Knife Law Preemption

Summary

In recent years many local governments have enacted vague, outdated laws banning the sale, possession, use, and manufacture of certain types of knives. These ordinances include knives that the average person would consider to be common pocket knives. Vague jurisdictional knife definitions can lead to highly subjective law enforcement scenarios. Upon an arrest, the presiding judge must interpret these antiquated laws, causing the defendant to deal with costly legal problems and contributing to the backlog in our court system. It is essential that more states enact laws that preempt local knife laws and make the state the sole authority on knife laws in order to protect knife owners from a patchwork of local restrictions.

Introduction

Over the years, many local jurisdictions have enacted laws banning the sale, possession, use, and manufacture of certain types of knives. These ordinances include knives that the average person would consider to be common pocket-knives. In some instances, cities, towns, counties, and other political subdivisions have kept laws on the books referring to the possession of knives that are, at best, vaguely defined as “dirk, dagger, and stiletto.” These ordinances and restrictions have typically been adopted by the political subdivision when it was originally chartered, sometimes over 100 years ago, and were “cut and pasted” from standard bill drafting manuals of the day. It is not uncommon for many dated, unnecessary ordinances to remain on the books for many years and become largely ignored; however, the written ordinance or regulation can still cause legal issues if not clarified by higher law or overriding legislation.

Knife law preemption repeals and prevents local ordinances that are more restrictive than state law and only serve to confuse or entrap law-abiding citizens traveling within or through the state. Preemption ensures citizens can expect consistent enforcement of state knife laws everywhere in a state.

Vague jurisdictional knife definitions can lead to highly subjective law enforcement scenarios. If an arrest is made, it is then up to the presiding judge to interpret these antiquated laws, causing the defendant to deal with costly legal problems and contributing to the backlog in our court system. In far too many instances, misguided or unclear court decisions can cause serious problems for both defendants and the knife community at large. Several years ago, firearm advocates began a campaign to enact what they termed “firearms preemption” legislation. This legislation preempted the laws of local jurisdictions, making the state the sole authority on gun laws. These preemption laws generally repealed existing local gun laws or nullified them and established states as the primary and preemptive regulators of guns. Firearms preemption has been enacted, by legislation or judicial ruling, in 45 states to date. The same must be done for knife laws to protect knife owners from a patchwork of local restrictions of which they cannot reasonably be expected to keep track.

Points of Interest

  • According to the American Knife and Tool Institute and Knife Rights, the following states have enacted knife law preemption legislation: AK, AZ, GA, IA, IL, KS, MT, NH, OH, OK, TN, TX, UT, WI, and WV. Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wyoming all have language in their state constitution that does not make the passing of knife preemption legislation necessary.
  • In 2010, Arizona enacted the nation’s first Knife Law Preemption law.
  • Utah and New Hampshire both enacted knife law preemption legislation in 2011. In the case of New Hampshire, the simple solution was to add “and knives” to the existing firearms preemption law.
  • Georgia enacted knife law preemption legislation in 2012.
  • Alaska, Kansas, and Tennessee enacted knife law preemption legislation in 2012.
  • Oklahoma and Texas enacted knife law preemption legislation in 2015.
  • Wisconsin enacted knife law preemption legislation in 2016.
  • Montana enacted knife law preemption in 2019.
  • West Virginia enacted knife law preemption in 2020.
  • Ohio enacted knife law preemption in 2022.
  • LB 77 in Nebraska has been signed and is expected to go into effect in September 2023. The expanded preemption clause covers knives.
  • Under the 2022 Supreme Court decision Bruen v. New York State Pistol & Rifle Association, outright knife bans are unconstitutional, as knives are considered “arms” under the Second Amendment.

Language

As noted above in the Points of Interest section, Knife Law Preemption can sometimes be instituted by simply adding “and knives” to existing firearms preemption statutes. (See New Hampshire House Bill 544).

Oklahoma and Arizona enacted knife preemption legislation using the language below:

  • Oklahoma House Bill 1460: “No municipality or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt any order, ordinance, or regulation concerning in any way the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, carrying, bearing, transportation, licensing, permit, registration, taxation, other than sales and compensating use taxes, or other controls on firearms, knives, components, ammunition, and supplies.”
  • Arizona Title 13, chapter 31, § 13-3120: “Except as provided in subsection B, a political subdivision of this state shall not enact any ordinance, rule or tax relating to the transportation, possession, carrying, sale, transfer, manufacture or use of a knife or knife making components in this state.

Moving Forward

It is recommended that legislators explore and support knife preemption legislation in their state to ensure the ability of law-abiding sportsmen and women to carry and use these important sporting tools is not infringed upon by burdensome local legislation.  If states can pass legislation that clearly defines a knife and knife preemption, sportsmen and women will not be threatened by outdated or restrictive laws.

States Involved: / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

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