Modern Studies resources

We often get asked to help Modern Studies students find out more about violence prevention and knife crime in Scotland. This could be as part of a unit assignment or for dissertation research. 

We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions and answers to provide some insight into our work, and to inspire you to carry out further research into the subject of violence prevention and knife crime in Scotland.

Frequently asked questions

From the Modern Studies module
What causes violence?

Violence has many causes and in our experience these include frustration, exposure to violent peers or desensitising media, violence in the home or neighbourhood and a tendency to see other people's actions as hostile even when they're not.

Is violence increasing?

Knife crime has dramatically reduced in Scotland and is no longer as common as it was. In 2009—the year No Knives Better Lives started—you were 44% more likely to risk injury through stabbing compared to today. 

The crime of handling an offensive weapon has declined by 44%—knives peaked at 10,110 in 2007, and in 2020 this figure was 4,484.

Although carrying offensive weapons has decreased dramatically since then, we have seen a slight year on year increase over the past 4 years. 

Has Scotland got a worse problem with violence than England?

Scotland has often had a reputation for violence—Glasgow used to be referred to as the Murder Capital of Europe in the mid 2000s. The reality, however, is very different these days.  

The problem of knife crime is worse in London and seems to be fuelled by violent gangs and organised crime rings. We understand that vulnerable young people can be coerced into running errands for others—County Lines is an example of this. Cities in the Midlands are experiencing issues similar to those in London.  

By comparison, Scotland is relatively peaceful, though this is not a reason to be complacent about tackling knife crime and there has been a slight uptick in numbers in Scotland over the last 4 years.

Is it legal to carry a knife?

No—it is illegal to carry a knife or offensive weapon in a public place without a reasonable excuse and you can get up to 5 years in prison.

Reasonable excuses include work use, such as knives for carpet fitting and fishing, but this only applies whilst actually in the workplace.

Why do some people carry a knife?

People tell us that they carry knives from fear, or to protect themselves.

Are men more likely to carry a knife than women?

A lot more likely! 

85% of people convicted of carrying knives were men, according to a 2017 survey by the Scottish Government.

Are men more likely to be the victims of violence?

Knife crime is predominantly a male on male activity. Men are far more likely to be the victims of knife crime than women.

Are teenagers more likely to carry knives?

No—the average age of someone convicted of carrying a knife in Scotland is 29. Most young people do not carry knives. 

We think that knife carrying is not seen as either cool or safe amongst the vast majority of young people. Older people who get caught are more likely to be involved in criminal activity.

In your opinion, what are the main causes of knife crime in Scotland?

Causes of knife carrying are complex with lots of different factors contributing differently in every case (e.g. poverty, fear, gang involvement, alcohol/drugs, etc.)

Are you more likely to be stabbed by a person you know?

Yes—most people who are stabbed know the perpetrator. You are unlikely to be stabbed by a stranger.

Can the police stop and search you if they think you are carrying a knife?

Police can legitimately stop and search you if they suspect you are carrying a knife.

Are you less likely to be attacked if you carry a knife?

In our experience it’s the opposite. You could be more likely to be attacked if you carry a knife, or have that knife used against you. Although we do not have any statistics to help you with any further information about this question.

If you have a criminal record can you be barred from entering the USA?

The USA and other places such as Australia and Canada are very strict about letting people into the country with criminal records. You will be highly unlikely to gain entry to those countries with a criminal record.

Is it illegal to sell a knife to someone under 18?

It is illegal to sell a knife or any bladed article to anyone under the age of 18 unless it is a domestic knife like cutlery. It is illegal to sell even a domestic knife to anyone under the age of 16.

Can you still go to prison even if you don't use a knife?

Yes—you could be sent to prison for murder or attempted murder even if you didn’t have or use the knife. If you are with someone who does use a knife and harms someone you could be found guilty under the ‘joint enterprise’ rule.

If you are carrying a weapon 'for a friend' can you still go to jail?

Yes—if you are caught carrying a knife, it doesn’t matter if it was for your own protection or you were carrying it for someone else. You can be prosecuted and the police are unlikely to let you off. The police will have heard both of these excuses many times.

Can you get away with carrying a weapon if it is not a knife, like a sharpened metal comb?

The legal definition of an offensive weapon includes anything that is intended to harm another person, such as a sharpened comb.  

It is also illegal to carry a ‘disguised knife’—anything with a concealed blade or a sharp point that’s made to look like an everyday object e.g. a pen, a lipstick or a cigarette lighter. You can get up to 5 years in prison for this too.

Frequently asked questions

About No Knives, Better Lives
What is the aim of your campaign?

No Knives, Better Lives aims to prevent knife carrying amongst young people.

What recent events have you held?

We have held virtual events throughout COVID-19. For example, recent events have included training for youth workers on detached youth work, and hosting a Community of Practice event for youth workers, police officers and others working with young people.

See our events page for more details.

How is your campaign funded?

We are funded by the Scottish Government.

How many people volunteer and work for your campaign?

We have three part-time members of staff at NKBL.

Do you work with schools?

There are lots of different ways schools can get involved in what we do, such as using our teaching resources or participating in our new Nae Danger game project.

What impact, if any, has COVID 19 had on NKBL?

We have changed a lot of our plans like holding events and training in person. We have also re-thought some of our work to make it more relevant to lockdown. For example, producing a new toolkit on running our activities at a social distance.

What age group is NKBL aimed at?

NKBL activities can be run with young people from primary school age (with our specific primary school resource) right up to early 20s. Most of our work is focused from about S2-S6.

Do you think that custodial sentences are beneficial for those who have committed a knife offence?

The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice has information on the impact custody has on young people.

In your opinion, has the Scottish government done enough to curb knife crime in Scotland?

NKBL is a collaboration between the Scottish Government and YouthLink Scotland—the national agency for youth work in Scotland. We’re a national initiative, delivered at local level with support available to any local authority in Scotland.

What is a public health approach?

A public health approach treats violence like an infectious disease. It suggests that policy makers should search for a cure by using scientific evidence to identify what causes violence and find interventions that work to prevent it spreading. 

Each of NKBL’s national partners are committed to identifying and intervening in different aspects of violence, centred around a public health approach.

Further resources

Recorded crime in Scotland government statistics
View wesbite
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