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Knife sellers say safeguards in place, efforts made to educate buyers on misuse of items

The accessibility of knives came into the spotlight after a 16-year-old boy was detained for planning to use a machete to attack two mosques in Singapore.

Knife sellers say safeguards in place, efforts made to educate buyers on misuse of items

A knife sold at specialist shop Caesars Singapore, which is licensed to sell controlled items. (Photo: Caesars Singapore)

SINGAPORE: Mr Varun Singh, who runs a store selling camping equipment, once refused to sell a knife to a “gangster-looking fellow”.

The man did not fit in with the store’s typical customer profile of outdoor enthusiasts or scouts, and more importantly, he did not want to answer questions about what he planned to use the knife for, said the owner of Nalno.com Outdoor Equipment.

The store sells fixed blade knives, axes, parangs and chopping tools – all of which are “permissible” items, according to classifications by the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

This means they may be brought into Singapore without the need for a licence, permit, authorisation or approval from the police. 

Therefore, there is no requirement to take down buyers’ details, but Mr Varun said he makes it a point to ask customers about the purpose of the purchase.

“I do a simple profiling of customers, and of course, if the intent of buying is not right, (it’s not right to sell),” said Mr Varun.

Knife retailers CNA spoke to said strict adherence to police guidelines and erring on the side of caution are important elements in ensuring the safe sale of such items.

It was reported last week that a 16-year-old boy who was detained under the Internal Security Act for planning to attack two mosques had planned to buy a machete to carry out the attacks.

The teen had found his choice of machete on online marketplace Carousell and added it to his favourite listings, but had not bought it when he was arrested. 

PROHIBITED, CONTROLLED AND PERMISSIBLE ITEMS

According to SPF, machetes are considered permissible items, alongside kitchen knives, sickles, swiss army knives and those found at camping shops like Mr Varun’s.

"However, some of these items may be deemed as offensive weapons depending on the circumstances they are found," police regulations stated. 

“If the person carrying the item is unable to provide a reasonable explanation, then he may have committed an offence under the Corrosive and Explosives Substances and Offensive Weapons Act or the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order & Nuisance) Act."

READ: Religious groups asked to be more vigilant after teenager planned mosque attacks: Shanmugam

The other two classifications are controlled items and prohibited items.

Controlled items require approval from the Police Licensing & Regulatory Department before they can be brought into Singapore.

These include firearms, air rifles, tasers, swords, bayonets, daggers, explosives and crossbows.

As for prohibited items – which include flick knives, knuckledusters, nanchakus, chain whips or ninja stars, simply having them in possession would be breaking the law.

COLLECTING DETAILS AND EDUCATING CUSTOMERS

Sword shop KNX, which has a licence to sell controlled items, said customers hoping to buy these items must provide their personal details as a safeguard.

“We must collect their IC particulars, their address and contact number. The buyer must also be above 18 years old,” said shop owner Yumi Xiao, noting that customers are typically collectors or cosplay enthusiasts.

But it does not hurt to be cautious, which is why she also collects details for permissible items that could be dangerous.

Katanas and swords sold at KNX, a shop that is licensed to sell such controlled items. (Photo: KNX)

Ms Xiao said she also highlights the laws surrounding the possession of such items.

“(I will tell them) if you go fishing or hiking, you can use it for the activity, but bringing the knife to Orchard, for example, is not allowed, it’s not the right purpose,” she said.

At sword shop Caesars Singapore, employees are trained to “evaluate” customers, said its operations manager Ng Huimin.

“They will assess and if they think it’s not appropriate, for example a customer doesn’t feel quite sane, they will reject the transaction,” said Ms Ng.

She added that they reserve the right to turn away customers who may be under police investigation.

“We definitely need to exercise social responsibility,” she added.

Knives sold at specialist shop Caesars Singapore, which is licensed to sell controlled items. (Photo: Caesars Singapore)

Some retailers said there is only so much that sellers can do.

Apart from calling up the parents of young buyers to verify the purchase, Mr Derrick Wong of camping equipment shop Outdoor Tactical said customers have the right to purchase non-controlled items.

It also would not be right to reject buyers based on their appearance alone, said Mr Wong. Instead, he does his best to educate customers on the relevant laws.

What happens beyond that is difficult to control, he said. “The tool is just a tool. It’s the person who’s going to use it in the right hand or the wrong hand."

“If the intention is totally wrong, even a pencil fully sharpened can also kill people," added Mr Wong.

GETTING KNIVES ONLINE

Such knives can also be bought through online platforms, which some argue makes such potential weapons more accessible.

But the founder of Urbantoolhaus, an online retailer, countered that online buyers are identifiable by their address and through payment providers, which he said is a “substantial consideration in discouraging criminal intentions”.

“This is opposed to the ability to anonymously procure knives or machetes from physical shops using cash,” said the shop’s founder Joshua Chang.

“Hence, I am assured that we serve as a responsible channel for retailing knives as buyers' details are recorded. We have also assisted the police in knife crime investigations,” he said.

Dr Chang added that the shop sells only permissible items.

As for Carousell – which is where the 16-year-old boy had intended to buy a machete from - “trust and safety” is of utmost importance, it said.

Its chief of staff Su Lin Tan said the platform does not permit the sale of objects specified on its list of prohibited items.

Carousell listing of machete that youth intended to purchase for the attacks. (Photo: ISD)

In response to queries from CNA, she added that Carousell uses automated and manual moderation to weed out these listings, while continuously updating its efforts “to detect the latest in innovations from constantly evolving bad actors”.

“This is a unique situation that has presented a challenge. A machete is a tool commonly used for outdoor activities such as camping and gardening, and is recognised as a permissible item," she added.

But the incident involving the teenager has been an “acute reminder” that the platform must continue to review items and situations holistically, she acknowledged.

“We have acted swiftly to do a thorough sweep of our marketplace, and are updating our content moderation methods and tools,” she told CNA.

READ: Owning digital plans to 3D-print guns without licence to be made a crime after new Bill passed

E-commerce platform Lazada said it also "issues guidelines to sellers on products they are allowed to list, as per guidance by regulators".

"We invest heavily in technology to screen products on the platform, which has led to a marked reduction in suspect product and scam listings on Lazada," a spokesperson told CNA.

Likewise, Shopee said it has a “strict zero-tolerance approach to the sale of prohibited items” and requires sellers to comply with both local regulations and its own policies.

“All listings on Shopee must go through a series of screenings, and listings not cleared due to regulatory violations or other violations of our terms of use will be removed”, it said.

According to the police, its list of prohibited, controlled and permissible items is not exhaustive, and advised individuals to seek clarification if in doubt about the status of certain items.

Source: CNA/cl(gs)

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