to outfit a kitchen in the first place?

I doubt one 70-year-old Detroit homeowner would support such laws. Last week he shot and killed an intruder in his house on Fullerton Street. Neighbors were supportive, including an 86-year-old man who said he owns a .38-caliber pistol and a shotgun (and, I'm guessing, may also have a few long kitchen knives).

Similar cases are reported regularly. One last year involved a 32-year-old Farmington woman with a concealed carry gun permit who used a small-caliber pistol in her purse to thwart an armed robber. The robber, with a 9mm pistol in his waistband, turned and fled after the woman waited until he was 10 feet away and then drew her weapon.

Most of us remember that, when Michigan's concealed carry gun law was enacted four years ago next month, we were told to expect shootouts at every stoplight and bodies piled like cordwood on Woodward Avenue. Instead, Michigan's violent crime rate has continued to drop (the state ranked 46th nationwide in 1990, and had improved to 37th in 2004). Even more important, persons with concealed carry permits have been dramatically less likely than the average adult to be involved in the misuse of a firearm.

I don't mean to suggest that gun or knife laws are the only factor behind crime rates, but any law that affords the public more liberty while arguably making it safer deserves special praise.

Back in Britain, there's no reason to expect blunting kitchen knives will slice the murder rate any more than banning guns did. So which new laws might we expect big-government types there to seek next? Bans on unlicensed cricket bats? Ceremonial Scottish dirks? Privately-owned gas-powered chainsaws?

I'll admit, it sounds pretty silly. Then again, not too long ago so did the idea of a kitchen knife ban. Just remember that when sharp pointy sticks are outlawed, only outlaws will have sharp pointy sticks.

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