12th May 2018

Matt Allwright: Offensive Weapons

By focussing on the weapons is the media just chasing after phantoms?

By Matt Allwright
Matt is a journalist and presenter of the BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Traders

Here’s a term I’ve just had to google: ‘zombie knife’. This was a new one on me. It turns out your typical zombie knife has a black blade and DayGlo green handle, often adorned with the biohazard symbol. If you’re scratching your head at this idea then let me assure you: zombies aren’t real. Lethal weapons are now being sold to dispatch fictional enemies. And they’re going like hotcakes.
I didn’t know about zombie knives until I saw details of the Home Office’s plans, as part of the Offensive Weapons Bill to limit the sale and use of all sorts of scary things that either didn’t exist until the last couple of years, or, in the case of acid, have been around forever, but have recently found a new and appalling application.
The legislation is a pretty comprehensive study of things you don’t want to find under your teenager’s bed, including bladed fidget spinners, knuckle dusters and a new definition of what a flick knife might look like.
The media (that’s me, folks!) loves to fixate on these items. What’s better at drawing a gasp, than a children’s toy, which, at the press of a button, turns into a ninja throwing star? It plucks your audience’s outrage strings in an instant, and most of all, it’s visually arresting. The truth is, though, that fixating on these items is a distraction. As acid has shown, you can do terrible damage with any number of seemingly innocuous household items, from bricks to bleach to cricket bats, and banning those things outright is impractical.
The much harder job is to identify how and when they are going to be used to cause harm and try to draw up laws which prevent that. Tabloid papers don’t talk much about harm reduction, but it’s what we should be focussing on. Is a zombie knife inherently more dangerous than, say, the telescopic lopping saw I’ve got in my shed?
No, but in buying it I’m clearly a middle aged man who can’t afford tree surgeons. It’s much less likely that I intend to start wielding it in a public place. Drawing lines around people’s evil and good intentions is a really tricky job, and much harder for the media to report, but it’s the vital bit of this and any legislation. Possessing a corrosive substance in a public place, taking a knife onto educational premises and buying knives online to be delivered to a residential address are all behaviours which are hard to explain as innocent, so the Home Office wants to outlaw them.
Zombie knives, I’m afraid, have had it; illegal even if they never leave the house. A garish colour scheme and a threat that doesn’t actually exist, are, it seems, enough for them to be a menace to society.

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