Knife industry and advocacy groups have successfully worked with the U.S. Congress to amend the Federal Switchblade Act so that one-hand opening and assisted-opening knives with a “bias toward closure,” like those used for hunting, are not classified as switchblades. Passing laws at the state level that are similar to the federal exemption to the Switchblade Act is another step in the right direction for protecting sportsmen’s tools from anti-knife groups.
Over the years, many states have enacted laws banning the sale, possession, use, and manufacture of certain types of knives. This includes knives that the average person would consider to be common pocket knives. In some instances, states have kept laws on the books referring to the possession of knives that are, at best, vaguely defined as “bowie knife”, “dirk”, “dagger”, and “stiletto.” Over time, some types of knives that are not specifically banned have been banned by judicial decisions that, by convoluted reasoning, have used existing knife bans to include various other knives.
In recent years, there has also been an effort to restrict the type of knives people carry in their everyday lives. In many instances, this has been done by attempting to re-define common pocketknives as switchblades, gravity knives, or other knives which in some jurisdictions are currently illegal. This deception has most frequently been applied to knives that are capable of being opened with one hand. One hand opening knives are simply that – a knife which may be opened by just using one hand. Most one hand opening knives also possess a “bias toward closure” which simply means it has a spring, detent, or other mechanism that maintains the knife in a closed position until the bias is overcome with applied pressure. None of these knives in any of their configurations meet the common definition of a switchblade, which the federal government and most states have defined as: “…any knife having a blade which opens automatically (1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or (2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.” By way of explanation, a switchblade has a bias toward opening in that the spring, that opens the blade, is under constant tension or compression and is held from opening by a release mechanism in the handle. As soon as the blade is released by a button or other device in the handle, the blade opens automatically. Common folding knives, including one-hand-opening and assisted-opening folding knives, have a bias toward closure in that the blade is not under tension to open, rather, via some mechanical means, it is retained in the closed position until the blade is physically moved by the operator.
While initial state legislative efforts to effect change in knife laws were aimed at providing a defined exception to state switchblade and gravity knife bans for knives with a “bias toward closure,” efforts now are primarily aimed at simply outright repealing archaic and irrational knife bans with considerable success.
Points of Interest
- Court cases in California, Illinois, Michigan and Texas have all ruled that assisted-opening and one-hand-opening knives are not switchblades. These knives were not considered switchblades because they do not possess the activating button or device on the handle of the knife.
- In 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection attempted to claim that one-hand-opening and assisted-opening knives were in fact switchblades. Beyond prohibiting the importation of these knives into the U.S., this interpretation would have established a federal precedent for this broad new definition of a switchblade that would have affected 80% of the sporting knives sold in the United States. Knife industry and knife owner advocacy groups worked with the U.S. Congress to amend the Federal Switchblade Act with a specific exception covering one-hand-opening and assisted-opening knives from restriction as switchblades using “bias toward closure” language. This was signed into law by the President in October, 2009 (15 U.S.C. §1244, Exceptions, (5)).
- In 2010, New Hampshire repealed bans on switchblades, dirks, daggers and stilettos.
- In 2012, Missouri repealed a ban on switchblades.
- In 2013, Alaska, Indiana, Kansas and Texas repealed bans on switchblades and other banned knives.
- In 2014, Tennessee repealed bans on switchblades and carry ban on knives over 4-inches.
- In 2015, Maine repealed a ban on switchblades, Oklahoma repealed a carry ban on switchblades and enacted Knife Preemption, repealing dozens of local knife restrictions and preventing any future local restrictions. Nevada repealed bans on switchblades with blades longer than 2-inches, dirks, daggers and belt buckle knives.
- In 2016, Wisconsin repealed a ban on switchblades and Oklahoma repealed bans on carry of daggers, bowie knives, dirk knives and sword canes.
- In 2017, Colorado repealed a ban on switchblades, Montana repealed bans on concealed carry of knives with blade of 4-inches or greater, dirks, daggers, sword canes and razors, Georgia’s legal carry length without CCW increased from 5 inches to 12 inches, Texas repealed bans on carry of “Illegal Knives” including bowie knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, poniards, swords, spears and blades over 5.5 inches, Michigan repealed a ban on switchblades, Illinois repealed a ban on switchblades (FOID card required).
- In 2019, Montana repealed a ban on switchblades.
- In 2021, Ohio repealed the prohibition against carrying a concealed deadly weapon if the knife is not used as a weapon and removed the prohibition against the manufacture or sale of certain types of knives, including knives that are legal to possess in the state.
In 2013, Alaska enacted legislation, SCR 4 and HB 33, specifically defining switchblades and gravity knives for criminal law while reserving the authority to regulate knives to the state with limited exceptions for municipalities to regulate knives (See Knife Preemption brief).
- In 2014, Tennessee enacted S.1771 eliminating the last remaining restrictions on knives by repealing the state’s antiquated ban on automatic knives and possession of knives over four inches in length (which by enactment of Knife Preemption legislation the previous year, meant the new freedom applied throughout the state).
- In 2015, Maine enacted a State law repealing its ban on switchblades.
- In 2016, Wisconsin enacted A 142 which removes the use of the term switchblade in provisions of existing law that define the word “weapon” while also revising provisions regarding the carrying of a concealed knife.
- In 2017, Colorado enacted SB 17-008, repealing a ban on switchblades.
- In 2019, New York enacted NY A 5944 repealing a ban on gravity knives by removing all references to gravity knives in the criminal statues (while leaving the definition in place).
Knife ban repeal legislation ensures that sportsmen and women are not unduly barred from carrying and using knives that have become an essential part of responsible hunting and angling, as well as everyday life. For this reason, legislators should craft and support legislation that repeals archaic and irrational knife bans. The simple possession of a particular knife because of an arbitrary definition should not be criminalized.