A knife ban is not enough to combat armed violence among youngsters

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In recent years, the amount of news reports of stabbing incidents involving minors has increased. According to many administrators, a nationwide knife ban could help deal with the issue of armed violence, but the introduction of such a ban is long overdue. Therefore, several municipalities are now taking the lead by introducing their own knife bans. The Dutch radio programme ‘Spraakmakers’ recently examined the knife ban in one of its episodes. The statement: “There should be a nationwide knife ban for minors as soon as possible.” Frank Weerman, Professor of Youth Criminology at Erasmus School of Law, joined the episode as one of the experts and explained that a knife ban is not a holy grail. 

Last year, Weerman researched armed violence among youngsters last on behalf of the municipality of Rotterdam. Together with colleagues, he asked many young people about the issue and found out that most of them are against arms possession. “They don’t consider this to be normal at all”, Weerman said during the episode. Moreover, according to him, more and more youngsters also see the danger of arms possession. 

Image, safety, and self-protection 

Still, a small proportion of these young people possessed a knife or other weapon. According to Weerman, this is mainly because these youngsters feel unsafe and want to protect themselves. This feeling of insecurity is twofold. On the one hand, young people consider the streets dangerous because of media coverage of arms and crime on the streets. In addition, arm buy-backs contribute to the perception that many young people carry knives: a reason for some other young people to do the same. On the other hand, some youngsters have a proper reason to feel unsafe on the streets. “There are also young people who reasonably feel threatened and sometimes get into conflicts more often partly because of their behaviour. These are young people who are a bit more street-focused or a bit more impulsive. Many of the young people who carry a weapon appear to have recently been victims of violence themselves”, Weerman said. 

While most of these youngsters carry a knife or other weapon ‘only’ for protection, a small proportion of young people appear to use them to threaten or injure someone. According to Weerman, “a lot is going on with this group of young people.” Weerman, for example, points to young people with problematic living situations in which parents are often absent, and children have to cook their own food, and in which the young people live on the streets a lot. Consequently, they have developed street values, such as being anti-police and accepting violence. 

Is a knife ban enough? 

According to several experts in the episode, a knife ban has two sides. On the one hand, a ban can contribute to setting standards and, therefore, may be pivotal in breaking the vicious cycle of violence on the streets. On the other hand, you will not reach the hard-core youngsters struggling with multi-problems with a ban. This takes money, effort, and time. “These are intensive programmes, with counselling, youth work and role models”, Weerman states. “So, it is not short-term work. It’s a long-term investment.” 

Listen back to the entire radio episode here

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The research team identifies different groups of youth with weapons. “Focus on the most high-risk groups and the underlying problems.”

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