Actor Idris Elba fights to end knife violence in the UK

The U.K. has strict gun control laws: Handguns are banned and owners of other firearms are closely licensed.

Though while violent deaths occur in the U.K. at a much lower rate than in the United States, they do happen. 

About 4 in 10 homicides involve a knife or sharp instrument. Of the 21 teenagers killed in 2023, 18 were stabbed to death.

“We’re not saying much to society, to young people by allowing this problem to escalate. It should be going the other way,” said Idris Elba, actor and anti-knife-violence activist.

There were more than 50,000 cases of knife-involved crimes in a recent 12-month reporting period in the U.K. Reducing that type of violence in the United Kingdom is a mission for Elba.

“Listen, I am an actor. I am an entertainer. I’m using art. I’m using, you know, my voice, my platform. But however, I really feel that I can pull, we can pull together a group of people to help the government tackle this,” he said. 

Known from American television shows such “The Wire” and “The Office,” Alba’s British series “In The Long Run” was a comedic nod to his rough-and-tumble childhood growing up in the London borough known as Hackney.

Elba’s Don’t Stop Your Future organization works with community groups to try to stop what he calls the epidemic of knife crime.

It also lobbies the British government to take action, including tightening a ban on machetes and the curved, serrated weapons known as zombie knives.

“Outside Parliament, because, you know, the truth is, I’m asking simply to symbolically put an absolute ban on machetes and zombie knives now. Today. Why? Because I think the nation want to see that we do care about our youth,” he said. 

Laws have been passed to control these types of knives, but sales of the weapons remain. Parliament is now considering how to close loopholes, and knives remain available online.

In October, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “the time for talking is over,” adding he is determined to “end the scourge of knife crime.”

To illustrate the problem, Elba recently held a press conference outside Parliament, posing with clothes and shoes representing 247 people killed with knives.

“Banning knives and banning zombie knives and machetes isn’t going to eradicate the problem. But what it will symbolically say is that our society has no tolerance for it,” he said. 

Elba told Sky News the victims go beyond those taken bleeding to the hospital or morgue.

“It’s not just the victim and the perpetrator whose lives get disrupted. It’s a world of reverberations, a ripple effect and it literally affects our entire country,” he said. “On New Year’s Eve while the rest of us are having a good time, someone had to knock on the door of a family and say, ‘I’m really sorry your son’s not coming home’. OK? That person, the paramedic that had to deal with that young person’s life is affected. The families forever will have this moment, you know, marred in their lives. And so what I’m talking about right now is how can we prevent it? “