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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Knife Control in Spain, 1908

From the New York Times, January 19, 1908:
Government Undertakes to Seize All Weapons with Blades Over Six Inches Long.
Justification of Measure Found in the Enormous Number of Stabbing Affrays All Over the Country.
MADRID, Dec. 30. -- The classic "navaja," without which no romance of Spanish life is conceivable, and which, according to tradition, all the fair sisters of Carmen carry as well as their brethren, is doomed to disappear. The Minister of the Interior, Señor Laclerva, has just issued a decree forbidding the sale or the use of any pointed knife, dagger, or stiletto having a blade longer than six inches.
In consequence table knives, paper cutters, and penknives, none of which is very susceptible to romantic treatment, are all that are spared.
At the express order of the Minister, the police proceeded simultaneously in all the cities of Spain to a confiscation of the prohibited weapons--not only in the streets, but in the shops where they were sold. This resulted in the seizure in a single day of more than four thousand arms in Madrid alone. Three thousand were seized in Barcelona. In fact, the harvest of cold steel throughout the country was something enormous. The operation naturally was attended by vehement protests both on the part of manufacturers and retailers, who thus found their business suppressed without indemnity.
A single merchant in Madrid witnessed the confiscation of his entire stock, worth 40,600 pesetas. Even foreign dealers were subjected to similar loss, at the risk of diplomatic complications.
The region which was hardest hit is in and about Albaceta, where the manufacture of "navajas" hitherto has kept fifty-two large shops busy the year around. As for Toledo, it is chiefly occupied nowadays with the manufacture of military supplies. Its blades, formerly famous, are now manufactured at Albaceta. It is said that great pressure was brought to bear on the Minister to spare this ancient industry. He refused. Barcelona suffers especially because it did a large export business in sword canes. Señor Lacierva has plenty of support for his order. Cutting affrays were becoming increasingly common throughout the peninsula. Every rowdy in town and country carried his knife, and, it would seem from police statistics, was ready to use it. The "navaja" constitutes a particularly dangerous weapon and the wounds inflicted with it are often fatal. Sometimes its blade is a yard long.
Under the arcades of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, which was one of the great centres of the trade before the recent seizure, there used to be many horrible specimens on view, strangely twisted and inscribed with suggestive mottoes. Some of these mottoes were particularly bloodthirsty, such as: "The bite of this viper is death." I thirst, give me [blood] to drink." "For the defense of my beloved."
Despite the evil reputation which these knives have justly earned it is nevertheless true that they are the subject of a humorous tradition which is made much of in Spanish theatres. This has arisen from the habit of Spanish knife-fighters to exercise their verbal skill before getting down to real business. In fact, even after knives are drawn, two rivals will often stand face to face for half an hour calling each other all sorts of names and then be "separated" by friends before any blood is shed.
Some critics of Spain's reform Minister say that the only result of his latest edict will be to replace the "navaja" with the revolver.