WASHINGTON, DC—A report released Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Crime Statistics revealed that the quality of stabbings in America dropped by more than 50 percent in 1996.

Grisly scenes such as this are becoming alarmingly rare as quality of stabbings continues to drop across the nation.

According to the report, the typical stabbing victim last year had only a 1 in 20 chance of receiving a high-quality, "class one" wound, such as a "Colombian necktie," in which the victim's trachea is slashed and the tongue is brought out through the wound to dangle upon the chest.

"Sadly, what few stabbings do remain are the work of amateurs," FBI director Louis Freeh said. "There is very little of the sort of gruesome, precision work that law-enforcement officials used to expect from criminals."

Though the study gave no reason for the sudden drop in the quality of edged-weapon assaults, leading FBI criminologists believe that the proliferation of cheap, easily obtained firearms has caused many criminals to switch from stabbing to shooting.

"Why go through the trouble of plunging a knife into a person's chest cavity when you can just shoot them? That's the attitude of today's criminal," said Frank DiPino of the FBI. "It's a damn shame is what it is."

According to the new survey, over 85 percent of stabbings in 1996 were of the simple puncture-wound variety, in which the blade is merely used to pierce the victim's skin and muscle tissue before being quickly withdrawn.

Even worse, only 1 in every 72 stabbing deaths last year involved the insertion of the knife between the third and fourth ribs with an upward twisting motion, scraping the blade painfully along the rib bones while piercing the cardiac sac and, ultimately, the heart itself.

"When properly executed," DiPino said, "this type of stabbing can actually cause the victim to be lifted off the ground, becoming even more deeply impaled upon the blade by his own weight. This is the sort of thing we need to see more of."

Despite criminals' claims of financial hardship and substandard working conditions, law-enforcement officials are adamant in their call for improved stabbings.

"Just because you don't have a top-notch, $60 Ka-Bar Marine-Corps-issue combat knife doesn't mean the stabbing can't still be extraordinarily grisly," Chicago police commissioner Benjamin Bratton said. "Witness the excellent straight-razor work done by Chicago gangsters in the '30s. Those knives were simple as can be."

"I don't care if you've only got a single-edged letter opener," Bratton added. "Even someone with a small-edged weapon can kneel behind a standing victim, sever the femoral arteries behind and slightly below the knee, and keep them still for the 7 to 12 seconds it takes for gravity to drain the blood from their body."

Justice Department criminal profiler Kathryn Stephens agreed, saying that today's sloppy, half-hearted stabbings reflect just how much crime has worsened in America.

"When I reconstruct an incident in which the murderer merely drove the knife into the victim's back without twisting the blade, making zero effort to inflict multiple gashes, I imagine an assailant who doesn't take his work seriously at all, so very unlike the violent criminals of the past."

According to Stephens, the best hope for improving the quality of stabbings in America is to focus on raising young people's awareness of stabbing-technique issues through community-based education programs.

"If we don't reach out to these kids now, while they're still young, who will they learn from?" Stephens said. "Who is going to teach them to force double-edged razor blades into the victim's mouth and force him to chew? To sever the Achilles' tendons? To carve cabalistic symbols into the back? To slice the webbing under the armpits? And to tie the arms behind the back before hanging the victim upside down from a roof beam, cutting their throat from ear to ear?"

"Stabbers used to be conscientious, thorough and organized," Stephens said. "Today, they're just common hoods, without skills, self-esteem or direction, without any pride in themselves or their work. How much worse can crime get before somebody does something about it?"