Gun Laws & Legislation
A police officer guards a block of flats in Greenwich following a raid in connection with the killing of a British soldier in nearby Woolwich, south east London May 23, 2013. Two men used a car to run down 25-year-old Afghan war veteran Drummer Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in southeast London and then attacked him with a meat cleaver and knives, witnesses said. The pair then told shocked bystanders they acted in revenge for British wars in Muslim countries. (REUTERS/ Paul Hackett) A police officer guards a block of flats in Greenwich following a raid in connection with the killing of a British soldier in nearby Woolwich, south east London May 23, 2013. Two men used a car to run down 25-year-old Afghan war veteran Drummer Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in southeast London and then attacked him with a meat cleaver and knives, witnesses said. The pair then told shocked bystanders they acted in revenge for British wars in Muslim countries. (REUTERS/ Paul Hackett)  

Why did British bystanders watch a soldier get hacked to death?

Mike Piccione
Editor, Guns & Gear

The recent attack on a British soldier by assassins wielding meat cleavers while bystanders looked on raises the question: “Why didn’t anyone try to help the victim?”

Because British citizens are prohibited from carrying objects that could be used as “offensive weapons.”

While it is well known that Brits cannot carry guns, a lesser known law prohibits any subject of the Queen from carrying a knife of consequence, pepper spray or a stun gun.

According to the United Kingdom government website, the online storehouse of British government regulations, it is illegal to:

  • sell a knife of any kind (including cutlery and kitchen knives) to anyone under 18
  • carry a knife in public without good reason – unless it’s a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62 cm) or less, eg a Swiss Army knife
  • carry, buy or sell any type of banned knife
  • use any knife in a threatening way (even a legal knife, such as a Swiss Army knife)

Folding knives, regardless of blade size, with a locking mechanism are illegal in the U.K. for carry in public and are referred to as “lock knives.” According to British law, “The maximum penalty for an adult carrying a knife is 4 years in prison and a fine of £5,000.”

Pepper spray is also illegal under section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968, which prohibits “any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing.”

It is illegal to import pepper spray or a stun gun because British law expressly states that pepper spray and stun guns are classified as firearms. Blow guns are classified as “offensive weapons” and are prohibited to own, except for veterinarians or registered animal handlers.

According to the UK website, “Having an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse can also lead to a fine and/or up to four years in prison.”

If you are known to have imported and possess the weapon the legal ramification is a fine and a prison sentence of up to ten years.

A reasonable excuse is defined as:

  • taking knives you use at work to and from work
  • you’re taking knives to a gallery or museum to be exhibited
  • the knife is going to be used for theatre, film, television, historical reenactment or religious purposes (eg the kirpan some Sikhs carry)

The government also states, however, “A court will decide if you’ve got a good reason to carry a knife if you’re charged with carrying it illegally.”