Alec Marsh

Penknives aren’t dangerous

I doubt many people have used them as a weapon

  • From Spectator Life

The company that makes the world-renowned Swiss Army penknife has decided to introduce a range of penknives that come… wait for it… without knives – citing increased regulations ‘due to the violence in the world’.

It isn’t the knives that need changing, but rather the poorly-applied laws

The problem is that a Swiss Army penknife without a knife isn’t a penknife, it’s a multi-tool, which is an entirely different kettle of fish (and you couldn’t possibly gut a fish with one of them – unless you’re going to unleash the corkscrew, Phillips screwdriver or tweezers on your trout).

It isn’t the knives that need changing, but rather the poorly-applied laws. In Britain, for instance, you can only carry a folding knife in public that has a maximum length blade of three inches. That’s been the case since 1988 and has led to many law-abiding folk meticulously measuring the blades on their old penknives to make sure they don’t fall foul of the plod. Which is not what the law is for at all.

While I suppose there ought to be a restriction on the length of knives people can stroll about Tesco’s with, it strikes me that three inches seems rather proscriptive. After all, an inch is more than enough to finish someone off if you go for the jugular or some other exposed part of the anatomy and have malignant intent.

Which means that the law we have is borderline useless, especially since – as we are all sadly aware – it’s patently being ignored by the individuals who take part in knife-crime, a variety of lawbreaking categorised recently as ‘a plague’ by Mr Justice Saini in Bristol. Once again it’s a law that seemingly only applies to the law-abiding.

If I were going into a knife fight, I’d like to do it with something more intimidating than, say, Victorinox’s Huntsman Swiss Army Knife (retail price £52.69) abundant with retractable features though it may be. Chances are I’d pull out the nail scissors or bottle opener by mistake – or, worse still, cut myself on the blade while trying to extract it.

The idea that these blades are contributing to knife crime is obviously silly. But there’s a deeper problem. That someone might walk into the countryside, light a fire, catch a fish and cook it on said fire, all without explicit permission, is increasingly alien. The little folding hardened steel knives of the Swiss Army penknife have somehow become a symbol of this.

Of course, knife-crime is undoubted problem – last year there were 244 killings involving knives. Perhaps this is why the Swiss are producing bladeless penknives: they need to assuage not only worried middle-class parents (or uncles, penknives are a very avuncular gift) but also panicking lawmakers. In this sense, the firm is simply insulating itself against the unknown.

Victorinox would be better off standing firm. They should sponsor anonymous knife surrender stations in our destitute urban centres (where people can dump their unwanted zombie or Rambo knives), rather than surrendering their own brand integrity. Or perhaps the firm could donate some dosh to charities active in the business of anti-knife education or combatting knife crime? In this way the brand could become synonymous with a responsible attitude towards sharp edges, which, let’s not forget, are essential for everyday life. Instead, Victorinox appears to have signalled that it is prepared to retreat. Perhaps, it should rebrand itself Defeatinox?


Comments will appear under your real name unless you enter a display name in your account area. Further information can be found in our terms of use.