Stop the nonsensical war on inanimate objects
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- The announcement of yet another nonsensical ‘war’ on guns and knives had me wondering if somebody has blown the Government’s brains out.
The ban on handguns has failed to reduce gun crime. So, let’s ban pretend guns too! The ban on under-16s buying knives has achieved nothing. So, let’s ban under-18s from buying a penknife as well! New Labour looks increasingly like a teenage thug with an imitation firearm, waving around useless laws in an effort to look hard.
Only last year, a Home Office consultation concluded that a blanket ban on imitation firearms would be unworkable and impracticable. Yet the crackdown-addicts in the Home Office are going ahead with it anyway. They think that the form of words in the new Bill, banning anything ‘that any reasonable person could mistake for a firearm’, will clear up any confusion. Where that leaves, say, a table leg – which police marksmen have mistaken for a gun before now – is anybody ’s guess. Whatever the authorities claim, the law is certain to make it harder still to fulfil our parental duty to buy toy guns; as it is, I had to ‘smuggle’ in two spud guns from the States for my daughters last Christmas.
Once you start believing that you can solve life’s problems by banning inanimate objects, where do you stop? Last November, Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, announced that 272 people were killed in knife attacks in the year 2002-03. On closer inspection, these knife murders include all homicides by sharp instrument, such as broken bottles and glasses. Perhaps any potentially sharp objects should be outlawed as ‘replica knives’. And what about the blunt objects used in 47 killings that year, or the ropes and things used to strangle another 68 victims?
In 1996, when I was editor of Living Marxism magazine, we ran a front cover ridiculing the launch of the first war on knives under the headline ‘Ban These Evil Spoons – join the crusade against cutlery’. We pointed out that, if combat knives were to be banned as the Labour Opposition then demanded, then surely lethal-looking kitchen carving knives ought to be banned, too. And why not artery-puncturing forks or eye-gouging spoons hidden in every cutlery drawer?
In 2005, that is no longer a laughing matter. Last month, a group of doctors used the British Medical Journal to demand a total ban on long, sharp kitchen knives, in order to stop us all stabbing one another to death. They insisted that knives less than 5cm (2in) long, or with blunt, round ends would meet all of our ‘culinary needs’. Let them eat lentils?
There are already plenty of laws against some little toe rag using a knife or replica gun. This obsession with imposing ban after ban can only intensify the climate of fear in which we are treated as children who need to be kept away from sharp edges and nasty toys. The very idea of launching a war against ‘evil’ objects smacks of superstition. The superstitious ancients used to put inanimate objects on trial for murder, and condemn carts or statues to death. In these more enlightened times, we await the headline ‘Knife gets life’.
- The government is also keen to ban ideas that make people feel edgy.
So they have brought back the Bill to outlaw ‘incitement to religious hatred’. Ministers insist that it will not affect our freedom to criticise or even ridicule religion. But how can that be, when anybody who feels criticism of their faith is ‘abusive’ or ‘insulting’ will be free to call in the thought police?
The ruling spirit of our age appears to be one of illiberal liberalism, summed up by the self-righteous declaration that ‘I can tolerate anything except intolerance’. It may surprise readers to know that even my mildly bigoted views can prove intolerable to some. One reader recently wrote to suggest that the ‘hate’ expressed in my column made me ‘a most unwelcome member of society’. I didn’t realise that membership was by invitation only.
Whether our self-appointed moral gatekeepers approve of it or not, the freedom to think and say what we believe without fear or favour remains the bedrock of a civilised society. So long as we are dealing with words and not violent deeds (a distinction lost on some), we should be free to hate whatever we choose – be it religions, football clubs or even Times columnists.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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