I Know My Rights!

(but I really wish HM Customs did …..)

In the UK today, people are being demonised for carrying or owning knives. The press regale us every day with stories of gangs and knife crime and murder. More and more police forces are launching poster campaigns to remind us of the threat that carrying knives presents, and the consequences if they catch us doing it. The media frenzy on knives doesn’t actually give us the full picture though……

The knife laws in the UK are actually pretty sensible, despite the debates that continue between the various parties and the government, however the true picture is rarely publicised.

Crudely summarised, fixed blades and locking folding blades are out, unless you have (and can prove) a legitimate reason to be carrying one. For example, a fisherman with a filleting knife in his tackle box, should face no issues, providing he’s going fishing. If he tried to take that knife into a nightclub however, then he quite rightly should not be allowed to do that. This “good reason” approach depends a lot on individual police officers to make the call, but the evidence is that the police are clued up enough to let you pass, confiscate the knife, or even just advise you to take it and leave it at home.

Provided your knife’s blade is under 3 inches in length, folds, and does not lock, then you are at liberty to carry it, however I personally wouldn’t attempt to take even an innocent looking Swiss Army Knife into a football ground for example.

Unfortunately, we are currently caught in the midst of media hysteria and political manoeuvring that do not recognise these rights, and worryingly, there are increasing numbers of reports of knives being seized without, in my opinion, any legal basis at all….

Anyone in the UK (or Europe) that collects knives or multitools (effectively the same thing in the eyes of the law) will know that European collectors are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to buying knives, due to extortionate mark-ups by European importers. For example the retail price (which retailers often must honour as part of agreements with sole importers), frequently leads to knives and tools costing double what is charged in the US, where many of the quality knife-makers are based. Equally, collectors will know that buying knives and tools directly from US internet sites, even allowing for postage and customs charges, will typically be less than two thirds of the local price for exactly the same tool.

Recently however, there have been two developments that have made this perfectly legitimate method of buying tools into a bit of a lottery.

In February 2009, a BBC consumer programme called “Watchdog” announced that they had been able to secure a flick-knife and various other illegal knives using the online auction site eBay (click here for BBC news report). All of the knives they bought had been imported from the US, and with much faux-horror presented them to the UK police “for disposal” before someone died 🙄

They also confronted eBay UK and asked them (quite rightly) to explain why they were able to procure illegal weapons using their auction site. What wasn’t mentioned, but may explain what we are seeing today, was how easily these items seemed to get past HM Customs……

Myself, and many collectors watched helplessly as events unfolded over the next few days, most significantly as eBay UK announced that they were going to ban the sale of knives on their website. Then on 9th February 2009, eBay made the following announcement:

***Change to policy regarding sale of knives on eBay.co.uk and eBay.ie***

09 February, 2009 | 08:00PM GMT

We wanted to inform you of a change to our policies regarding the sale of knives.

All knives except cutlery will be banned from sale on eBay.co.uk and eBay.ie.

This will impact UK, Irish and international sellers who currently list knives for sale to buyers on the eBay.co.uk and eBay.ie sites.

Over the last year we have made several changes to our policies regarding sales of knives and also Samurai swords to ensure that only legal knives are available on the UK and Irish sites. However, the criteria for what constitutes a legal knife are increasingly complex, and this step is necessary to help further protect our members and provide them with the highest safety standards.

We will be updating this AB post shortly to ensure that any sellers of knives have full notice, details and timings for the changes.

Thank you for your support in continuing to make eBay such a vibrant and trusted marketplace.


The eBay Team

The effectiveness of eBay’s policy change on “fighting knife crime” is debatable (laughable?) and is a topic of debate in it’s own right, but I think most people would agree that it was a knee-jerk, publicity gesture that does little or nothing to solve the problem. It did however expose the fact that eBay lacks the ability to control what is sold on their site. It also effectively negated their traditional response to criticism that they did nothing to prevent the sale of counterfeit sports goods and similar – “we are just a market place, we don’t sell anything, it’s not our fault”. Inconsistent? I think so……..

However, the biggest flaw in eBay’s attempt to “help further protect our members and provide them with the highest safety standards” is actually so glaring, it’s almost funny…..

It is a well documented fact that the VAST majority of knife crime in the UK is committed during acts of domestic violence, using kitchen cutlery!!!!!! to recap, eBay’s statement said: “All knives except cutlery will be banned from sale on eBay.co.uk and eBay.ie”. Great :crazy:

The other major change for knife and tool collectors recently, presumably also driven by the media-induced paranoia involves H.M. Customs, who appear to be adding new interpretations to the description of knives, specifically “Gravity” knives.

Wikipedia provides this definition of a Gravity Knife:

“A gravity knife is a knife that opens by the force of inertia or gravity.[1] Similar to a switch-blade, it is made with a side-folding blade or an out-the-front (OTF), or telescoping, blade. The gravity knife is different from the switch-blade, which is spring-driven, in that it needs to be “flipped” out of the handle manually”.

Worryingly, a quick “Google” will expose many stories of weary collectors who have had perfectly legal slip jointed knives seized as “Gravity” knives. It appears that if a blade isn’t tightened to the point that it is very stiff to open, so you can’t open it by flicking your wrist – it could be construed to be illegal. Hmmmmm :no:

It also appears that the ability to simply “spydie-drop” a knife may get it seized also. It’s a lottery, and a lot of people are losing a lot of expensive knives.

Some appeals reported have been successful, some haven’t, and it’s likely that most seizures go unreported and are simply accepted by buyers who worry about repercussions that might follow an unsuccessful appeal. Frankly though, this simply should not be an issue and provided a knife is legal, there should be no interference from customs beyond the charging of tariffs due.

The sad thing is that due to the current mood about knives in this country, you are unlikely to gain much support on any appeal, and for most people the risk of losing an expensive court action simply is too risky, over a $100 knife.

In the current climate, it is hard to visualise anything changing (for the better) in the near future, so until then, I wish you well if you are planning to import a knife or tool and recommend that you have your seller tighten the hell out of the thing prior to shipping.

Best of luck

One Response

  1. ReginaPhalange says:

    Coming from the U.S. perspective, and even though we have laws regulating certain types of knives and where they can be carried, that part of U.K. law that requires people to “justify” carrying a knife with a locking blade seems far from sensible.

    That seems awfully close to a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. Here, police poking through people’s things without genuine probably cause in the hopes that they’ll find something (such as a Swiss Army knife with a locking blade in the glove compartment of an old couple’s car) would bring the ACLU down on law enforcement here in a heartbeat, as well as kniferights.org and possibly the NRA (and nobody wants to have to deal with those loons 🙂 ).

    When I went to my local courthouse recently to renew my weapons carry permit (it covers guns *and* knives over a certain blade length now), I had to leave my small folding utility knife at the security checkpoint because I’d forgotten to remove it from my keychain, but that’s as far as it went. No cops called, no justifying my carry of it, nobody thought I was a criminal waiting to strike. And I’ve never pulled either a gun or a knife on anyone, go figure.

    What the D.A. in NYC has been doing lately to knife owners and knife dealers (google can bring up pleny of articles about it) is actually borderline criminal, but so far nobody with enough power and guts has been willing to take him on. Eventually, it’ll be worse for knife users in NYC than it is in the U.K., which makes me glad I don’t live there anymore (NYC).

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