This is an article I have written for the June 2014 edition of the Cardiff Times.
Why does a young person carry a weapon and commit murder? To some commentators it will be convenient to say they have been driven to murder by violent media by that favorite political and media scapegoat, Grand Theft Auto, or the horror film, for example, Saw. What is a more realistic but less attractive reason is that they are afraid of violence committed by others on them. The recent Office For National Statistics report which suggested a fall in violence, for example, omitted factors such as sexual or domestic abuse. What should not also be forgotten is that 10- to 15-year-olds are more likely to be victims of violent crime than adults.
Arguably, installing measures such as metal detectors at every school will discourage an environment of trust which is necessary to combat young people carrying weapons and increase anxiety among young people. In this context, it may seem obvious to look to the United States and the effectiveness of measures against gun violence. In reality, the situation is very different. According to a study conducted by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, since the mass shooting in Newtown, CT, fourteen months ago, the United States has witnessed 44 school shootings. This is an average of more than three a month. In the first six weeks of 2014 alone, there were 13 school shootings including one eight-day period.
In the UK it is interesting to note changes to stop and search, something which would have not stopped the stabbing of Ann Maguire, based on evidence suggesting it is all too easily applied on the basis of racial profiling. More importantly, it has been strongly argued that this policy poisons trust between young people in inner cities and the police. Meanwhile the tragic death of Ann Maguire reminds us that the problem of knife crime hasn’t gone away. In February this year Croydon saw six attacks in eleven days. Due to the unusual circumstances of Ann Maguire’s death in relation to the majority of knife crime it has inevitably attracted more media attention.
In its aftermath tougher measures such as proposed mandatory sentences for second time offenders are perhaps appealing but will not address the underlying issues of knife crime’s more hidden aspects – that many young people who carry knives are partly motivated by fear and a lack of faith in the authorities or parents to keep them safe. Mandatory sentences take away the judges’ discretion to consider individuals’ mitigating circumstances. This creates a risk where it could be applied in as ineffective manner as stop and search while doing nothing to prevent a vicious cycle which fear of knives creates. Indeed, it is telling that many young people who end up in A&E with a knife injury have been stabbed with their own weapon. In the wake of one headline case it would be easy for politicians to enforce tougher consequences for those involved in knife crime without continuing efforts to combat an environment where young people don’t feel safe. In the end, though there should be necessary consequences for offenders, equal care and attention should be given to both areas. In Cardiff itself, Jonathon Sheperd’s Violence Prevention Model, based on sharing of information between and action by police, councils and emergency services, has received attention from as afar as Amsterdam.