Staying On Point

‘Rules on buying and selling knives are under review by the Government, with plans afoot to crack down on some items being delivered to customers. But could the changes actually present some terrific opportunities for retailers?

Over the last couple of years, we’ve all heard more and more media talk about rising knife crime, fatal stabbings and how the government is going to make it harder for young people, in particular, to buy these items. Clearly, this is aimed at the criminal community and at youngsters who see the carrying of knives as an essential part of their everyday routine.

However, it will undoubtedly be turned against hunters, anglers and outdoors people who use knives as tools as opposed to badges of honour or even weapons. So an understanding of exactly what is contained within the Offensive Weapons Bill – which is how Parliament plans to make the changes – and knowing your place in the supply chain will give you confidence in continuing to run your business and make the most of these important products.

Face-to-Face

One of the key proposals currently being discussed by MPs is the ban on delivery of ‘bladed articles’ sold online to residential addresses. While that may ring alarm bells with some, the reality is that this means prospective customers, or those wanting to collect a knife bought elsewhere, will need to actually visit your shop. This gives you a fantastic chance to discuss the wide range of knives available and use your knowledge to ensure the customer walks away with the correct tool for the job.

Edgar Brothers, who distribute the Spyderco knife range, said: “This means that you can build up a strong customer base of keen buyers who will come back often to see what’s in store. You can also educate those who may not understand exactly what a knife is and what uses they can have – from general tasks such as cutting twine, whittling sticks or carving items to gutting and preparing game.”

The idea behind this legislation actually dates back to summer 2017 when the government announced it intended to target young people carrying knives by making it harder for them to get hold of these items by banning online sales. This means that buyers need to go into a store to prove their age and actually make the transaction. The bill will also stop young people buying corrosives such as acid online, while also banning possession of so-called ‘zombie knives’, knuckledusters and ‘death stars’, both in public and private places.

Home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It is totally wrong that young people are able to get their hands on dangerous weapons such as knives and harmful acids. That is why we are making the laws around this even tighter.

“[The bill] creates new criminal offences prohibiting the dispatch of bladed products and corrosive products sold online to a residential address. The offence for bladed products is limited to those that can cause serious injury and includes defences for made-to-order items and those for sporting and re-enactment purposes. “It creates new criminal offences on delivery companies of delivering a bladed article or a corrosive product on behalf of a seller outside the United Kingdom to a person under 18 [and] updates the definition of a flick knife and prohibits the possession of flick knives and gravity knives.”

The Industry Response

An initial public consultation on this was held at the back end of last year with more representations being made right up until this summer. Proposals relating to online knife sales attracted the most comment from consultation respondents, with 60 per cent of them disagreeing with the plan to stop knives being delivered to residential addresses. However, Garry Woodhouse, marketing manager of Whitby and Co, warns that traders should remember that the bill is still subject to amendments at this stage.

He explained: “We do obviously deal with with gun dealers, so we are trying to engage with the Home Office, to represent the online sales of blades. “That’s ‘bricks-and-mortar’ and ‘clicks-and-mortar’ which cover multi-channel sales. I think online sales don’t always sit well with high street retailers, but the opportunity from the bill comes as the disruptive players online may fall by the wayside. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but either way checks have got to be rigorous whether online or on the high street and face-to-face.

“Disruptive retailers are the ones who don’t ask for age verification or that don’t use the available software to make sure an online purchase is appropriate; that it has been age and ID identified. There should be an improved licensing scheme for sales. These guys are disruptive because they don’t go to the time or the effort to trade safely.

“I think the legislation does go too far but it might force some positive changes. We feel there is scope for simply improving the age verification process and to prosecute traders for breaking the law, to create a deterrent. It was the same with mobile phones. Nobody took much notice of texting and driving laws until they increased the points and the fine. “It is already a clear criminal offence to sell a knife to someone under 18 – why would you make it more criminal rather than enforce current legislation?” asks Garry.

“When you have an Offensive Weapons Bill that covers the concerns over corrosive substances and blades, and then you add a bit for rifles, and a few more amendments, it becomes so broad that the individual components don’t get the due diligence that they need. It is the KFC bargain bucket of laws – a real mish-mash.

“I think they are hoping that the seriousness of some concerns will carry other aspects without them getting the scrutiny they deserve. We are awaiting the outcomes with interest,” added Garry as the Bill passed through its third reading in Commons and on to the Lords.

The Countryside Alliance, while recognising the issues surrounding knife crime and the need to reduce it, said: “Any measure to stop knives being delivered to residential addresses will disproportionately affect the rural community, who have less access to proposed collection points and also have a diverse range of legitimate uses for specialist knives that can often only be readily sourced online.”

It submitted proposals for an online age verification service and asked for a clause to ensure only people over 18 years of age could take delivery. BASC, meanwhile, put forward a string of views aimed at protecting those who use knives legitimately in their line of work or as a hobby and also warned: “The most likely supply of knives to young people is the kitchen drawer or knife block.”

There was also concern about the impacts of extending the ban on knives to further educational premises such as colleges and agricultural schools. Since there are many courses are held in cookery and gamekeeping, this bill could deny youngsters the opportunity to learn these skills.

The Offensive Weapons Bill is now starting to take its final form – and although it seems unlikely that knife sales will get the chop, there is still the chance for retailers to provide an educational service with a healthy cut from good-old-fashioned bricks and mortar sales.

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