Legislation, to be introduced to the Scottish parliament later this year, will make it an offence for anyone to sell swords in Scotland other than for a legitimate purpose specifically exempted in law, including religious, cultural and sporting purposes.
The new regime will be backed by strong enforcement, with powers of entry and seizure extended to local authority trading standards officers where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been committed.
The measures are the latest steps being taken by the executive to tackle the scourge of knife crime and help create safer, stronger communities through a combination of legislation, enforcement and education.
Justice minister Cathy Jamieson said: 'Knife-carrying is all too prevalent in some communities, particularly in the west of Scotland, and has cut short and scarred too many young lives. In these areas police, doctors and law-abiding citizens have seen the damaging effects of swords, including samurai swords, being wielded on the streets.
'It is simply far too easy at present for these weapons to be bought and sold. That is why we will make it an offence for anyone in Scotland to sell a sword, subject to a number of exemptions, and require businesses to be licensed.
'As I have made clear before, we do not wish to unnecessarily restrict or adversely impact on religious, cultural or sporting activities - but neither will we allow communities to live in fear of sword-wielding thugs.
'Anyone wishing to sell swords under the exemptions will have to take reasonable steps to assure themselves that the intended use is an approved one. And it will also be an offence for a purchaser to give false information.
'Commercial sellers will have to comply with strict new licensing conditions, for example, keeping full records of all sales and buyers and complying with restrictions on displaying items.
'The licensing regime for sales of all non-domestic knives should help weed out unscrupulous traders and help legitimate traders take steps to avoid these dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands. This will be backed up with strong enforcement, with trading standards officers having new powers to search premises and seize items.
'This is just part of our wider work to tackle knife crime, having already acted to strengthen police powers, to increase penalties available to the courts and to educate and challenge young people about the dangers of carrying blades.
'We will continue to use all the powers and resources available to government to tackle this menace and I'm confident that, working with others, we can drive down knife crime, keep it down and break its grip on Scotland once and for all.'
Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the violence reduction unit, said: 'The introduction of a licensing scheme for non-domestic knives and swords is another major step forward in the fight against knife crime and violence.
'There's no denying that we have a unique problem with knife crime in Scotland. Knives and other sharp instruments are responsible for more than half of the homicides each year in Scotland. Last year there were 1,300 knife attacks in Strathclyde alone. Of these attacks, 1,100 were in a public place and involved non-domestic knives.
'Clearly a licensing scheme on its own won't solve the deep-rooted culture of violence which is prevalent in parts of Scotland. However, along with changes to legislation, amendments to police and criminal justice processes and a whole raft of other measures, it will undoubtedly have a positive impact.
'It's vital that we limit young people's access to potentially lethal weapons - this scheme will make it more difficult to buy a non-domestic knife if you don't have a legitimate reason.
'It's crucial that shopkeepers show some responsibility - they have an important role to play. Hopefully, this new licensing scheme will encourage the more unscrupulous traders to act more responsibly.
'People must realise that swords cause horrific injuries when they get into the wrong hands. We routinely see incidents involving swords, which result in appalling injuries. With the exception of religious, sporting or ceremonial purposes, no one needs to carry a sword on a night out.'
In November 2004 the First Minister announced a five-point plan on tackling knife crime, including proposals for a licensing scheme for the sale of non-domestic knives and a ban on sword sales.
The three other parts of the plan - doubling the maximum penalty for carrying a knife in public or in a school from two to four years, removing restrictions on police powers of arrest where someone is carrying a knife or offensive weapon in public, and increasing the minimum purchase age for non-domestic knives from 16 to 18 - were implemented through the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, and come into force in September.
Tackling Knife Crime, a consultation on the two outstanding parts of the five-point plan, received a total of 181 formal responses and saw a small majority of respondents in favour of licensing the sale of non-domestic knives and a majority against a ban on sales of swords.
After considering the consultation responses, three petitions supporting the five-point plan and one opposing an outright ban on sword sales, ministers have decided to introduce a licensing scheme for non-domestic knife sales and a ban on selling swords, other than for exempted purposes.
The legislation will provide for exceptions to the ban on sales for exempted purposes including: religion, culture (museum display; dramatic purposes, highland dancing, antique collecting and re-enactment & living history) and sport (fencing and those martial arts organised on a recognised sporting basis).
Licence conditions will set out the requirements businesses will have to follow in terms of collecting details on individuals wishing to purchase a sword.
Any retailers selling swords or non-domestic knives without a licence or anyone selling a sword illegally will face a substantial fine and a prison sentence. Any licensed seller of non-domestic knives or swords who breaches their licence conditions will risk loss of their licence and higher fines than those in place for other licensing schemes.
The mandatory licensing scheme for the commercial sale of non-domestic knives will apply to anyone engaged in the carrying on of a business as a dealer in non-domestic knives, swords and similar items, including second-hand items and any dealing incidental to the dealer's primary business. It will not apply to those engaged in private transactions that do not take place in the course of business.
Local authorities would be responsible for issuing licences. It would be a criminal offence for any business to sell these items without a licence.
As part of a year-long Safer Scotland campaign co-ordinated by the violence reduction unit, the first nationwide knife amnesty recently saw 12,645 weapons handed in to police, including 2,982 non-domestic knives and 474 swords. Enforcement action since then has taken a further 1,000 blades off the streets.