As reported, the British police have been searching on social networking sites for pictures of people posing with knives. Upon finding such a picture, they make a copy and send it to a gang task force. The gang task for then arrests the individual if the picture was taken in a public place (carrying a knife in public is illegal in the UK). If the picture was taken in private, the police still go pay a visit to the people involved (or their parents) and try to confiscate the knives. My thoughts on this approach are below:
My General Thoughts on this type of Policing
I don’t really have an objection to the police looking at publicly accessible websites for evidence of an alleged crime. That is because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public website, just as there is no such expectation of privacy on a public street. If people are unwise enough to record themselves doing something that is unlawful, and then show further bad judgment by posting the evidence online, they shouldn’t be surprised when they are arrested. Were the police accessing a private website, or otherwise invading the privacy of a citizen without probable cause, then it would be an entirely different story, and I would be up in arms about violations of the right to privacy. (That said, I think that it is entirely unreasonable to criminalize the carrying of self defense tools, or to criminalize the act of defending oneself against criminals, as the UK has done – but that is not the point I am trying to make here.)
Focusing on Inanimate Objects is Ineffective at Reducing Crime
As I’ve said before, the British have an almost obsessive focus on the inanimate tools used by criminals, rather than the intentional actions of those criminals. When a person is shot to death, they blame guns and push for even more bans on gun ownership, despite the fact that such bans don’t reduce crime and are just one more law for criminals to ignore. When a person is stabbed to death, they blame knives and set up internet task forces. Until the British people realize that crime is the result of intentional actions on the part of human beings, rather than the presence of weapons, I don’t think that they are going to have much luck at solving their violent crime problem.
Knives Cannot be Eliminated from Society
Knives are some of the most useful objects in society. They are needed to cook and eat food, and to do some yard work. Knives are essential tools of medicine (everything from scalpels to bone saws) as well as arts and crafts (think x-acto knives). As a SCUBA diver, I carry knives when diving, in case I become entangled in a discarded fishing net and need to cut myself free, while my fiancée uses knives when making cakes at work and home. Knives were some of the first tools invented by humans many thousands of years ago, and they remain essential to our every day lives. Given the need for knives, it is simply impossible to think that they could be banned from society. Even if it were possible to effectively ban knives, criminals could easily manufacture their own knives, since even prison inmates can manage to make knives. No matter how one looks at it, knives aren’t going anywhere.
My thanks to Anders for pointing out this news story.
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