Why are pocket knives disturbing?

“Put that away! I don’t want anyone to see you carry one of those!”

It was an order, from someone I know well, so I complied. We were at a function recently, during which someone needed a knife to cut a small cake.

None being visible, I took out my pocket knife. At first, I thought the objection was about cleanliness. I keep the blade clean and was going to wash it before slicing. But that wasn’t it.

I’m not certain whether the knife branded me as prone to violence or merely uncouth.

“You do realize,” I retorted, “that each and every member of the Continental Congress had one of these in his pocket?” That did no good. I put the knife away.

How times change. I — and quite a few other people — carry a knife for the same reason I leave a pair of pliers and a couple of screwdrivers in the car. Sometimes, they come in handy. When you need one, there aren’t any good substitutes.

Nowadays, however, even a small pocket or pen knife (the blade on mine is less than 3 inches long) seems to be socially unacceptable. One of those screwdrivers from my car is more dangerous, but that isn’t the point (pun intended). It is that knives are well on their way to being demonized as guns have been.

The nation’s founders really did carry edged implements. That’s why some are called pen knives. They came in handy to sharpen the tips of quill pens.

Not so long ago, pocket knives were very common. I received one, a delicate little engraved number with a black handle, as a college graduation present.

I still treasure about half a dozen folding knives that my late father owned. One, no more than two inches long, has a mother-of-pearl handle. Another has a simulated stag-horn handle.

The blades on some of them are worn down severely. Dad liked his knives sharp, and he explained to me once that a dull knife can be dangerous.

As weapons, Dad’s knives would be all but useless. On most, the blade tips are rounded off, probably for safety. A sharply-pointed knife blade has almost no use as a tool. It’s the edge that’s important.

That’s the thing. Most small pocket knives are tools, not weapons. Are they better than nothing if one has to defend oneself? Of course. But they are not meant as offensive weapons.

So why are so many people disturbed by them?

Why are men who enjoy violent video games in which they sometimes imagine slaughtering innocent people seen as responsible members of society — while I, with my pocket knife, am suspect?

Am I becoming paranoid? Not at all. Are you aware that in Great Britain, it is illegal to sell anyone under 18 a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches?

It is illegal for anyone to carry a knife with a blade longer than that in public. Your second violation guarantees you a prison term.

But a British government website lists acceptable reasons for carrying a knife in public. If you need it on your job, plan to use it in a movie, or intend to demonstrate to someone how to use a knife, you’re all right.

One final permissible reason: “taking it to a gallery or museum to be exhibited.”

Heaven help us. Maybe I’d better get those screwdrivers out of the car before they’re deemed unacceptable.

Mike Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.