Northern Ireland shops must take knife laws seriously
Given the publicity surrounding knife crime in other parts of the UK, it is astonishing that retailers in Northern Ireland have such a laissez-faire attitude to legislation banning sales of such weapons to under-18s.
A survey found that in roughly four out of ten cases purchasers of knifes were not asked their name, even though that is the law and a failure to do so can result in a fine and up to six months' jail.
Northern Ireland shares the worst record in observing the law with Scotland.
In London, where there have been at least 36 fatal stabbings since the beginning of this year, retailers failed only 18% of test purchases.
It can be argued that the level of knife crime here is much lower than in other parts of the UK, yet in 2016/17 the PSNI recorded 707 violent and sexual offences crimes where knives or other bladed instruments were used.
That shows there is no need for complacency, especially since the types of crime recorded included murder, attempted murder and rape.
Some people might say that knives are ubiquitous, since every household has drawers full of them. But cutlery-style knives are not weapons of choice for those who would use them in a premeditated fashion. Instead, they tend to seek out more deadly versions.
It is worrying that homeware, DIY stores and supermarkets were all found to be in breach of the law, and this survey should certainly serve as a wake-up call to the authorities.
Legislation is only as effective as its enforcement, and it seems evident that many retailers do not fear being found out for selling to under-age customers.
Of course, it is not just teenagers who are guilty of knife crime, but prevention has to start somewhere, and with the laws on the statute book it is imperative that it is enforced rigidly. Perhaps if some retailers found themselves receiving fines and/or terms of imprisonment that would send out a message to the high street that the authorities are serious about ensuring the law is obeyed.
In the past the greatest worry in Northern Ireland was being confronted by someone carrying a gun, and while arms are still available, knives are now a more commonplace weapon and equally deadly.
There have been several high-profile knife killings in the province in recent years, and the effect on the families involved should harden the resolve of everyone to take knife crime seriously.