In Scouting, knives are a double-edged sword.
Used safely, they’re part of a rite of passage for boys and a chance for leaders to impart important lessons to help Scouts become “Prepared. For Life.”
But inevitably, some Scout will do his best Crocodile Dundee impression and show up at summer camp with the 10-inch sheath knife his uncle bought him.
The BSA keeps its knife policy intentionally vague (see below), offering suggestions but leaving specific policies up to individual units.
Does your pack, troop, team, or crew have a policy?
Units with knife policies often set a specific maximum blade length and other restrictions. Others leave it up to their Scouts’ common sense and only intervene if the need arises — such as confiscating a Scout’s big sheath knife or butterfly-style knife and returning it to his parents after the trip.
Whether you have a policy or are considering creating one, first read what the Guide to Safe Scouting says:
A sharp pocketknife with a can opener on it is an invaluable backcountry tool. Keep it clean, sharp, and handy. Avoid large sheath knives. They are heavy and awkward to carry, and unnecessary for most camp chores except for cleaning fish. Since its inception, Boy Scouting has relied heavily on an outdoor program to achieve its objectives.
This program meets more of the purposes of Scouting than any other single feature. We believe we have a duty to instill in our members, youth and adult, the knowledge of how to use, handle, and store legally owned knives with the highest concern for safety and responsibility.
Remember—knives are not allowed on school premises, nor can they be taken aboard commercial aircraft.
The Guide to Safe Scouting doesn’t get more specific than that, but most states do. Some states restrict knife length — in Texas, for example, a knife with a blade longer than 5.5 inches is deemed “illegal.” Others forbid certain kinds of knives, such as throwing knives.
This site aggregates state knife laws, so check your state’s laws today and be in the know.
How to create a policy
In keeping with the youth-led spirit of Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews, and Varsity teams, you’re better off letting the Scouts set their own policy.
Involving them in the process ensures that they’ll take ownership in the policy and will more effectively follow and enforce it.
Suggest they address knife length, kinds of knives allowed, how many knives each Scout can bring, proper storage, Totin’ Chip requirements, and anything else that addresses specific needs in your unit. And don’t forget to print out your state’s knife laws and give that to your youth leaders to consult.
Pretty soon, you’ll have a policy that allows — encourages, even — the safe use of knives in Scouting.
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What do you think?
I’d love to know whether packs, troops, teams, and crews have specific knife policies. If so, what do they include? Do you specify a maximum blade length? What about quantity — can Scouts carry multiple knives? Leave your thoughts below.
Photo by Flickr user herzogbr.