David B. Kopel, Clayton E. Cramer & Joseph Edward OlsonKNIVES AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT David B. Kopel,1 Clayton E. Cramer2 & Joseph Edward Olson3 This Article is the first scholarly - [PDF Document] (2024)

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David B. Kopel,1 Clayton E. Cramer2 & Joseph Edward Olson3

This Article is the first scholarly analysis of knives and the Second Amendment.Under the Supreme Court’s standard in District of Columbia v. Heller, knivesare Second Amendment “arms” because they are “typically possessed by law-abidingcitizens for lawful purposes,” including self-defense.

There is no knife that is more dangerous than a modern handgun; to the contrary,knives are much less dangerous. Therefore, restrictions on carrying handguns setthe upper limit for restrictions on carrying knives.

Prohibitions on carrying knives in general, or of particular knives, are unconstitu-tional. For example, bans of knives that open in a convenient way (e.g.,switchblades, gravity knives, and butterfly knives) are unconstitutional. Likewiseunconstitutional are bans on folding knives that, after being opened, have a safetylock to prevent inadvertent closure.

1. Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law, Denver University, SturmCollege of Law. Research Director, Independence Institute, Denver, Colorado. AssociatePolicy Analyst, Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. Professor Kopel is the author of fifteen booksand over eighty scholarly journal articles, including the first law school textbook on theSecond Amendment: NICHOLAS J. JOHNSON, DAVID B. KOPEL, GEORGE A. MOCSARY & MICHAEL


(Vicki Been et al. eds., 2012). Kopel’s website is DAVE KOPEL, http://www.davekopel.org (lastvisited Aug. 20, 2013).

2. Adjunct History Faculty, College of Western Idaho. Mr. Cramer is the author ofCONCEALED WEAPON LAWS OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC: DUELING, SOUTHERN VIOLENCE, AND

MORAL REFORM (1999) (cited by Justice Breyer in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct.3020, 3132 (2010) (Breyer, J., dissenting)), and ARMED AMERICA: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF

HOW AND WHY GUNS BECAME AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE (2006), and co-author of, amongother articles, Clayton E. Cramer & Joseph Edward Olson, What Did “Bear Arms” Mean in theSecond Amendment?, 6 GEO. J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 511 (2008) (cited by Justice Scalia in District ofColumbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 588 (2008)), and Clayton E. Cramer, Nicholas J. Johnson &George A. Mocsary, “This Right is Not Allowed by Governments that Are Afraid of the People”: ThePublic Meaning of the Second Amendment When the Fourteenth Amendment Was Ratified, 17 GEO.MASON L. REV. 823 (2010) (cited by Justice Alito in McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3039 n.21,3041 n.25, 3043). Mr. Cramer’s website is CLAYTON CRAMER’S WEB PAGE, http://www.claytoncramer.com (last visited Aug. 20, 2013).

3. Professor of Law, Hamline University School of Law, A.B. University of Notre Dame,J.D. (distinction) Duke University, LL.M. University of Florida. Professor Olson is the authorof a book on federal taxation, thirteen articles in various fields, and four amicus briefs to theU.S. Supreme Court on Second Amendment issues, as well as co-author of Clayton E. Cramer& Joseph Edward Olson, What Did “Bear Arms” Mean in the Second Amendment?, 6 GEO. J.L. &PUB. POL’Y 511 (2008).

The authors thank Michael P. O’Shea, Eugene Volokh, Robert Dowlut, and Rhonda L.Thorne Cramer for their comments and suggestions.


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Although Second Amendment cases and scholarship have fo-cused on guns, the Second Amendment does not protect the rightto keep and bear firearms. The Amendment protects “arms,” ofwhich firearms are only one category. Only about half of U.S.households possess a firearm, and many of those households haveonly one or two firearms.4 In contrast, almost every household pos-sesses several knives, not including table knives. This Articleanalyzes Second Amendment protection for the most common“arm” in the United States—the knife.

Part I explains the differences among various types of edgedweapons. It covers bayonets, swords, folding knives, automaticknives, switchblades, gravity knives, butterfly knives, and the targetsof knife control in the nineteenth century, namely Bowie knivesand Arkansas Toothpicks. After a review of the knives, Part II pro-vides criminological data in support of the intuitively obviousproposition that knives are less dangerous than guns. Part III thenanalyzes the important nineteenth century jurisprudence involvingBowie knives and Arkansas Toothpicks. Part IV concludes the back-ground review for why knives, as weapons, are constitutionallyprotected arms and argues that the Second Amendment protectsknives generally, thus including all of the knives discussed in theearlier parts (with the possible exception of the now-obscure Arkan-sas Toothpick).

Part V considers the various standards of review that have beenused for Second Amendment cases after the Supreme Court’s stan-dard-setting decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. Applying eventhe weakest relevant standard of review, intermediate scrutiny, itseems clear that some knife laws are unconstitutional, namely: banson knives that open in a convenient manner, such as switchblades,gravity knives, and butterfly knives; bans on folding knives that havea safety lock; and laws that restrict carrying knives more stringentlythan carrying handguns. Part VI of this Article bolsters the argu-ment that knives are constitutionally protected arms and describessome of the more oppressive, and likely unconstitutional, knife con-trol laws in various states and cities.

4. Variable Owngun: Have Gun in Home, GENERAL SOCIAL SURVEY, http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website/Browse+GSS+Variables/Subject+Index/ (follow “G” hyperlink; then fol-low “Guns” hyperlink; then follow “Ownership” hyperlink; then follow “HAVE GUN INHOME” hyperlink) (last visited Aug. 20, 2013) (when asked if they had a gun in their home,44.3 percent of those polled said yes, 54.9 percent no, and 0.8 percent refused to answer);GARY KLECK, POINT BLANK: GUNS AND VIOLENCE IN AMERICA 54 (1991).

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In the movie Crocodile Dundee (1986), when the hero isthreatened by a New York City criminal with a switchblade, he says,“That’s not a knife” and then pulls out a much larger blade andsays, “That’s a knife!”5 Defining the different types of knives is a nec-essary first step because so much of the history of laws regulatingknives is built around distinguishing which types of knives were reg-ulated. Even so, the definition of many knife terms, as used inlegislation and common parlance, is very unclear.

For modern general usage of the word knife, Wiktionary.com is agood guide. The website offers three definitions:

1. A utensil or a tool designed for cutting, consisting of aflat piece of hard material, usually steel or other metal (theblade), usually sharpened on one edge, attached to a handle.The blade may be pointed for piercing.

2. A weapon designed with the aforementioned specifica-tions intended for slashing and/or stabbing and too short tobe called a sword. A dagger.6

3. Any blade-like part in a tool or a machine designed forcutting, such as the knives for a chipper.7

This Article will ignore the third definition, which relates to theknives or blades in machines, such as wood-chippers. For the firstdefinition (tools and utensils) and the second definition (shortweapons), the physical description is the same; only the purpose ofthe knife is different. This Article focuses on “knife” as used in boththe first and second definitions. In practice, most knives are suita-ble as tools and as weapons, but, of course, the reason that theSecond Amendment is relevant to knives is their use as a weapon,which the first two definitions, and not the third, cover.

This Part presents an overview of knife use, the different types ofknives, and how they are distinguished for legal and functional pur-poses. In addition, it details how many of the legal distinctions

5. Actually, the knife in the movie was a prop, and there was no real knife like it. Inresponse to consumer demand, one company has started making a real knife that is a near-replica of the movie knife. See Fletcher Knives, Crocodile Dundee Knife Finally in Production!!!!,BLADEFORUMS.COM (May 1, 2010, 9:10 AM), http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/737272-Crocodile-Dundee-knife-finally-in-production!!!!. Of course, in New YorkCity, carrying either of those knives is illegal. See N.Y.C., N.Y., ADMIN. CODE § 10-133 (2010).

6. In the interest of precision, it should be noted that a “dagger” is a type of knife; alldaggers are knives, but most knives are not daggers.

7. Knife, WIKTIONARY, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/knife (last updated July 11, 2013,10:19 PM).

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between different types of knives are based on perception, ratherthan objective definitions related to public safety or the nature ofthe right to keep and bear arms.

A. Knives as Tools

By far the most frequent use of a knife is as a tool. As the OregonSupreme Court observed in 1984 while summarizing the history ofknives in America, “[i]t is clear, then, that knives have played animportant role in American life, both as tools and as weapons. Thefolding pocketknife, in particular, since the early 18th century hasbeen commonly carried by men in America and used primarily forwork, but also for fighting.”8

The twentieth century, the penknife was an essential accessoryfor every student or literate adult.9 As the name suggests, the pen-knife was used for cutting and slitting a quill or sharpening apencil.10 Even after the steel pen rendered the quill obsolete, theterm persisted for any small, folding pocketknife.11 Schoolchildrenfrequently carried penknives, as is attested by the knife’s frequentappearance in elementary school readers of the nineteenth cen-tury.12 Of course, the penknife was also often used for the manyother common purposes of knives.

Knives are important tools in many activities, such as hunting,where they are used by sportsman to fillet a fish or skin an animal.Many occupations continue to rely upon utility knives, such as

8. State v. Delgado, 692 P.2d 610, 614 (Or. 1984).



SCHOOL READER: THIRD BOOK 58 (50th ed. 1846).

10. See MOORE, supra note 9, at 25.

11. Id. at 27.

12. See, e.g., RICHARD EDWARDS & J. RUSSELL WEBB, ANALYTICAL THIRD READER 161 (1867);MASON, supra note 9, at 75–76; LEWIS B. MONROE, THE FOURTH READER 39–40 (1872); SAND-

ERS, supra note 9, at 58. As an anecdotal example of this, one of the authors has carried apocketknife every day of his life since third grade in 1955. He has never given a moment’sthought to the legality of this common practice.

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roofers,13 electricians,14 and construction workers.15 Knives areoften part of combination tools that many Americans carry withthem, such as Swiss Army knives and Leatherman Multi-Tools. How-ever, knives with even the most utilitarian purposes, such as boxcutters (with a one inch blade), can be used as weapons, as thehijackers demonstrated on 9/11.16

B. Bayonets

A bayonet is designed to be mounted on the muzzle of a fire-arm.17 Historically, some bayonets were just thrusting weapons witha point and without a sharpened edge.18 Over the last century, bayo-nets have become shorter, shrinking from the size of a short swordto the size of a typical knife,19 and modern bayonets have sharp-ened edges. Post-World War II designs evolved to recognize themore frequent use of the bayonet as a tool—for example, for open-ing ration cases or for use as a handheld weapon.20 As a result, the

13. See, e.g., BLACK & DECKER, THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ROOFING & SIDING 58 (BrettMartin et al. eds., 2004). See United States v. Irizarry, 509 F. Supp. 2d 198 (E.D.N.Y. 2007), fordetails of a prosecution of a person that started when a police officer noticed that the defen-dant was carrying a “Husky Sure-Grip Folding Knife,” which the defendant used at thedirection of his employer “for cutting sheet rock.” Id. at 199–203.

14. See, e.g., GREG FLETCHER, RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION ACADEMY: HOUSE WIRING 67(2004) (describing use of a knife by electricians for opening boxes, stripping insulation, andas a substitute screwdriver for small screws).


SULTS 51 (Matthew Teague & Jessica DiDonato eds., 4th ed. 2012).16. Box Cutters Found on Other September 11 Flights, CNN.COM (Sept. 24, 2001), http://

archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/23/inv.investigation.terrorism/.17. Note that a rifle with a bayonet on it and without ammunition is functionally

equivalent to a Roman spear or javelin. Both are arms.18. See J.H. Bill, Sabre and Bayonet Wounds; Arrow Wounds, in 2 THE INTERNATIONAL ENCY-

CLOPEDIA OF SURGERY 101, 101 (John Ashhurst, Jr., ed., 1882) (discussing the nature ofbayonet wounds and explaining that the edges of such wounds reflect the unsharpened na-ture of the edges).

19. See STEPHEN BULL, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MILITARY TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION 36(2004). Older bayonets, such as the World War I version designed for the Springfield 1903-A3 rifle, were thinner, lighter, seventeen-inch versions of the Roman gladius sword and couldbe used as a short sword. Military fashion in bayonets continued to evolve so that hundreds ofthousands of these bayonets were cut down to eight inches in length for use during WorldWar II on the M1 Garand rifle. See MARTIN J. BRAYLEY, BAYONETS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY


NETS 1850–1970, at 115, 121 (1974).20. See, e.g., JOHN BURGESS, THE WAR COMES TO ME: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF

WORLD WAR II 45 (2007) (use of bayonet to open C-rations); HONDON B. HARGROVE, BUFFALO

SOLDIERS IN ITALY: BLACK AMERICANS IN WORLD WAR II 136 (1985) (concerning use of bayo-nets and knifes as handheld weapons in combat).

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blade design became shorter, wider, and thicker, playing mul-tifaceted roles for the late-twentieth-century soldier.21

Although anything with a blade can be used as an offensive ordefensive arm, World War II saw the introduction of the M4 bayo-net, which was specifically designed to be useful as a handheldweapon.22 In the post-Cold War era, bayonets were designed toserve not only as fighting knives but also as wire cutters, box cutters,or improvised pry bars.23


C. Swords

A sword is “[a] long-bladed weapon having a handle and some-times a hilt and designed to stab, cut or slash.”25 There is no precisedistinction between a short sword and a long knife (such as a longbayonet). Indeed, the long, sharpened-edged bayonets of the latenineteenth and early twentieth centuries were called “sword bayo-nets.”26 An 1881 dictionary observed a change in social customs: asword is “a blade of steel, having one or two edges, set in a hilt, andused with a motion of the whole arm. . . . In the [eighteenth] cen-tury every gentleman wore a sword; now the use of the weapon isalmost confined to purposes of war.”27

A person can look at a pocketknife, then look at a medievalbroad sword with a forty-eight-inch blade, and readily identifywhich is the “knife” and which is the “sword.” However, for interme-diate blade length, the distinction is not so clear. What about a

21. See BULL, supra note 19, at 36 (discussing changing nature of the bayonet post-WorldWar II).

22. See BRAYLEY, supra note 19, at 232; CARTER, supra note 19, at 121.23. See BRAYLEY, supra note 19, at 249; BULL, supra note 19, at 36; FRED J. PUSHIES, WEAP-

ONS OF DELTA FORCE 64 (2002).24. From author Cramer’s personal collection.25. Sword, WIKTIONARY, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sword (last updated July 11,

2013, 12:22 PM).26. See B.E. Sargeaunt, The History of the Bayonet, 44 J. MILITARY SERVICE INST. U.S. 251,

255–56 (1909).27. THOMAS WILHELM, A MILITARY DICTIONARY AND GAZETTEER 565 (rev. ed. 1881).

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fixed blade knife with a fourteen-inch blade or an eighteen-inchmachete?

As a Second Amendment issue, the knife/sword distinction is notparticularly important. If the Second Amendment protects one, itprotects the other.28 This Article concentrates on knives, but mostof the analysis applies equally to swords.

D. Folding Knives

Many state and local regulations distinguish between fixed bladeknives and folding knives,29 possibly because of the misguided as-sumption that a fixed blade knife is a weapon whereas a foldingknife is just a tool. Of course, many utility knives, such as those usedfor linoleum installation and wood veneering, are fixed blade, asare many sportsmen’s knives and virtually all kitchen cutlery.30

Some folding knife laws make further distinction between knivesthat lock open and those that do not; some statutes put foldingknives that lock in the same category as fixed blade knives.31 Legisla-tors may think that a locking, folding knife can be used as aweapon, whereas a folding knife that does not lock is a tool. Thereason for this view is simplistic: a locking knife will not close onyour hand when it meets resistance in a fight. While this is true, alocking knife also will not close on your hand when it meets resis-tance when used as a tool. The lock prevents the blade from closingon your fingers; this is equally important when roofing a house andwhen fighting for your life. The distinction between folding knivesthat lock and those that do not is therefore not a sound basis uponwhich to make distinctions of what is a weapon and what is a tool.

Furthermore, most folding knives possess the very useful featurethat they can be opened with one hand, which is particularly advan-tageous when the other hand is otherwise occupied. The traditional

28. Just as handguns and long guns are both Second Amendment arms.29. E.g., KAN. STAT. ANN. § 21-6301(2) (2012) (prohibiting concealed carry of “a dagger

. . . dangerous knife, straight-edged razor, [or] stiletto,” but exempting “an ordinary pocketknife with no blade more than four inches in length”).

30. See, e.g., MIKE BURTON, VENEERING: A FOUNDATION COURSE 28 (rev. ed. 2006).31. Compare CAL. PENAL CODE § 171b (West 2013) (locking folding knives and fixed

blade knives where blade exceeds four inches prohibited in government buildings), and id.§ 626.10(a) (fixed blade knives where the blade exceeds two and one half inches and lockingfolding knives, regardless of blade length, prohibited on primary and secondary schoolgrounds), with id. § 626.10(b) (locking folding knives allowed on college campuses regard-less of length, while fixed blade knives longer than two and one half inches prohibited oncollege campuses).

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tall ships motto, “[o]ne hand for yourself and one for the ship,”32

presents an obvious application for such a knife. Similarly, arancher holding an animal’s lead with one hand can use the otherto open a knife and free the beast from an entanglement. This fea-ture shows that folding knives, whether locking or not, can as easilybe viewed as tools as they can be viewed as weapons.

In addition to distinctions between folding and fixed bladeknives, precisely how the knife opens makes a great deal of differ-ence in many state laws. For example, if the blade is opened byinserting a thumb into a small indentation, hole, or post near thetop of the blade and pushing, then it is legally unrestricted in al-most all jurisdictions.33 If, after the thumb has begun pushing onthe indentation to open the blade, a spring helps finish the job,then the knife is called an “assisted opening” (AO) knife.34 Popularmodels of AO knives include the Kershaw Leek, Benchmade Tor-rent, and Buck Rush.35 These knives are legally unrestricted underfederal law and most state laws.

Suppose instead that the knife has a button in the handle, andwhen the button is pushed, a spring then pushes the blade openautomatically. Then, the knife is called a “switchblade,” which isone type of “automatic knife.”36 Under federal law and a minority ofstate laws, automatic knives face far greater restrictions.37

E. Automatic and Gravity Knives

An automatic knife is biased towards opening via a spring; sometype of latch or lock must keep the blade retained in the handleuntil needed. For example, when the switchblade knife is folded,the internal spring is always pressuring the blade towards opening.The blade is restrained by a latch or lock. When the user presses abutton, the latch or lock is released. The blade automaticallysprings open and typically locks in the open position.

32. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF PROVERBS 146 (Jennifer Speake & John Simpson eds.,5th ed. 2008).

33. See infra notes 40–41, 50–52 and accompanying text.34. See Actuating Opening System for Folding Knife, U.S. Patent No. 8,359,753 (filed

Jan. 30, 2008).35. See, e.g., Kershaw Assisted Openers & SpeedSafe Knives, KERSHAW KNIVES DIRECT, http://

www.kershawknivesdirect.com (follow “Assisted Openers” hyperlink under “Categories”) (lastvisited Aug. 20, 2013).

36. See Commonwealth v. Lawson, 977 A.2d 583, 583 n.2 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009) (explain-ing that automatic knives are forms of switchblades).

37. See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 1241(b) (2006); 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 908 (West 2013);HAW. REV. STAT. § 134–52 (2011).

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A second automatic knife is the “out the front” knife (OTF). AnOTF is not a folding knife.38 When the button is pushed, the bladeis pushed out the front of the handle by the spring. A third auto-matic knife is the gravity, or inertia, knife. This knife has no spring;the weighting of the blade and the absence of a bias towards closureare such that, as soon as a lock is released, gravity (if the tip of theknife blade is facing down) or a modest amount of centrifugal forcewill cause the blade to move into the open position.39 Then, theblade must be manually locked into the open position or else it willslide back into the handle as soon as any force is applied (e.g., dur-ing cutting or thrusting).

Thus, there are three types of knives that are particularly easy toopen with one hand: switchblade, out the front, and gravity. Ofthese, the first two are properly called “automatic knives.” However,poorly written statutes create confusion about the definitions. The1958 Federal Switchblade Act (FSA) limits the importability and in-terstate commerce of “switchblades.”40 Many state and local lawscopy the federal definition.41 Unfortunately, the federal definitionof “switchblade” includes out the front knives, gravity knives, andreal switchblades.42

Automatic knives were first produced in the 1700s,43 with the ear-liest custom made for wealthy customers.44 By the mid-nineteenthcentury, factory production of automatic knives made them afforda-ble for ordinary consumers.45 During World War II, Americanparatroopers were issued switchblade knives “in case they [became]injured during a jump and needed to extricate themselves from

38. See JERRY AHERN, ARMED FOR PERSONAL DEFENSE 77–78 (2010) (explaining how an“out the front” knife works).

39. See N.Y. PENAL LAW § 265.00(5) (2013). Gravity knives can be either out-the-front orside-openers. See RICHARD V. LANGSTON, THE COLLECTOR’S GUIDE TO SWITCHBLADE KNIVES 30(2001).

40. 15 U.S.C. § 1242 (1958). Another statute prohibits possession of switchblade knivesin territories, overseas, or in “Indian country,” except for “any individual who has only onearm” and who uses a blade less than three inches in length. Id. §§ 1243–44. Some state lawsprohibiting possession or carrying of switchblades also exempt any “one-armed person” fromthese prohibitions. E.g., MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. § 750.226a (West 2004).

41. E.g., HAW. REV. STAT. § 134-52 (2011).

42. 15 U.S.C. § 1241(b) (1958). By interpretation, some state laws also cover butterflyknives, which are discussed infra Part I.F.

43. See LANGSTON, supra note 39, at 5–6.

44. See id. (“For the most part, these old (going back to the 1700s) mostly European(e.g., English, German, Spanish) knives were hand-produced custom pieces for the very rich,not factory made.”).

45. See id. One of the first U.S. factories was the Waterville Cutlery Company, founded in1843 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Id. at 7.

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their parachutes.”46 The switchblade enabled them to cut them-selves loose with only one hand.47

In the 1950s, there was great public concern about juvenile delin-quency.48 This concern was exacerbated by popular motion picturesof the day, such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Crime in the Streets(1956), 12 Angry Men (1957), and The Delinquents (1957), as well asthe very popular Broadway musical West Side Story. These stories in-cluded violent scenes featuring the use of automatic knives byfictional delinquents. Partly because of Hollywood’s sensationalism,the public associated the switchblade with the juvenile delinquent,who would flick the knife open at the commencement of a rumblewith a rival gang or some other criminal activity. This was an impor-tant part the origin of the many statutes imposing specialrestrictions on switchblades.49

Recently, there have been two attempts to blur the distinctionbetween automatic knives and non-automatic knives. In 2009, U.S.Customs and Border Protection issued a new regulatory interpreta-tion of the Federal Switchblade Act that would treat most one-handopening folding knives as automatics.50 This new interpretationcontradicted decades of previous Customs interpretation of the fed-eral switchblade statute and would have covered the non-automatic,assisted opening knives, which have an indentation, hole, or stud toassist opening as opposed to a button that activates a spring.51 Theproposed new interpretation caused such an uproar that Congress

46. United States v. Irizarry, 509 F. Supp. 2d 198, 204 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).

47. Id.48. For a general analysis of the interaction between concerns about mass media and its

perceived effects on juvenile delinquency in the 1950s, see JAMES GILBERT, A CYCLE OF OUT-

RAGE: AMERICA’S REACTION TO THE JUVENILE DELINQUENT IN THE 1950S (1986), and FRANKIE Y.BAILEY & DONNA C. HALE, POPULAR CULTURE, CRIME, AND JUSTICE (1998). For a differingpoint of view emphasizing a failure to understand teenage culture, see David Matza &Gresham M. Sykes, Juvenile Deliquency and Subterranean Values, 26 AM. SOC. REV. 712 (1961).

49. See GILBERT, supra note 48, at 160 (stating that switchblade laws were passed as aresult of concerns over juvenile delinquency); THOMAS DOHERTY, TEENAGERS AND TEENPICS:JUVENILIZATION OF AMERICAN MOVIES 40 (rev. ed. 2002) (discussing the media focus on juve-nile delinquency and switchblades).

50. See U.S. Customs & Border Prot., Proposed Revocation of Ruling Letters and Revocation ofTreatment Relating to the Admissibility of Certain Knives with Spring-Assisted Opening Mechanisms,CUSTOMS BULL. & DECISIONS, May 22, 2009, at 5.

51. See id. A federal switchblade is a knife which “opens automatically . . . by hand pres-sure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife,” or where gravity orinertia allows the blade to slide out of the handle. See 15 U.S.C. § 1241(b) (2006). New YorkState law refers to “centrifugal force” (not inertia) in the state definition. N.Y. PENAL LAW

§ 265.00(5) (2013). Both statutes are attempting to describe the same kind of knife.

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quickly revised the federal statute to make it clear that non-auto-matic folding knives with a bias towards closure are not within thefederal definition of “switchblade.”52

As detailed below, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.has been doing something similar with the New York State switch-blade and gravity knife statute.53 He has been bringing criminalcases against persons who possess, carry, or sell non-automatic fold-ing knives with a bias towards closure and charging them withviolation of the state’s ban on gravity knives and switchblades.These prosecutions are abusive. Unfortunately, many persons orbusinesses charged under the statute have lacked the resources tofight the charges by bringing in expert witnesses who can explainknife mechanics to the court.54 Thus, there have been many out-of-court settlements with retailers, from whom Vance’s office haspocketed significant amounts of money.55

Partly because of Vance’s prosecutions, some state legislaturesare proactively preventing similar abuses. These legislatures haverepealed their decades-old ban on switchblades, gravity knives, orother banned knives such as dirks, daggers, and stilettos.56 Otherlegislatures have enacted preemption statutes that eliminate local

52. See Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-83, sec. 562, § 4, 123 Stat. 2142, 2183 (2009) (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1244 (2012)).

53. See Press Release, N.Y. Cnty. Dist. Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Vance An-nounces Major Investigation of Illegal Knives in New York (June 6, 2010), available at http://www.kniferights.org/VancePressRelease062010.pdf; Knife Rights Contests DA’s Claims, Tactics inKnife Retailer Shakedown, KNIFE RIGHTS, http://www.kniferights.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=113&Itemid=1 (last visited Oct. 3, 2013). Cf. United States v. Irizarry,509 F. Supp. 2d 198, 209 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (case arising from a police search of a workmanwho was seen carrying a Husky Sure-Grip Folding Knife).

54. Manhattan District Attorney Shakes Down Honest Knife Retailers, KNIFE RIGHTS, http://www.kniferights.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=113&Itemid=1 (last vis-ited Oct. 3, 2013). For a civil rights lawsuit based on the Vance prosecutions, see Complaint,Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, 2011 WL 7567075 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (No. 11 CV 3918). However,Vance has not exclusively targeted the legally defenseless. See Press Release, N.Y. Cnty. Dist.Attorney’s Office, supra note 53.

55. Manhattan District Attorney Shakes Down Honest Knife Retailers, supra note 54.56. See H.R. 1665, 2010 Gen. Ct., Reg. Sess. (N.H. 2010) (removing all references to

knives in section 159:16 of the New Hampshire Code, which prohibits the carrying of certainweapons); S. 489, 96th Gen. Assemb., 2d Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2012) (repealing switchblade ban insection 571.020 of the Missouri Code); H.R. 2347, 62nd Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2012) (nar-rowing and clarifying definition of “spring-blade” knives in section 9.41.250 of theWashington Code); H.R. 2033, 2013 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Kan. 2013) (preempting local ordi-nances, plus repealing ban on switchblades, dirks, daggers, and stilettos); H.R. 33, 28th Leg.,Reg. Sess. (Alaska 2013) (preempting local ordinances; repealing ban on switchblades); H.R.1563, 118th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ind. 2013) (repealing ban on switchblades); H.R.1862, 83d Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2013) (repealing ban on switchblades).

Narrowly defined, a stiletto has “one slender bayonet-type blade with the point area backto about one-third of the blade” and is partially or fully double-edged. Historically, it wasparticularly popular in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany. LANGSTON, supra note 39, at 26.

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bans on switchblades and other local knife ordinances that aremore restrictive than state law.57

F. Butterfly Knives

Butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, are sometimes namedexplicitly in state or local knife laws and are occasionally consideredto fall within a state or local definition of “switchblade.”58 A butter-fly knife consists of two handle sections that, when the knife isclosed, completely cover the blade.


By holding one handle and rotating the other handle away fromthe closed position, it is possible to open the knife and bring thetwo handles together. The handles may then lock together, al-though not all do. In some states, the lock is the difference between

57. See S. 1015, 108th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Tenn. 2013); supra note 54.58. See, e.g., State v. Riddall, 811 P.2d 576, 578–80 (N.M. Ct. App. 1991) (holding that a

balisong is a switchblade as defined by New Mexico statute); People v. Quattrone, 260 Cal.Rptr. 44, 44 (Cal. Ct. App. 1989) (holding that a balisong was a switchblade under Californiastatute). But see, e.g., Taylor v. McManus, 661 F. Supp. 11, 14 (E.D. Tenn. 1986) (ruling thatbalisongs are not switchblades under federal law); State v. Strange, 785 P.2d 563, 566 (AlaskaCt. App. 1990) (ruling that balisongs are neither switchblades nor gravity knives); People v.Mott, 522 N.Y.S.2d 429, 430 (N.Y. Cnty. Ct. 1987) (ruling that balisongs are not gravityknives).

59. Photograph supplied by Knife Rights, Inc.

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a legal and an illegal knife.60 Many experts believe that a butterflyknife is the strongest and safest folding knife because the blade can-not fold closed inadvertently on the operator so long as theoperator has a firm grasp on the handles.61 In contrast, a lock-bladefolding knife can experience a lock failure, although this is rare forwell-constructed knives.

An experienced operator can also flip the butterfly handle intothe open position using only one hand. Like the switchblade, thebutterfly knife’s use in movies has given it an undeserved reputa-tion as a criminal’s weapon.62 As with the switchblade, opening oneis visually interesting and frightening to some persons unfamiliarwith knives, creating a belief that it is an extremely dangerousweapon necessitating special legislative attention.63

All the knives described above are primarily tools, although theycan also be used as weapons. Conversely, knives may be designed asweapons but used primarily as tools. A judge or juror’s perceptionof the purpose of a knife may be quite different from the owner’s orthe designer’s perception. The knives discussed below, however, areones that some governments have historically believed to need spe-cial regulation or prohibition.

G. Bowie Knives and Arkansas Toothpicks

America’s first period of knife control was in 1837–1840, whenthe nation experienced a panic over the Bowie knife and the Arkan-sas Toothpick.64 This Section discusses the knives’ historical use,while the strange legal history of Bowie knives and Arkansas Tooth-picks in the nineteenth century is detailed below in Part III.

60. See, e.g., Taylor, 661 F. Supp. at 14–15 (holding that the required step of locking theknife into an open position takes it out of the category of automatic knives).

61. See Paradox, COLD STEEL, http://www.coldsteel.com/Product/24P/PARADOX.aspx(last visited Aug. 20, 2013) (“They are designed to rotate 180 degrees around the blade’sunique split tang and use strong opposing spring tension to lock the blade open or hold itfirmly closed. Don’t worry about it taking two hands to get it into action, since once it’sopened it will never close inadvertently.”).

62. For a representative list of films in which balisongs are used, see Balisongs in theMovies, BALISONGCOLLECTOR.COM, http://www.balisongcollector.com/movies.html (last vis-ited Aug. 20, 2013).

63. See Michael Burch, Butterfly Knives Take Wing, 28 KNIVES 26, 26, 30 (2008).64. See CLAYTON E. CRAMER, CONCEALED WEAPON LAWS OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC 85–96,

105–12 (1999) (discussing the tragedies and breathless newspaper coverage associated withthis panic).

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The Bowie knife became famous when used by Colonel JimBowie at the “Sandbar Fight” by the lower Mississippi River on Sep-tember 19, 1827.65 Rezin Bowie, Colonel Jim’s brother, was theactual maker of the knife. He described his creation thusly: “Thelength of the knife was nine and a quarter inches, its width one anda half inches, single-edged, and blade not curved.”66 According toRezin, the knife was designed for bear hunting.67 Based on theknown details of Rezin’s knife, absolutely nothing about it wasnovel. Its fame soon made this style of knife in high demand andincreasingly popular.68

Yet, the knife gained such popularity that many people use“Bowie knife” to describe knives that have curved blades or bladesmuch longer than nine inches.69 Today, a common description ofthe “Bowie knife” is a large fixed blade (almost always much longerthan Rezin’s nine inch long blade), sharpened on one edge (perRezin’s original model), with a relatively thick spine and a clippoint.70 This modern usage does not describe Rezin Bowie’s origi-nal knife. Ironically, it also does not describe the custom knives thatprofessional cutlers later produced for Rezin or Jim Bowie.71

The problem of the Bowie knife’s notoriety as a fighting knifeextends back to the first weeks after the Sandbar Fight. Newspaperand magazine reports of the event were often highly inaccurate.72

The term “Bowie knife” entered the American vocabulary fromthese reports and then crossed the Atlantic. American and Englishmanufacturers began using the term for a wide variety of largeknives. Some knives had clip points, and others did not; some werestraight, and others were curved; some were single-edged, andothers were double-edged; some had crossguards, and others didnot. There was also great variance in length. The only thing theseknives had in common was that they were big, and all of them wereconsidered particularly suitable for self-defense and hunting.73 His-torian Norm Flayderman, an expert in Bowie and other knives,


KNIFE: UNSHEATHING AN AMERICAN LEGEND 285–89 (2004).66. R.P. Bowie, Letter to the Editor, PLANTER’S ADVOCATE, Aug. 24, 1838, reprinted in MAR-

RYAT, 1 A DIARY IN AMERICA, WITH REMARKS ON ITS INSTITUTIONS 291 (1839).67. Id.68. See FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 491–92.69. See Sears v. State, 33 Ala. 347, 348 (1859); J.R. EDMONDSON, THE ALAMO STORY: FROM

EARLY HISTORY TO CURRENT CONFLICTS 122–23 (2000).70. See Jim Woods, How to Pick a Perfect Knife, POPULAR MECHANICS, Aug. 1982, at 78,

78–80.71. See FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 491–92.72. See id. at 289–91.73. See id. at 490–92.

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both antique and modern, concludes that “there is no one specificknife that can be exactingly described as a Bowie knife.”74

Today, several states outlaw carrying a “Bowie knife” without de-fining the term.75 Thus, today’s citizens who are subject to Bowieknife laws have no way of knowing whether they are forbidden tocarry a straight knife that closely matches Rezin Bowie’s design orthe curved knives that are commonly called “Bowie knives.” Thestate’s definition may even include a knife that is neither, but hasthe words “Bowie Knife” written on it.76 The chilling effect of thisvagueness is obvious.

The Arkansas Toothpick’s history is interwoven with that of theBowie knife. There are some Mississippi tax receipts from the ante-bellum era, as well as some other writings, which expresslydistinguish an “Arkansas Toothpick” from a “Bowie knife.”77 Nar-rowly defined, Arkansas Toothpicks have triangular blades up toeighteen inches long, sharpened on both edges.78


However, Flayderman concludes that “Arkansas Toothpick” was,in its predominant usage, simply another marketing term for“Bowie knife.”80



Under the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Hel-ler, handguns, as a general class, are protected by the Second

74. Id. at 490.75. See ALA. CODE § 13A-11-50 (LexisNexis 2005); GA. CODE ANN. § 16-11-127.1 (2011);

ME. REV. STAT. ANN. tit. 25, § 2001-A (2012); MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-37-1 (2012); N.C. GEN.STAT. § 14-269 (2011); OKLA. STAT. tit. 21, § 1272 (2011); R.I. GEN. LAWS § 11-47-42 (2012);TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 46.01 (West 2012); VA. CODE ANN. § 18.2-308 (2009).

76. See generally FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 490.77. Id. at 265–66.78. See WILLIAM FOSTER-HARRIS, THE LOOK OF THE OLD WEST 120–22 (2007).79. Drawing by Rhonda L. Thorne Cramer.80. FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 265–74.

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Amendment.81 This is so notwithstanding the frequent use of hand-guns in violent crimes, including homicide. Heller acknowledgedthat, even though handgun misuse represents a major public safetyproblem, “[T]he enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarilytakes certain policy choices off the table.”82 If handguns may not beprohibited, in spite of the clear public safety concerns, then a cate-gory of arm that is less dangerous clearly may not be prohibited,either.

Are knives more dangerous than guns? Quite the opposite. In2010, “[k]nives or cutting instruments” were used in 13.1 percent ofU.S. murders, behind firearms (67.5 percent) and handguns specif-ically (46.2 percent), but ahead of blunt objects (4.2 percent),shotguns (2.9 percent), and rifles (2.8 percent).83 The thirteen per-cent includes all knives, including steak knives, butcher knives,linoleum knives, and other “cutting instruments,” such as screwdriv-ers (sharpened and otherwise), straight razors, and otherinstruments made into weapons by the inventiveness of criminals.84

Robberies for which the FBI has detailed information are over-whelmingly committed with firearms (47.9 crimes/100,000 people),not knives or other cutting instruments (9.1/100,000).85 Knives andother cutting instruments are actually in last place in the FBI statis-tics for robbery, even behind “other weapon.”86 Similarly, in thecategory of aggravated assault, sharp objects are in last place forweapon type (47.9/100,000 people), behind firearms (51.8), per-sonal weapons (69.0), and other weapons (83.3). 87

81. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 628–29 (2008) (“The handgun banamounts to a prohibition of an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by Ameri-can society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, wherethe need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute. Under any of the standards ofscrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home andfamily,’ would fail constitutional muster.”) (quoting Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d370, 400 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

82. Id. at 2822 (“We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, andwe take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of hand-gun ownership is a solution.”)

83. See Crime in the United States 2010, Expanded Homicide Data Table 11, FBI, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl11.xls (last visited Aug. 20, 2013). For some homicides, the type of firearm is unknown, which iswhy the “firearm” figure is higher than the figures for handguns, rifles, and shotguns addedtogether.

84. See id.

85. Crime in the United States 2010, Table 19, FBI, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10tbl19.xls (last visited Aug. 20, 2013).

86. Id.

87. Id.

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Unsurprisingly, data show that gunshots are more lethal thanknife wounds. Harwell Wilson and Roger Sherman’s 1960 study ofhospital admissions for abdominal wounds found that abdominalstabbing cases ended in death 3.1 percent of the time, while 9.8percent of abdominal gunshot wounds were lethal.88 An examina-tion of 165 family and intimate assaults (FIA) in Atlanta, Georgia in1984 found similar results. Firearms-associated FIAs were threetimes more likely to result in death than “FIAs involving knives orother cutting instruments.”89

Another study examined all penetrating traumas (“firearm orstabbing injury”) in New Mexico that “presented to either the stateLevel-1 trauma center or the state medical examiner” from 1978 to1993.90 This study found that, although nonfatal injury rates weresimilar for firearms and stabbing (34.3 per 100,000 persons per yearfor firearms, 35.1 per 100,000 persons per year for stabbing), fire-arm fatality rates were much higher than for knives: 21.9 vs. 2.7.91 Inother words, thirty-nine percent of firearm penetrating traumaswere fatal, compared to 7.1 percent of knife penetrating traumas.Thus, firearm injuries were 5.5 times more likely to result in deaththan were knife injuries. Not all of the penetrating traumas in NewMexico were criminal attacks. Fifty-five percent of the penetratingdeaths were suicides, and four percent of the penetrating deathswere accidents. There was insufficient information to determinethe breakdown of weapon type by category.92

Knives in general are far less regulated than firearms. There areno mandatory background checks, no prohibitions on interstatesales (except for switchblades),93 and no serial number require-ments. The least expensive knives are considerably less expensivethan the cheapest firearms.94 Only about half of American homes

88. Harwell Wilson & Roger Sherman, Civilian Penetrating Wounds of the Abdomen, 153ANNALS SURGERY 639, 640 (1961).

89. Linda E. Saltzman et al., Weapon Involvement and Injury Outcomes in Family and IntimateAssaults, 267 JAMA 3043, 3043 (1992).

90. Cameron Crandall et al., Guns and Knives in New Mexico: Patterns of PenetratingTrauma, 1978–1993, 4 ACAD. EMERGENCY MED. 263, 263 (1997).

91. Id.92. Id. at 264. As for the remaining firearm deaths classified as “homicide,” about six to

twelve percent of them were probably justifiable homicides committed with firearms by per-sons who were not law enforcement officers. This is calculated by multiplying the 7.1–12.9percent of civilian legal defensive homicides by the percentage of those homicides commit-ted with firearms. KLECK, supra note 4, at 114, 148. It is unknown whether a similar percent ofthe knife homicides were justifiable.

93. See 15 U.S.C. § 1242 (2006).94. Searching Amazon.com on September 29, 2012 found more than 298 matches for

“combat knife” under 25 dollars, and 114 matches under 10 dollars. By comparison, even thecheapest single-shot .22 rifles (which would only be used by very stupid criminals) at the

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have a gun, but almost every home has several knives, includingtools, steak knives, and butcher knives. At the same time, these eas-ily obtained arms are used far less often than firearms for murder,robbery, and aggravated assault. Thus, knives are far less dangerousthan guns. Any public safety justification for knife regulation is nec-essarily less persuasive than the public safety justification forfirearms regulation.


During the nineteenth century, Bowie knives were commonlypresent in many areas of the United States. Contemporary sourcesleave no question that Bowie knives, Arkansas Toothpicks, and simi-lar knives were a common part of American life until well after theCivil War—and not just for decoration, hunting, or slicing toughcuts of meat.95 “[F]or those crossing the plains,” such knives were “anecessity.”96 An account of Gold Rush California describes how mas-querade balls in California would generally have “No weaponsadmitted” signs at the entrance.97 An observer tells us that:

[I]t was worth while to go, if only to watch the company arrive,and to see the practical enforcement of the weapon clause. . . .Most men draw a pistol from behind their back, and very oftena knife along with it; some carried their bowie-knife down theback of the neck, or in their breast; demure, pious lookingmen . . . lifted up the bottom of their waistcoast, and revealedthe butt of a revolver; others, after having already disgorged a

Cabela’s website on the same date was $99.99. The cheapest repeating .22 rifle, the Mossberg702 Plinkster, was $139.99.

95. A few representative articles of the period illustrating the widespread violence associ-ated with edged weapons (along with many other deadly weapons) include: Scenes at NewOrleans, THE LIVING AGE, Oct.–Dec. 1852, at 528; Editor’s Easy Chair, 11 HARPER’S NEW

MONTHLY MAG. 411, 411–12 (1855); MARRYAT, supra note 66, at 106–10; Colonel Bowie and hisKnife, TEMPLE BAR, July 1861, at 120; GEORGE COMBE, 2 ON THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH

AMERICA 93–95 (1841); AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY, AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT IS 202–05(1839). Among the well-known authors whose writings about America during this periodincluded mention of Bowie knives were: CHARLES DICKENS, AMERICAN NOTES (1842) andGREAT EXPECTATIONS (1861); OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST TABLE

(1857) (Americans are the “Romans of the modern world . . . our army sword is the short,stiff pointed gladius of the Romans; and the American bowie knife is the same tool, modifiedto meet the daily want of civil society.”); JULES VERNE, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1stEnglish ed. 1873) (1865); Bret Harte, The Outcasts of Poker Flat, OVERLAND MONTHLY, Jan.1869; MARK TWAIN, ROUGHING IT (1872); all cited in FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 72–73.

96. FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 88.97. J.D. Borthwick, Three Years in California, 2 HUTCHINGS’ ILLUSTRATED CAL. MAG. 169,

171 (1857).

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pistol, pulled up the leg of their trousers, and abstracted ahuge bowie-knife from their boot; and there were men, terri-ble fellows, no doubt, but who were more likely to frightenthemselves than any one else, who produced a revolver fromeach trouser pocket, and a bowie knife from their belt. If anyman declared that he had no weapon, the statement was soincredible that he had to submit to be searched.98

During the 1850s, because of conflict in the Territory of Kansasbetween free soil and pro-slavery settlers, anti-slavery groups in NewEngland sent arms to the free soilers, including rifles, revolvers, andBowie knives.99

An important reason that the Bowie knife was typically possessedfor self-defense was that it was, in some respects, superior to fire-arms. The black gunpowder used in the early and mid-nineteenthcentury was vulnerable to atmospheric moisture. At close quarters,a single-shot firearm has obvious limitations for self-defense. Thewidespread adoption of the metallic cartridge in the late 1850s, andthe Colt’s multi-shot revolvers in the 1840s, solved some of theseproblems, though it was not until the mid-1860s that medium cali-ber (.38 or larger) firearms with metallic cartridges becamecommon. Before then, the Bowie knife often had a better chancethan the handgun of stopping a criminal attacker; at least, a pru-dent defender would often want to carry a Bowie as a back-uparm.100

About a decade after the first appearance of the Bowie knife,some southern states began passing laws against the knife. Alabamaimposed a one hundred dollar tax on the transfer of any Bowieknife or Arkansas Toothpick101—the equivalent of at least $5,000 intoday’s money.102 In 1837, Tennessee prohibited carrying such

98. Id.

99. See FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 106 (citing WILLIAM ELSEY CONNELLEY, THE LIFE OF

PRESTON B. PLUMB, 1837–1891 (1913)) (three-term U.S. Senator from Kansas recalls receiv-ing a shipment including 250 Bowie knives); David B. Kopel, Beecher’s Bibles, in 1 GUNS IN


100. See FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 485–87.

101. An Act To Suppress the Use of Bowie Knives, no. 11, 1837 Ala. Acts Called Sess. 7(1837).

102. The price of gold in 1840 was fixed at $20.67 per ounce. STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF

THE UNITED STATES 863 (1942). As of June 2, 2013, gold price was $1,387 per ounce, a 6,710percent increase. See GOLDPRICE, http://goldprice.org/. While gold price change alone is nota completely effective measure of price inflation because of changes in production efficien-cies, it is at least a good starting point for a proxy.

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knives.103 An attempt to add pistols to the 1838 Tennessee billfailed.104

This attempt to regulate knives produced several nineteenth cen-tury cases involving Bowie knives.105 These cases mostly followed theTennessee Supreme Court’s 1840 case, Aymette v. State,106 which waswrong on its facts and later specifically repudiated by Heller.107 TheTennessee Supreme Court in Aymette upheld the ban on the con-cealed carry of Bowie knives and Arkansas Toothpicks, holding thatthe Tennessee Constitution’s guarantee of a right to keep and beararms for the common defense “does not mean for private defence,but being armed, they may as a body, rise up to defend their justrights, and compel their rulers to respect the laws.”108 According toAymette, the Bowie knife was not suitable for “civilized warfare” butwas instead favored by “assassins” and “ruffians.”109 Significantly, the

103. An Act to Suppress the Sale and Use of Bowie Knives and Arkansas Tooth Picks inthis State, ch. 137, 22 Tenn. Gen. Assemb. Acts 200 (1838).

The Bowie knife was also banned in Arkansas. The ban was repealed on February 5, 1973in “emergency” legislation, which declared that knife manufacturing “has brought muchfavorable publicity to this State, that the prohibitions placed upon the sale of Bowie knivesare unneeded . . . [and] that that immediate removal of such restrictions would have afavorable impact upon the economy of this state. Therefore an emergency is hereby declaredto exist, and this act being necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health andsafety . . . .” FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 280.

104. Tennessee Legislature, DAILY REPUBLICAN BANNER (Nashville), Jan. 13, 1838, at 2.105. One of the first problems encountered by the anti-Bowie laws was vagueness. In

Haynes v. State, the Tennessee Supreme Court dealt with the complaint that the statute wasvague and overbroad. 24 Tenn. (5 Hum.) 120, 122 (1844). The Tennessee statute applied to“any Bowie knife or knives, or Arkansas tooth picks, or any knife or weapon that shall inform, shape or size resemble a Bowie knife or any Arkansas tooth pick . . . .” Ch. 137, 22Tenn. Gen. Assemb. Acts 200.

The defendant, Stephen Haynes, was charged in Knox County with carrying “concealedunder his clothes, a knife in size resembling a bowie-knife.” At trial, the witnesses disagreedabout whether Haynes’s knife was a Bowie knife. Some said that it was too small and too slimto be a Bowie knife and would properly be called a “Mexican pirate-knife.” The jury foundHaynes innocent of wearing a Bowie knife but guilty on a second charge “of wearing a knifein size resembling a bowie-knife.” Haynes, 24 Tenn. (5 Hum.) at 120–21.

The Tennessee Supreme Court agreed that the legislature could not declare “war againstthe name of the knife” alone. A strict application of the letter of the law might well result insome injustices: “for a small pocket-knife, which is innocuous, may be made to resemble inform and shape a bowie-knife or Arkansas tooth-pick” and would thus be illegal. The courtconcluded that the law must be construed “within the spirit and meaning of the law” andrelied on the judge and jury to make this decision as a matter of fact. Haynes, 24 Tenn. (5Hum.) at 122–23.

106. Aymette v. State, 21 Tenn. (2 Hum.) 154 (1840).107. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 613 (2008).108. Aymette, 21 Tenn. (2 Hum.), at 157–58 (1840).109. See id. at 158–60. The entire decision in Aymette is guided by Tennessee’s narrow

arms provision: “[T]he words that are employed must completely remove that doubt. It isdeclared that they may keep and bear arms for their common defence.” Id. at 158. The opinionrepeatedly ties the right solely to the “common defence.”

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Tennessee Constitution’s guarantee, unlike the Second Amend-ment, contains the qualifying phrase, “for their common defence,”which the U.S. Senate considered and rejected for the SecondAmendment.110

The other major nineteenth century Bowie knife precedent,which is not part of the Aymette line, comes from Texas. In 1859, theTexas Supreme Court, in co*ckrum v. State, ruled that, under theTexas Constitution’s right to arms and the Second Amendment,“[t]he right to carry a bowie-knife for lawful defense is secured, andmust be admitted.”111 At the same time, the court upheld enhancedpunishment for manslaughter perpetrated with a Bowie knife.112

The court elaborated on the Bowie knife:

It is an exceeding destructive weapon. It is difficult to defendagainst it, by any degree of bravery, or any amount of skill. Thegun or pistol may miss its aim, and when discharged, its dan-gerous character is lost, or diminished at least. The sword maybe parried. With these weapons men fight for the sake of thecombat, to satisfy the laws of honor, not necessarily with theintention to kill, or with a certainty of killing, when the inten-tion exists. The bowie-knife differs from these in its device anddesign; it is the instrument of almost certain death.113

A plausible explanation for this perception of the Bowie knife as“the instrument of almost certain death” is that it made a bloodymess of a person because of the size of its blade. This is especiallytrue when compared to a pen-knife or dagger, but even more sowhen compared to a bullet (which had almost surgical, cosmeticconsequences during the low velocity, black powder era). Hence,the Bowie Knife was a relatively gruesome weapon.114

Additionally, the judicial and legislative fear of Bowie knives mayhave come from concerns about poor people or people of color. As

Aymette is the urtext for the “civilized warfare” interpretation of the right to keep and beararms, by which all persons have a right to own arms, but only arms which are useful formilitia purposes. For a sympathetic treatment of the nineteenth century’s “civilized warfare”cases, see Michael P. O’Shea, Modeling the Second Amendment Right to Carry Arms (I): JudicialTradition and the Scope of “Bearing Arms” for Self-Defense, 61 AM. U. L. REV. 585, 642–50 (2012).

110. S. JOURNAL, 1st Cong., 1st Sess. 129 (1789).111. co*ckrum v. State, 24 Tex. 394, 402 (1859).112. Id. at 403.113. Id. at 402–03 (emphasis added).114. Even modern high velocity bullets, while producing large hydrostatic expansions

within a person, produce exit wounds only two to three times the diameter of the entrywound. See Martin L. Fackler, Wound Profiles, WOUND BALLISTICS REV., Fall 2001, at 25 (exam-ining damage in living tissue measured in experiments at the Letterman Army Institute ofResearch, Wound Ballistics Laboratory).

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the defendant’s attorney argued before the Texas Supreme Courtin co*ckrum:

A bowie-knife or dagger, as defined in the code, is an ordinaryweapon, one of the cheapest character, accessible even to thepoorest citizen. A common butcher-knife, which costs notmore than half a dollar, comes within the description given ofa bowie-knife or dagger, being very frequently worn on theperson. To prohibit such a weapon, is substantially to takeaway the right of bearing arms, from him who has not moneyenough to buy a gun or a pistol.115

Some other state supreme court decisions picked up whereAymette left off, holding that some knives are not militia arms. InEnglish v. State, the Texas Supreme Court apparently forgot theco*ckrum decision and justified a ban on “the carrying of pistols,dirks [a short dagger], and certain other deadly weapons” by argu-ing that these are not arms of the militia: “The terms dirks, daggers,slungshots, sword-canes, brass-knuckles and bowie knives, belong tono military vocabulary. Were a soldier on duty found with any ofthese things about his person, he would be punished for an offenseagainst discipline.”116 English cites no authority for its claim with re-spect to the military use of the knives of various sorts, and the claimappears to be false.117 Similar to Aymette, English recognized that bay-onets and swords, unlike the knives in question, were “arms”protected by the Second Amendment.118

Similarly, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in State v.Workman held that the arms protected by the Second Amendment:

must be held to refer to the weapons of warfare to be used bythe militia, such as swords, guns, rifles, and muskets—arms tobe used in defending the State and civil liberty—and not topistols, bowie-knives, brass knuckles, billies, and such otherweapons as are usually employed in brawls, street-fights, duels,

115. co*ckrum, 24 Tex. at 395–96.

116. English v. State, 35 Tex. 473, 473, 477 (1872).

117. Id. at 477–78. For use of the bowie knife as a militia arm, see infra notes 124–28 andaccompanying text.

118. English, 35 Tex. at 476 (“The word ‘arms’ in the connection we find it in the consti-tution of the United States, refers to the arms of a militiaman or soldier, and the word is usedin its military sense. The arms of the infantry soldier are the musket and bayonet; of cavalryand dragoons, the sabre, holster pistols and carbine . . . .”)

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and affrays, and are only habitually carried by bullies, black-guards, and desperadoes, to the terror of the community andthe injury of the State.119

Heller held that Aymette “erroneously, and contrary to virtually allother authorities,” read the right to keep and bear arms as limitedto the threat to overthrow a tyrannical government.120 Heller repudi-ated Aymette and its progeny, English and Workman. Moreover, evenif Heller had adopted Aymette’s rule that there is an individual rightto own all militia-suitable arms, the Bowie knife is a militia arm. Itmay not have been standard equipment for the Tennessee militia in1840, but there is plenty of evidence of its militia use in the rest ofthe United States.

The Republic of Texas won its independence from Mexico at theBattle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. At the decisive phase of thebattle, the 700 Texas volunteers were storming the Mexican breast-works. The fighting was hand-to-hand. The Texans had brokentheir rifles by using them as clubs against the standing army of theMexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron.The Texans next fired their pistols, but had no time to reload. TheTexans, “then drawing forth their bowie-knives, literally cut theirway through dense masses of living flesh.”121 The Mexican army,“unused to this mode of combat with huge Bowie-knives and thebuts [sic] of guns, precipitately gave way; and while the shouts ofGoliad and the Alamo rung in their ears, nearly one-half of theMexican army was laid asleep in . . . death.”122 In an eighteen-min-ute battle, Texas became a nation.123

Bowie knives were most clearly militia arms during the Civil War:

The Mississippi Riflemen . . . [i]n addition to their rifle, . . .carried a sheath-knife, known as the bowie-knife. . . . This is aformidable weapon in a hand-to-hand fight, when wielded bymen expert in its use, as many were in the Southwestern States,

119. State v. Workman, 14 S.E. 9, 11 (W. Va. 1891).

120. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 613 (2008).

121. CHARLES EDWARDS LESTER, SAM HOUSTON AND HIS REPUBLIC 97 (1846), quoted inFLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 59.

122. EDWARD STIFF, THE TEXAN EMIGRANT 324–25 (1840), quoted in FLAYDERMAN, supranote 65, at 64. Goliad was the site of another battle, where Santa Anna had murdered 280American prisoners.



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where it was generally seen in murderous frays in the streetsand bar-rooms.124

Other Mississippi militiamen were “armed with the rifles, shot-guns,and knives which they had brought from their homes.”125 As furtherevidence of the prevalence of Bowie knives among Civil Warsoldiers, below are contemporary drawings of crudely made daggersand Bowie knives that were “in common use among the insurgenttroops from the Mississippi region.”126


While the then-Southwest (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, andTexas) was the Bowie knife’s original territory, the knife was ubiqui-tous on both sides of the Civil War, carried by soldiers from everypart of the nation.128 The claims of Aymette and Workman that kniveswere not militia arms are clearly erroneous.


AMERICA 479 n.2 (1866).125. Id. at 541 n.2.126. Id.127. Id. Other accounts referencing soldiers carrying Bowie knives, without apparently

being in violation of military discipline, include COMTE DE PARIS, 1.3 HISTORY OF THE CIVIL

WAR IN AMERICA 271 (Louis F. Tasistro trans., 1875); JAMES R. GILMORE, PERSONAL RECOLLEC-





604, 607 (Robert Underwood Johnson & Clarence Clough Buel eds., 1887).128. See FLAYDERMAN, supra note 65, at 125–68.

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This Part explains how knives are protected by the SecondAmendment. Section A points out that the Second Amendment isfor “arms,” not just for “firearms.” Being a militia-suitable arm issufficient, but not necessary, for the Second Amendment to apply,and Section B details the history of knives as militia arms. Heller’sdetermination that handguns are within the scope of the SecondAmendment was mainly based on the fact that handguns are usefulfor self-defense; Section C shows that knives are also useful for self-defense. Courts that have interpreted the Second Amendment haverecognized the enormous technological improvements in firearmssince 1791. In contrast, as Section D explains, the knives of todayare not very different from the knives of 1791. Accordingly, SecondAmendment protection of modern knives is especially clear. Part Eargues that, under modern Second Amendment doctrine, the rightto carry knives in public places for lawful self-defense must at leastbe co-extensive with the right to carry handguns.

A. Which Arms does the Constitution Protect?

According to District of Columbia v. Heller, the Second Amend-ment guarantees “the individual right to possess and carry weaponsin case of confrontation.”129 Heller ruled that “the Second Amend-ment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitutebearable arms,” with “arms” defined (pursuant to a Founding Eradictionary) as “any thing that a man . . . takes into his hands, oruseth . . . to cast at or strike another.”130

As a starting point, all knives seem to be within the scope of theSecond Amendment, just as all firearms are. Like firearms, a knifecan be carried by an individual and used as a weapon. Of course,some knives, like some firearms, are better suited to this purposethan others, but all knives and all firearms can be possessed, car-ried, and used in case of confrontation. The Heller opinion,however, excludes some types of arms from Second Amendmentprotection: “weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizensfor lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.”131

129. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 592 (2008).130. Id. at 581–82 (quoting T. CUNNINGHAM, 1 A NEW AND COMPLETE LAW DICTIONARY

(1764)).131. Id. at 625. For an application, see People v. Yanna, 824 N.W.2d 241, 242, 245 (2012)

(holding unconstitutional a state law “which prohibits possession of Tasers and stun guns by

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Heller makes it clear that the protected arms are not solely thosethat are suitable for militia use. The right to bear arms “did notrefer only to carrying a weapon in an organized military unit” butalso included doing so as part “of the natural right of defense.”132

By this reasoning, any weapon that could be used for either militiaduty or for private self-defense qualifies as an “arm.” Although mili-tia use is not necessary to show that something is a SecondAmendment “arm,” militia use is sufficient to do so. Knives are in-disputably militia arms.

B. Knives as Militia Arms

Knives have long been part of American military equipment. Thefederal Militia Act of 1792 required all able-bodied free white menbetween eighteen and forty-five to possess, among other items, “asufficient bayonet.”133 This establishes both that knives were com-mon and were arms for militia purposes. Colonial militia lawsrequired that men (and sometimes all householders, regardless ofsex) own not only firearms but also bayonets or swords; the lawssometimes required carrying swords in non-militia situations, suchas when going to church.134 In New England, the typical choice for

private individuals;” Tasers, “while plainly dangerous, are substantially less dangerous thanhandguns,” which Heller found protected).

132. Heller, 554 U.S. at 585.133. Militia Act, ch. 33, 1 Stat. 271 (1792).134. For laws of the colonies of New Hampshire, New Haven, New Jersey, New Plymouth,

New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Virginia, see: An Act for the Regulating of theMilitia, N.H. May 13, 1718, in ACTS AND LAWS, PASSED BY THE GENERAL COURT OR ASSEMBLY OF

HIS MAJESTIES PROVINCE OF NEW-HAMPSHIRE IN NEW-ENGLAND 91 (B. Green 1726) (requiringthat all soldiers and householders have “a good Sword or Cutlash”); RECORDS OF THE COLONY

AND PLANTATION OF NEW HAVEN, FROM 1638 TO 1649, at 25–26 (Charles J. Hoadly ed., Case,Tiffany & Co. 1857) (requiring everyone that bears arms have “a sworde”); id. at 131, 201 (allmales aged sixteen to sixty must have “a sword”); AARON LEAMING & JACOB SPICER, THE

GRANTS, CONCESSIONS, AND ORIGINAL CONSTITUTIONS OF THE PROVINCE OF NEW JERSEY 78 (2ded., Honeyman & Co. 1881) (1752) (every male aged sixteen to sixty must have “a sword andbelt”); THE COMPACT WITH THE CHARTER AND LAWS OF THE COLONY OF NEW PLYMOUTH 115(William Brigham ed., Dutton and Wentworth 1836) (every Sunday, one quarter of the men,on a rotating basis, must carry arms to church; along with a gun and ammunition, carrying a“sword” was required); 1 DOCUMENTS RELATING TO THE COLONIAL HISTORY OF THE STATE OF

NEW YORK 50 (Berthold Fernow ed., Weed, Parsons & Co. 1887) (militiamen must have agood gun and bayonet); An Act for the Better Regulating the Militia of this Government,N.C. 1715, in 23 THE STATE RECORDS OF NORTH CAROLINA 29 (Walter Clark ed., Nash Bros.1904) (a fine for those not appearing with a “well-fixed sword” when ordered); An Act for theBetter Regulating of the Militia, in LAWS AND ACTS OF RHODE ISLAND, AND PROVIDENCE PLAN-


AND LAWS OF THE COLONY OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS, 1647–1719 at 57,106–07 (John D. Cushing ed., 1977) (“a Sword or Bayenet”); ACTS AND LAWS, OF HIS MAJES-


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persons required to own a bayonet or a sword was the sword be-cause most militiamen fulfilled their legal obligation to possess afirearm by owning a “fowling piece” (an ancestor to the shotgun,particularly useful for bird hunting), and these firearms did nothave studs upon which to mount a bayonet.135

Well after the nation’s founding, knives continued to be an im-portant tool for many American soldiers. During World War II,American soldiers, sailors, and airmen wanted and purchased fixedblade knives, often of considerable dimensions.136 At least in someunits, soldiers were “authorized an M3 trench knife, but many car-ried a favorite hunting knife.”137 The Marine Corps issued the Ka-Bar fighting knife.138 As one World War II memoir recounts, “[t]hisdeadly piece of cutlery was manufactured by the company bearingits name. The knife was a foot long with a seven-inch-long by one-and-a-half-inch-wide blade. . . . Light for its size, the knife was beau-tifully balanced.”139 Vietnam memoirs report that Ka-Bar andsimilar knives were still in use, but “not everybody is issued a Ka-Barknife. There are not enough to go around. If you don’t have one,you must wait until someone is going home from Vietnam and giveshis to you.”140 Even today, some Special Forces units regularly carrycombat knives.141

EARLIEST ACTS AND LAWS OF THE COLONY OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS,1647–1719 at 135, 223 (John D. Cushing ed., 1977) (“one good Sword, or Baionet”); An Actfor the Better Supply of the Country with Armes and Ammunition, Act 4, Va. Apr. 1684, in 3THE STATUTES AT LARGE; BEING A COLLECTION OF ALL THE LAWS OF VIRGINIA, FROM THE FIRST

SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE, IN THE YEAR 1619, at 13 (William Waller Hening ed., SamuelPleasants 1812) (soldiers must furnish themselves with “a sword, musquet and other furniturefitt for a soldier”); An Act for the Better Regulation of the Militia, ch. 2, Va. Nov. 1738, in 5THE STATUTES AT LARGE, supra, at 16–17 (militiamen who are “horse-men” must have a swordor cutlass).


GUNS BECAME AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE 97–98 (2006).136. See Walter E. Burton, Knives for Fighting Men, POPULAR SCIENCE, July 1944, at 150, 150,


at 27 (2005).138. To be precise, “Ka-Bar” is only one manufacturer of post-WWII fighting knives. “Ka-

Bar” is sometimes used in a generic sense, in the same way some people call any cola soda a“co*ke.”

139. E.B. SLEDGE, WITH THE OLD BREED: AT PELELIU AND OKINAWA 21 (Presidio Press2007) (1981).

140. See, e.g., JOHN CORBETT, WEST DICKENS AVENUE: A MARINE AT KHE SANH 149 (2003).141. See, e.g., PUSHIES, supra note 23, at 63–64.

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C. Protection Beyond Militia Arms

The Second Amendment does not protect solely militia arms. AsHeller points out, those in the Founding Era valued firearms in partbecause they were useful “for self-defense and hunting.”142 Thus,knives that are useful for self-defense or hunting are also within thescope of the Second Amendment.143

In the past, some states imposed special restrictions on certaintypes of knives while leaving swords alone.144 Often, the particularknives singled out for extra restrictions were those that could openmost easily, likely because legislatures feared that such knives wouldbe used offensively.145

The distinction, however, does not make much sense. Guns canbe used offensively or defensively. The very characteristic thatmakes a gun so useful for defense—the ability to project force at adistance, rather than in close contact—also makes the gun particu-larly dangerous as an offensive weapon. The difference betweenoffensive and defensive is not the type of gun but the intent of theuser and the circ*mstances of use. The same is true for anythingwith a blade; the characteristics that make any particular bladed in-strument handy for self-defense will also make it usable for offense.Again, the user, not the instrument, is the difference.

The question of whether knives qualify as a type of arm suitablefor self-defense seems almost trivial. Knives are self-evidently usefulfor self-defense. Indeed, almost every type of knife would be usefulfor self-defense against an attacker armed with fists or other per-sonal weapons, a knife, or an impact weapon such as a billy club.146

Although a knife is most definitely not an ideal defensive weaponagainst an attacker armed with a handgun, at very close range, as isthe case with many crimes of violence, it would generally be moreeffective than barehanded defense or begging for mercy.

In some situations, a knife might not be the best choice for self-defense because to use it requires one to be inches from the at-tacker. Nonetheless, it can be an effective deterrent to attack for

142. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 599 (2008).143. A knife that is useful for hunting does not have to be a knife that is useful for taking

the animal; a knife that can be used to clean the meat off the animal would also qualify.144. E.g., An Act to Suppress the Sale and Use of Bowie Knives and Arkansas Tooth Picks

in this State, ch. 137, 22 Tenn. Gen. Assemb. Acts 200 (1838) (banning carrying or purchas-ing Bowie knives and Arkansas Toothpicks, but affecting no other weapon).

145. See supra Part I.E–F.146. There are specialized knives whose blades are surrounded such that they can be

used to cut rope or seat belts but are essentially useless as a stabbing weapon. Butter knivesare also useless for self-defense. A ban on them would not violate the Second Amendmentbecause they are only useful as tools.

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the same reason that a firearm is; the attacker must decide whetherthe risk of being seriously injured or killed justifies continuing theattack. In at least some situations, the attacker will see the knife andremember an urgent appointment elsewhere.

Some schools of self-defense instruction, such as Michael Janich’sMartial Blade Concepts, specialize in teaching defensive knifeuse.147 Many people, including police officers carrying defensivehandguns, also carry a backup defensive knife, in case the handgunmalfunctions or runs out of ammunition.148 The Ka-Bar TDI LawEnforcement knife is designed for this purpose, with a small fixedblade and a distinctive angled grip made for carrying on a belt.149

A knife may also be the best or only available defensive choice forpersons who, for a variety of reasons, may choose not to own a fire-arm. Most knives are substantially cheaper than the cheapestfirearm. The poorest Americans are also the most at risk of beingvictims of crime.150 A ten-dollar knife may be an option where a$130 used rifle is not.

Similarly, a person who chooses a knife for self-defense may livein an area where firearms (even after the McDonald v. Chicago deci-sion, which incorporated the Second Amendment against state andlocal government151) are more strictly regulated than knives. Forexample, a knife that can be bought and taken home right awayprovides at least some protection during the period of days, weeks,or months that it may take to get government permission to own afirearm.

A person may also be reluctant to own a firearm out of concernthat he may be unable to adequately secure it from his children.Although knives are still dangerous, a parent may conclude that thedanger of a knife is sufficiently self-evident to a child, and that itrepresents a very minor risk compared to a firearm. While manypeople keep their guns in a safe or lockbox, almost every home has

147. See MARTIAL BLADE CONCEPTS: PRACTICAL PERSONAL-DEFENSE SKILLS FOR TODAY’SWORLD, http://www.martialbladeconcepts.com/Home.aspx (last visited Aug. 20, 2013).

148. See, e.g., Greg Ellifritz, Should Police Officers Carry Fixed Blade Knives?, ACTIVE RESPONSE

TRAINING (Feb. 4, 2013), http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/should-police-officers-carry-fixed-blade-knives; Randall, Police Knives: Carrying and Training, BLUESHEEPDOG.COM, http://www.bluesheepdog.com/police-knives/ (last visited Aug. 20, 2013).

149. TDI Law Enforcement Knife, KA-BAR, http://www.kabar.com/knives/detail/76 (lastvisited Aug. 20, 2013).


ZATION IN THE UNITED STATES, 1995, at 21 tbl.14 (2000) (victimization rates by annual familyincome: 75.0/1,000 for those from families with income below $7,500, dropping consistentlyin every income category to 37.7/1,000 for those at $75,000 per year and above).

151. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).

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several kitchen knives lying in drawers or in a block on the kitchencounter.

The fact that knives in general may be less effective for self-de-fense than handguns does not generally strip knives of SecondAmendment protection. Whether a particular arm is the idealchoice for self-defense does not affect whether that arm is constitu-tionally protected. In Heller, Dick Heller owned a .22 caliberrevolver, which is about the weakest self-defense firearm possible.152

The Court upheld Mr. Heller’s right to own the gun, despite thefact that a higher caliber handgun would be more effective at stop-ping an attacker.153 Likewise, a folding knife with a three-inch bladeis not as powerful a defensive arm as a sword or a handgun. TheSecond Amendment protects individual discretion to choose whichdefensive arm is most suitable for the individual, based on his orher particular circ*mstances.

D. Technological Changes

Heller explicitly rejected the notion that the Second Amendmentprotects only the types of arms that were in existence in 1789, whenCongress sent the Second Amendment to the states for ratifica-tion.154 Claiming that the Second Amendment only protects 1789guns is like saying that the First Amendment protects only the handcranked printing press and not television. On the other hand, if aparticular firearm model is a modern equivalent of a 1789 flintlockrifle, musket, or 1789 handgun, then it is clear that such a firearm iswithin the Second Amendment’s scope.

Virtually every modern knife is comparable to the knives of 1789.Knives and other edged weapons were at least as common in En-glish and U.S. society in the eighteenth century as they are today,appearing frequently in a variety of contexts. They were commonly

152. Compare .22 Results in fps, BALLISTICS BY THE INCH, http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/22.html (last visited Aug. 20, 2013), with .25 Auto Results in fps, BALLISTICS BY THE INCH,http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/25auto.html (last visited Aug. 20, 2013).

153. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 629–31 (2008) (upholding Heller’sright to possess a handgun in his home); see also Jorge Amselle, Choosing the Best Caliber for Self-Defense, AMERICAN RIFLEMAN (May 4, 2011), http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/best-caliber-self-defense/ (“[The .38 special] cartridge is considered by many experts to be theminimum necessary for adequate personal protection.”); Paul W. Abel, Calibers for Defense,SHOOT-N-IRON PRAC. SHOOTING & TRAINING ACAD., http://www.shoot-n-iron.com/calibers-for-defense.asp (last visited Aug. 22, 2013) (“I personally do not recommend either [.32 or.25 calibers] for defensive purposes. Both calibers are lacking in velocity and bulletexpansion.”).

154. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 582.

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sold, carried, used as tools,155 and occasionally misused as offensiveweapons.156

While modern knives are made of superior materials, from afunctional perspective knives have advanced far less since 1789 thanhave firearms, printing presses, or the myriad of other technologieswhose constitutional protections are indisputable.157 Even theswitchblade is old; the first spring-ejected blades appeared in Eu-rope in the late eighteenth century.158

Gun prohibition advocates have long argued that modern fire-arms are far more deadly than single-shot, muzzle-loading firearmsof 1789 and thus do not enjoy the protections of the SecondAmendment.159 They lost that argument in Heller.160 There is nosimilar argument with respect to knives. While firearms havechanged from single-shot to multi-shot, the knives of 2013 have ex-actly one blade, just like the knives of 1789.


ING ASTRONOMICAL INSTRUMENTS 6 (1786) (for making astronomical instruments); PHILIP


351 (1770) (used in setting type); TEMPLE HENRY CROKER ET AL., 3 THE COMPLETE DICTIONARY

OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, “Tanning Engines” (describing the machine used for tanningleather).


SPECIAL COMMISSION OF OYER AND TERMINER 303–05 (1794) (a merchant in London describ-ing his sale of knives with springs that hold them open; “they lay in my show glass, and in thewindow for public sale.”); King v. Chetwynd, NO. 8 PART 3 THE PROCEEDINGS ON THE KING’SCOMMISSIONS OF THE PEACE, AND OYER AND TERMINER 313 (1743) (a dispute over a slice of acake led to an assault involving a pocket knife); Particulars of Margaret Nicholson’s Attempt toAssassinate His Majesty, 10 THE EUROPEAN MAG., AND LONDON REV. 117 (1786) (describingMargaret Nicholson’s attempt on King George III’s life).

157. See Clayton E. Cramer & Joseph Edward Olson, Pistols, Crime and Public, 44 WIL-

LIAMETTE L. REV. 699, 716–22 (2008) (comparing firearms to other advancing technologieswhich enjoy constitutional protections).

158. TIM ZINSER ET AL., SWITCHBLADES OF ITALY 7–8 (2003).159. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 582 (“Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivo-

lous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the SecondAmendment.”).

160. Id. (“We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendmentprotects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521U.S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g.,Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, primafacie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existenceat the time of the founding.”).

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E. The Scope of the Right to Keep and Bear Knives

Heller addressed not only the right to keep a gun in the home butalso the right to bear arms. Although Heller allows carry bans in “sen-sitive places,” the opinion recognized a general right to carry.161

Some lower courts have resisted Heller’s language about the right tocarry, and the issue may need another Supreme Court case for afinal resolution.162

Today, in forty-two states, adults who pass a fingerprint-basedbackground check and a safety training class can obtain a permit tocarry a handgun for lawful protection.163 As a practical matter, theright to bear arms is already in effect in these states. In some states,these licenses are specifically for concealed handguns and do notallow the licensee to carry a concealed knife.164 The reason for thispeculiar situation is that these laws were enacted with the supportof the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activistgroups that were concerned about the right to carry firearms anddid not pay attention to other arms, such as knives.165 A few yearsago, Knife Rights—the first proactive organization dedicated to

161. See id. at 584 (“At the time of the founding, as now, to ‘bear’ meant to ‘carry.’ Whenused with ‘arms,’ however, the term has a meaning that refers to carrying for a particularpurpose—confrontation.”) (citations omitted).

162. See, e.g., Smith v. U.S., 20 A.3d 759, 764 (D.C. 2011) (affirming the conviction of aWashington, D.C. police officer, wrongfully terminated and awaiting reinstatement, who wasarrested for carrying a handgun within the District); Piszczatoski v. Filko, 840 F. Supp. 2d813, 820 (D.N.J. 2012) (“The Second Amendment does not protect an absolute right to carrya handgun for self-defense outside the home, even if the Second Amendment may protect anarrower right to do so for particular purposes under certain circ*mstances.”); Richards v.County of Yolo, 821 F. Supp. 2d 1169, 1174 (E.D. Cal. 2011) (“Based upon this, Heller cannotbe read to invalidate Yolo County’s concealed weapon policy, as the Second Amendmentdoes not create a fundamental right to carry a concealed weapon in public.”). But see Moorev. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 942 (7th Cir. 2012) (overturning a ban on carrying in any form,open or concealed); People v. Aguilar, 2013 IL 112116 (Second Amendment is violated by ageneral ban on bearing arms).

163. Clayton E. Cramer & David B. Kopel, “Shall Issue”: The New Wave of Concealed Hand-gun Permit Laws, 62 TENN. L. REV. 679 (1995); O’Shea, supra note 109, at 598–601. With theexception of California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York,and Rhode Island, all the other states have an objective process by which most law-abidingadults can obtain a permit to carry, or do not need a permit. See generally BUREAU OF ALCO-

HOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES, STATE LAWS AND PUBLISHED ORDINANCES —FIREARMS (31st ed. 2011), available at https://www.atf.gov/files/publications/download/p/atf-p-5300-5-31st-editiion/2010-2011-atf-book-final.pdf.

164. Oregon is fairly typical in prohibiting concealed carry of any knife “that projects orswings into position by force of a spring or by centrifugal force [or] any dirk [or] dagger,”OR. REV. STATS. § 166.240 (2011), but allows concealed carry of a firearm if licensed, id.§§ 166.250, .291. Idaho, by comparison, prohibits carrying “any dirk, dirk knife, bowie knife,dagger, pistol, revolver or any other deadly or dangerous weapon” unless the carrier is li-censed to carry a concealed weapon. IDAHO CODE ANN. § 18-3302(7) (2013).

165. See About NRA-ILA, NRA-ILA, http://www.nraila.org/about-nra-ila.aspx (last visitedAug. 20, 2013).

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knives—was created.166 Had such an organization existed whenthese concealed carry laws were enacted, inclusion of knives wouldhave been more likely.

Given the current understanding of the Second Amendment andthe criminological evidence discussed above, if a state governmentdecides that a particular individual is responsible enough to carry aconcealed, loaded handgun in public places throughout the state,the state cannot forbid that person from carrying a concealed knife.


Post-Heller courts are using a wide variety of analytical tools toevaluate Second Amendment claims. Sometimes, a statute is soflagrantly unconstitutional that there is no need to formulate amulti-step test.167 A law that prohibits activity “near” the core rightof self-defense (such as a ban on target ranges) may receive “not-quite strict scrutiny.”168 Alternatively, a court might apply the “his-tory and tradition” test.169 Some courts have used intermediatescrutiny, particularly for laws that involve persons who have alreadydemonstrated themselves to be more likely than most to misuse afirearm.170 This Part tests some knife laws against the weakestpossible relevant standard, intermediate scrutiny.171 Although inter-mediate scrutiny is not the correct standard in all cases, theseanalyses are telling because if a knife control fails intermediatescrutiny, then it will fail all of the more rigorous standards as well.

As U.S. v. Skoien states, “[i]n its usual formulation, [the interme-diate scrutiny] standard of review requires the government toestablish that the challenged statute serves an important govern-mental interest and the means it employs are substantially related

166. See Richard Grant, Move Over, NRA. Meet the Knife Lobby, MOTHER JONES (Nov./Dec.2012), http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/knife-rights-second-amendment.

167. See, e.g., Moore, 702 F.3d at 942 (holding a near-complete ban on bearing armsunconstitutional).

168. See, e.g., Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684, 708–09 (7th Cir. 2011) (granting apreliminary injunction against a ban on firing ranges).

169. See Heller v. District of Columbia (Heller II), 670 F.3d 1244, 1274–75 (D.C. Cir. 2011)(Kavanaugh, J., dissenting) (suggesting that restrictions be analyzed under an approachbased on text, history, and tradition).

170. See, e.g., United States v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638, 641–44 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc)(applying something similar to intermediate scrutiny to a ban on possessing firearms forpersons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors).

171. Rational basis is not available because a fundamental right is involved. See District ofColumbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 628 n.27 (2008); McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct.3020, 3050 (2010).

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to the achievement of that interest.”172 Courts have repeatedly heldthat, under intermediate scrutiny, it is not enough for the govern-ment to assert that it has a legitimate public interest.173 In TurnerBroadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, the Court ruled that, under interme-diate scrutiny, the government “must demonstrate that the recitedharms are real, not merely conjectural, and that the regulation willin fact alleviate these harms in a direct and material way.”174

This Part applies intermediate scrutiny to three particular typesof knife laws: laws that ban possessing certain knives in the home(Section A), laws that allow carrying knives for some purposes butnot for self-defense (Section B), and laws that allow carrying hand-guns but not knives (Section C). The Article argues that all threetypes of laws fail intermediate scrutiny.

A. Home Possession

Criminal prosecutions for home possession of knives are rare, forthe obvious reason that only in unusual circ*mstances would suchpossession come to the attention of law enforcement. Nevertheless,the statutes on home possession violate the Second Amendment be-cause law-abiding persons are not able to possess certain knives intheir homes. Most jurisdictions that have a ban on home possessionof a certain knife also forbid the sale of such a knife, thus making itdoubly impossible for a law-abiding person to have the knife athome.

Justifying a ban on home possession or the sale or transfer of aconstitutionally protected arm requires the government to offermore than “impressionistic observations” in order to pass interme-diate scrutiny.175 The government must also demonstrate thatreplacing the banned category of knives with some other, equallydangerous arm would not easily defeat the ban. For example, a banon revolvers with two-inch barrels would have no public safety bene-fit if semiautomatic pistols of similar dimensions remained legal. Aslong as the purchase and possession of a ten-inch Wusthof Chef’s

172. U.S. v. Skoien, 587 F.3d 803, 805 (7th Cir. 2009), vacated en banc, 614 F.3d 638 (7thCir. 2010).

173. See, e.g., Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 661–66 (1994)(“This obligation to exercise independent judgment when First Amendment rights are impli-cated is not a license to reweigh the evidence de novo, or to replace Congress’ factualpredictions with our own. Rather, it is to assure that, in formulating its judgments, Congresshas drawn reasonable inferences based on substantial evidence.”).

174. Id. at 664.175. See State v. Delgado, 692 P.2d 610, 612 (Or. 1984).

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Knife is legal, can any knife ban actually produce a genuine reduc-tion in injuries? Thus, bans on the home possession of switchblades,gravity knives, Bowie knives, and so on are probablyunconstitutional.

B. Carrying for Limited Purposes

Lower courts still disagree about the scope of the SecondAmendment right to bear arms, and the issue may eventually bedecided by the Supreme Court.176

Even before the Supreme Court directly recognized that the Sec-ond Amendment protects a right to keep and bear arms forpersonal as well as collective uses, there were still other constitu-tional limits on carry bans. In the 1995 case City of Akron v. Rasdan,the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld a city ordinance banning thecarrying of knives “having a blade two and one-half inches in lengthor longer” against claims of overbreadth and vagueness, but ruledthat the ordinance went too far in prohibiting “an unreasonableamount of activity that is inherently innocent, harmless, and useful.The most obvious examples of this type of innocent activity includecarving, hunting, fishing, camping, scouting, and other recreationalactivities in which carrying a knife is an integral and often essentialpart of that activity.”177

This is an accurate but not comprehensive list. One particularlyimportant item is missing: self-defense. Because knives with bladesof longer than two and one-half inches are among Second Amend-ment “arms” post-Heller and especially post-McDonald, Rasdan mustbe read as protecting a right to carry such knives for lawful defenseof self and others. The Rasdan court distinguished the Akron ordi-nance from ordinances that were upheld in decisions such as City ofSeattle v. Riggins and People v. Ortiz because the laws in those otherstates provided “a sufficient number of exceptions to criminal liabil-ity” to qualify as “reasonable exercises of the police power.”178

176. See, e.g., Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012) (holding that a near-com-plete ban on carrying firearms in public is unconstitutional), reh’g denied, 708 F.3d 901 (7thCir. 2013); Kachalsky v. County of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2d Cir. 2012) (holding that astatute requiring applicants show a special need for self-protection before being granted alicense to carry did not violate Second Amendment), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 1806 (2013)(denying petition despite seven amicus briefs in support, including a brief from twentystates).

177. City of Akron v. Rasdan, 663 N.E.2d 947, 950–53 (1995).178. Id. at 953 (citing City of Seattle v. Riggins, 818 P.2d 1100, 1104 (Wash. Ct. App.

1991); People v. Ortiz, 479 N.Y.S.2d 613, 619 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 1984)).

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Notably, the Rasdan court was using the rational basis standard,but, after Heller and McDonald, rational basis does not suffice.179 Ifthere is going to be a general ban, with exceptions for permissiblepurposes for carrying (e.g., while hunting or hiking), then theremust be an exception that encompasses lawful self-defense. It is pos-sible that laws which set forth conditions for lawful defensive carry,such as a licensing system, might be evaluated under intermediatescrutiny,180 but a law which categorically outlaws defensive carry isnecessarily unconstitutional.181

C. Bans on Carrying Certain Knives but not Handguns

As detailed below in Part VI, some state or local laws allow carry-ing one knife of a certain blade length while forbidding carryinganother knife that has the same blade length, based on whether theknife is a folder or a fixed blade, is a folder that can or cannot belocked, or is a folder that is opened with one mechanism ratherthan another. To meet even the intermediate standard of scrutiny,laws making such distinctions must be based on clear evidence thatthese features are a public safety problem, rather than mere conjec-ture.182 Given that Heller tells us that a handgun ban cannot passintermediate scrutiny,183 it seems very doubtful that any of the dis-tinctions in the above paragraph can pass intermediate scrutiny.

If there is a right to carry handguns, then a ban on carrying aknife longer than X inches must be based on evidence that such aknife is more dangerous than a handgun. Given the quality oftwenty-first century handguns, this is an impossible showing. Anyrule of interpretation that allowed more restrictive laws for the

179. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 628 n.27 (2008); McDonald v. City ofChicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020, 3050 (2010).

180. See, e.g., Kachalsky (2d Cir. 2012).181. See, e.g., Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684 (7th Cir. 2011); People v. Aguilar, No.

112116, 2013 WL 112116 (Ill. Sept. 12 2013).182. In cases on commercial speech and in other First Amendment contexts, the Su-

preme Court has similarly held that “conjecture” does not satisfy the government interestrequirement. See, e.g., Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Gov’t PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 392 (2000) (“Wehave never accepted mere conjecture as adequate to carry a First Amendment burden.”);Edenfield v. Fane, 507 U.S. 761, 770–71 (1993) (noting that the government’s “burden is notsatisfied by mere speculation or conjecture,” but only by “demonstrat[ing] that the harms[the government] recites are real and that its restriction will in fact alleviate them to a mate-rial degree”).

183. Heller, 554 U.S. at 628–29 (“Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we haveapplied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home ‘the most preferredfirearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home and family,’ would failconstitutional muster.”).

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bearing of edged weapons than for firearms cannot qualify as allevi-ating “these harms in a direct and material way” and thus failsintermediate scrutiny.184

Besides lethality, there are some other ways in which knives areless dangerous than handguns. A gunshot fired in self-defense maypass through the criminal and hit an innocent bystander, or a de-fensive shot may miss the criminal and hit a bystander. The same istrue for criminal misuse of guns.185 These risks occur not only inpublic places but also from shots fired within a residence. In con-trast, a knife used for self-defense has no risk to innocentbystanders similar to a stray bullet.

Because knives are less dangerous than handguns, which may le-gally be carried, any law that regulates the possession or carrying ofknives, even the biggest and scariest knives (for those persons whofind them scary), is indefensible under intermediate scrutiny. Atthe least, intermediate scrutiny requires an “important” govern-ment interest;186 it is difficult to see how the government could evenhave a rational interest, let alone an important interest, in prevent-ing the carrying of knives by people who can lawfully carryhandguns.



State and local knife laws are often bewilderingly complex, and,as a result, it is very easy for a person with no criminal intent tobreak these laws. Prosecutors and police do not treat the severestate and local laws as relics of the nineteenth century. Instead, thelaws are often vigorously enforced today against persons who arenot engaged in malum in se behavior.

The enormous political attention on gun regulation means thatmost Americans have relatively little idea of the extent to whichknives are subject to startlingly severe laws. These laws frequentlyconcern carrying but may also forbid manufacture, sale, purchase,

184. See Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 664 (1994); People v.Yanna, 824 N.W.2d 241, 244–45 (Mich. App. 2012).

185. See, e.g., Lawrence W. Sherman et al., Stray Bullets and “Mushrooms”: Random Shootingsof Bystanders in Four Cities, 1977–1988, 5 J. QUANTITATIVE CRIMINOLOGY 297, 297 (1989)(There was a “rapid increase in both bystander woundings and killings since 1985 in all fourcities. . . . [But] total bystander deaths appear to comprise less than one percent of all homi-cides in these cities.”); H. Range Hutson et al., Adolescents and Children Injured or Killed inDrive-By Shootings in Los Angeles, 330 NEW ENG. J. MED. 324, 325 (1994) (“Among the victimswho had firearms injuries, 122 (28 percent) had no gang affiliation . . .”).

186. See, e.g., Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197 (1976).

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or even possession in one’s home of a knife. In many respects, thevariations in state and local knife regulation are far more curiousand unexpected than the variations in gun regulation. Even withina particular state, the variations of what and where something islegal can be confusing.

One reason for the anomaly is that almost all states have someform of legislative or judicial preemption for gun control.187 Thus,in many states, local governments are greatly restricted in what, ifany, gun control laws they may enact, and gun laws are supposed tobe uniform within the state.188 In contrast, only a few states haveknife preemption, and those are recent enactments.189

A. Washington

Washington is one of the many states without knife preemption.Leslie Riggins was arrested in 1988 in Seattle while waiting for a busbecause he had a knife in a sheath on his belt.190 He was chargedwith possession of a fixed blade knife.191 Riggins explained that heoriginally intended to go fishing with his brother outside of Seattle,but because of a change of plans, Riggins had “ended up using theknife to assist in roofing his brother’s house.”192

Riggins might well have had reason to believe that he was withinhis rights to carry the knife. One part of the Seattle ordinanceprohibiting carrying a fixed blade knife exempted “[a] licensedhunter or licensed fisherman actively engaged in hunting and fish-ing activity including . . . travel related thereto.”193 When Rigginsstarted his travels, he had planned to go fishing and thus was withinthe “travel related thereto” exemption.194 Another exemption pro-tected “[a]ny person immediately engaged in an activity related to a

187. Firearms Preemption Laws, NRA-ILA (Dec. 16, 2006), http://www.nraila.org/news-is-sues/fact-sheets/2006/firearms-preemption-laws.aspx?s=Preemption&st=&ps=.

188. See STEPHEN P. HALBROOK, 2 FIREARMS LAW DESKBOOK app. A (2010).189. See Act of Apr. 29, 2010, ch. 204, 2010 Ariz. Sess. Laws 1005 (codified at ARIZ. REV.

STAT. ANN. § 13-3120 (2012)) (first state to preempt knife laws); Restrictions on PoliticalSubdivisions Regarding the Regulation of Knives, ch. 272, 2011 Utah Laws 1092 (codified atUTAH CODE ANN. §§ 10-8-47.5, 17-50-332 (2012)); An Act Relative to State Authority OverFirearms and Ammunition, ch. 139, 2011 N.H. Laws 141 (codified at N.H. REV. STAT. ANN.§ 159:26 (2012)); Act of May 2, 2012, act 753, 2012 Ga. Laws (codified at GA. CODE ANN. § 16-11-136 (2012)).

190. City of Seattle v. Riggins, 818 P.2d 1100, 1101 (Wash. Ct. App. 1991), rev’d, 846 P.2d1394 (Wash. Ct. App. 1993).

191. SEATTLE, WASH., MUN. CODE § 12A.14.080(B) (2013).192. Riggins, 818 P.2d at 1101.193. MUN. CODE § 12A.14.100(A).194. See Riggins, 818 P.2d at 1101.

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lawful occupation which commonly requires the use of such knife,provided such knife is carried unconcealed.”195 Here is where Rig-gins ended up in trouble. Earlier in the day, Riggins had been usingthe knife for such a purpose (roofing his brother’s house), but bythe time he returned home by bus, he was no longer immediatelyengaged in that activity.196 At this point, his only hope for an ex-emption from the “dangerous knife” carrying ban would have been“carrying such knife in a secure wrapper or in a tool box.”197

The state appellate court held that Riggins did not fall within“any one of the three fairly broad exemptions” to Seattle’s knifeordinance, and the court was unwilling to recognize that a day thathad started with Riggins’s knife exempted for a fishing trip hadchanged as his plans changed.198 Nothing in the Riggins decisionsuggests that Riggins had engaged in any behavior that was eitherdangerous or criminal. Had Riggins gone fishing with his brotherand, at the end of the day, been returning home by bus, therewould have been no criminal conviction.

Washington has a strong state constitutional guarantee of theright to keep and bear arms, and the Washington State SupremeCourt has enforced this provision conscientiously when the case hasinvolved a firearm.199 However, the intermediate appellate courtbrushed off Riggins’s constitutional claim, gave the ordinance“every presumption . . . of constitutionality,” and upheld the Seattleordinance under a mere “reasonable and substantial” test.200

The Riggins decision was in 1991 and involved only the state con-stitution. Both District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v.Chicago (2010) struck down bans on the possession of handgunswithout even needing to resort to a standard of scrutiny; the ban onhandgun possession in those cases was so plainly contrary to theconstitutional text that there was no need to proceed to choosing a

195. MUN. CODE § 12A.14.100(B).196. See Riggins, 818 P.2d at 1101, 1104 (“Riggins has failed to show that his conduct falls

within one of the ordinance’s exemptions.”).197. MUN. CODE § 12A.14.100(C).198. See Riggins, 818 P.2d at 1102, 1104, rev’d on other grounds, 846 P.2d 1394 (Wash. Ct.

App. 1993).199. See, e.g., State v. Rupe, 683 P.2d 571, 594–97 (Wash. 1984) (ordering defendant’s

ownership of an AR-15 excluded from penalty phase of murder trial because of chilling effecton right to keep and bear arms).

200. Riggins, 818 P.2d at 1102–03 (“Where legislation tends to promote the health, safety,morals, or welfare of the public and bears a reasonable and substantial relationship to thatpurpose, every presumption will be indulged in favor of constitutionality.”), rev’d on othergrounds, 846 P.2d 1394 (Wash. Ct. App. 1993).

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level of scrutiny.201 The Riggins approach to the Washington Consti-tution’s protections is therefore contrary to the approach that theU.S. Supreme Court outlined for Second Amendment cases since,according to the Supreme Court, broad bans on ownership or car-rying (keeping and bearing) are per se unconstitutional. WereRiggins to come before the Washington Supreme Court today, itwould almost certainly strike down Seattle’s overly broad ban oncarrying such knives. An example of the federal approach to broadbans after Heller/McDonald occurred in 2012 when the Seventh Cir-cuit correctly applied the Heller/McDonald model to Illinois, whichwas the only state to prohibit defensive gun carrying in publicplaces.202 Because the ban was per se unconstitutional, Judge Rich-ard Posner’s decision struck down the Illinois ban without needingto get into three-tiered scrutiny.203 The Washington State SupremeCourt would be obligated not simply to consider the constitutional-ity of the Seattle ordinance with respect to the Washington StateConstitution, but with the much more demanding standards ofMcDonald.

Alternatively, a future Washington state court might simply applythe Riggins “substantial” test (which echoes the language of inter-mediate scrutiny) with some genuine rigor and ask whether therewas any substantial relation to public safety in an ordinance thatwould have let a future defendant similarly situated to Riggins carryhis knife home in one way after a day of fishing but required thathe carry it in a different way after a day of roofing. As in any caseinvolving heightened scrutiny (strict or intermediate), the burdenof proof would be on the government.204 Depending on how theSupreme Court finally decides what standard of scrutiny to apply tothe Second Amendment, an appeal to the Second Amendment

201. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 628–29 (2008) (“Under any of thestandards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning fromthe home ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’shome and family,’ would fail constitutional muster.”); McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 3050 (2010) (“In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right topossess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of staredecisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is funda-mental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and theStates.”).

202. See 720 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/24-1 (2011), invalidated by Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d933 (7th Cir. 2012); People v. Aguilar, No. 112116, 2013 WL 112116, at *5–8 (Ill. Sept. 122013) (Striking down a comprehensive ban on carrying loaded firearms in public places andby someone who was hardly an upstanding citizen: “That said, we cannot escape the realitythat in this case, we are dealing not with a reasonable regulation but with a comprehensiveban.”).

203. See Madigan, 702 F.3d at 941–42.204. See, e.g., Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 196–204 (1976).

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might produce a similar result to Riggins, or strike down the Seattleordinance.

B. California

Can a person legally carry a knife in California? He can carry afixed blade knife on California’s college campuses if the blade isnot longer than two-and-one-half inches.205 Folding knives are un-restricted by state law on college campuses,206 though somecampuses may have more restrictive rules. On primary and secon-dary school grounds, the law is the same for fixed blades as oncollege campuses (banned if more than two-and-one-half inches),but all folding knives are banned, regardless of blade length, if theblade can lock open.207 On the other hand, a person can carry aknife with a fixed blade up to four inches into a government build-ing.208 He can also carry a folding knife into a government buildingwith a blade up to four inches, but only if the blade does not lockopen.209

Heller affirmed the permissibility of special restrictions on armscarrying in “sensitive places, such as schools and government build-ings.”210 However, even presuming that California can legally enactsome special restrictions on knife carrying in those places, the ac-tual restrictions are irrational. There is no reason why lock-bladefolders are allowed and non-locking folders are banned in one loca-tion while just the opposite is the rule in another location.

For carrying in public places in general (not in sensitive places),California law is at least coherent at the state level. A person canopenly carry any knife. He can concealed carry almost any foldingknife. The one exception is that he cannot carry a switchblade witha blade longer than two inches in any fashion, open orconcealed.211

However, California has no preemption for knife laws, and someCalifornia cities, such as Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco,have their own, more restrictive (and inconsistent) ordinances. LosAngeles prohibits open carry of knives with blades that are three

205. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 626.10(b) (West 2013).206. See id.207. Id. § 626.10(a). A folder that does not lock open is more dangerous because the

blade might fold in unexpectedly and cut a hand. Persons who are familiar with knife safetytherefore usually prefer to carry folders that lock open.

208. See id. § 171b(3).209. Id.210. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008).211. CAL. PENAL CODE § 21510 (West 2012).

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inches or longer (with some exemptions).212 Similarly, Oaklandprohibits carrying knives with blades three inches or longer, butalso “any snap-blade or spring-blade knife” (older terms for switch-blades), regardless of knife length.213 San Francisco prohibitsloitering while carrying a concealed knife with a blade three inchesor more long, or carrying a concealed switchblade knife of anylength.214 Because of the complexity of California state laws and lo-cal ordinances, it would be very easy to unintentionally break thelaw while carrying a knife with no criminal intent.

C. District of Columbia

The District of Columbia is already famous for its unusual andextreme firearms laws, some of which were struck down in Hellerand others of which are the subjects of ongoing litigation.215 TheDistrict is also the home of equally severe knife laws. D.C. law pro-hibits not only carrying a pistol without a license but also “anydeadly or dangerous weapon capable of being so concealed.”216

This prohibition applies not simply in public places; the statuteadds an additional penalty for doing so “in a place other than theperson’s dwelling place, place of business, or on land possessed bythe person.”217

It does not matter whether the knife is actually carried con-cealed. The fact that the knife is concealable makes open carrying acrime. The punishment for carrying in the home is “a fine of notmore than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, orboth.”218 In other words, carrying a carving knife (or even a paringknife) to the dining room table in the District of Columbia appearsto be a criminal offense.

Prosecutions for home carry of knives seem to be rare in D.C.,likely because such carrying would rarely come to the attention of

212. LOS ANGELES, CAL., MUN. CODE § 55.10 (2012) (exemptions include “where a personis wearing or carrying a knife or dagger for use in a lawful occupation, for lawful recreationalpurposes, or as a recognized religious practice, or while the person is traveling to or re-turning from participation in such activity.”).

213. OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE §§ 9.36.010–.020 (2012).214. SAN FRANCISCO, CAL., MUN. POLICE CODE, art. 17 § 1291 (2012).215. See Heller v. District of Columbia (Heller II), 670 F.3d 1244, 1248–49 (D.C. Cir. 2011)

(affirming basic registration requirements for rifles and a ban on many semi-automatic riflesand on detachable rifle magazines holding more than ten rounds, while remanding for fur-ther consideration of long gun registration period and of unusual registration requirementsfor all guns, such as fingerprinting, training, and periodic re-registration).

216. See D.C. CODE § 22-4504(a) (2012).217. Id.218. Id. § 22-4515.

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FALL 2013] Knives and the Second Amendment 209

law enforcement. In Heller, the Supreme Court struck down a simi-lar D.C. ban on carrying guns that even prohibited a person whohad a lawfully registered rifle in the home from carrying the gunfrom the bedroom into the kitchen in order to clean it.219 Like theD.C. gun carry ban, the D.C. knife carry ban is grotesquely over-broad and a plain violation of the Second Amendment.

D. New York

Glenn Reynolds’s recent article, Second Amendment Penumbras, ar-gues that, by analogy to the First Amendment, the “chilling effect”doctrine should be applied to the right to keep and bear arms.220

While Reynolds’s arguments concern firearms, they just as accu-rately apply to knife laws. Many restrictions and regulationsadopted “[d]uring our nation’s interlude of hostility toward guns inthe latter half of the twentieth century” suggest that:

the underlying goal is to discourage people from having any-thing to do with firearms at all. . . . At present, Americans facea patchwork of gun laws that often vary unpredictably fromstate to state, and sometimes from town to town. Travelersmust thus either surrender their Second Amendment rights,or risk prosecution.221

One example of the chilling effect of knife regulation comesfrom New York City. Defendant John Irizarry was arrested in Brook-lyn when a police officer noticed a folding knife sticking out of hispocket.222 The police officer decided (as it turns out, incorrectly)that this was a gravity knife223 and stopped Irizarry. Irizarry ex-plained that he used the “Husky Sure-Grip Folding Knife” as part ofhis job, as did indeed turn out to be the case. The police officerarrested him anyway, leading to the discovery of a concealed pistol.

Irizarry sought to suppress the discovery of the pistol because thesearch was subsequent to an arrest for something that was not acrime. The federal court ruled in Irizarry’s favor because the knifein question was not a gravity knife within the definition of New York

219. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 630–31, 635 (2008).220. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Second Amendment Penumbras, 85 S. CAL. L. REV. 247, 251

(2012).221. Id. at 251–52.222. United States v. Irizarry, 509 F. Supp. 2d 198, 199 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).223. The precise definition of a “gravity knife” is discussed supra Part III.E. Irizarry’s knife

was plainly not a gravity knife. See id. at 210.

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210 University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform [VOL. 47:1

law, but also because “[t]he widespread and lawful presence of anitem in society undercuts the reasonableness of an officer’s beliefthat it represents contraband.”224 The defendant’s Husky Sure-GripFolding Knife is a proprietary product sold by Home Depot, whichsold 67,341 units in 2006 in New York state alone.225 The manufac-turer of a competing but similar knife reported that it sold1,765,091 units nationally in 2006.226 Although the courts did even-tually find in Irizarry’s favor, any observer of what happened wouldrightly conclude that carrying even a completely legal knife in NewYork City is looking for trouble with the police. These onlookerswould therefore choose not to exercise their constitutional right tocarry knives, meaning their conduct would be chilled.

The courts ruled for Irizarry, but the New York City governmentdid not learn its lesson. In 2010, Manhattan District Attorney CyrusVance, Jr. threatened criminal charges against Home Depot, AceHardware, and a number of hardware, general, and sporting goodsretailers for selling knives that the District Attorney characterized as“illegal knives.”227 As a result of the threat of criminal prosecutionand to avoid going to trial on charges, these retailers signed settle-ment agreements and turned over $1.9 million to finance a so-called public education campaign and other anti-knife efforts bythe District Attorney.228

The specific claimed violations in this instance involved gravityknives or switchblades. Again, as in the Irizarry case, Home Depotpointed out that “[t]hese are common knives” often used in con-struction and home improvement projects.229 Some of the arrestsassociated with these “illegal knives” demonstrate that the defini-tion of “gravity knife” under New York law is subject to abusiveprosecution. New York police arrested the noted painter JohnCopeland a few months after District Attorney Vance’s aforemen-tioned settlement with the chain stores for carrying a Benchmadethree-inch folding knife, on the allegation that it was a “gravityknife.”230

Although charges were eventually dropped against Copeland be-cause his lawyer was able to show that Copeland is a serious artist

224. Id. at 209.225. Id. at 203–04.226. Id. at 204.227. See Press Release, N.Y. Cnty. Dist. Attorney’s Office, supra note 53.228. See id.229. John Eligon, 14 Stores Accused of Selling Illegal Knives, N.Y. TIMES (June 17, 2010),

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/nyregion/18knives.html?_r=1&.230. See Melissa Grace, Artist Furious for Being Busted on Weapons Possession Over a Pocket

Knife He Uses for Work, DAILY NEWS (Jan. 26, 2011), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/artist-furious-busted-weapons-possession-pocket-knife-work-article-1.155163#ixzz2KSCt0Z5z.

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FALL 2013] Knives and the Second Amendment 211

and used the knife in his work for cutting canvas,231 it does not takemuch effort to imagine the results if someone who lacked a na-tional reputation or a well-paid attorney had been arrested underthe same circ*mstances. Police arrested Copeland because theythought that they saw a knife in his pants pockets. There was noallegation of any criminal misuse.232

Another example of the zeal with which New York City enforcesits knife laws—with no connection to criminal misuse—is the storyof Clayton Baltzer. Baltzer’s “fine-arts class at Baptist Bible College& Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pa.” went on a field trip to the Met-ropolitan Museum of Art.233 In a subway station, a plainclothespolice officer grabbed Baltzer by the arm because his pocketknifeclip was visible.234 Unlike Copeland, Baltzer was convicted and sen-tenced to a $125 fine and two days of community service. Baltzerhas learned his lesson: “I don’t plan on visiting New York unless Ihave to.”235

E. State Regulation of Switchblades

One of the most important state supreme court decisions regard-ing knives is State v. Delgado.236 There, the Oregon Supreme Courtstruck down Oregon’s ban on the manufacture, sale, transfer, carry-ing, or possession of switchblades on the grounds that it violated

231. Id.232. See id.233. Jeb Phillips, Bible-College Student’s Pocketknife Spoils Trip to New York City, COLUMBUS

DISPATCH (June 12, 2012), http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/06/12/knife-trouble-in-a-new-york-minute.html.

234. New York City’s Administrative Code has the unusual requirement that all knives becarried concealed. See N.Y.C., N.Y., ADMIN. CODE § 10-133 (2010). The officer interpreted thevisibility of the clip as a violation of the law:

Baltzer has carried a pocketknife almost everywhere since he was a 14-year-old campcounselor. He clips it on his pocket so that the clip is visible, but the knife isn’t. Healways uses two hands to open it, the way most people would a regular pocketknife. . . .

In Baltzer’s telling, the officer tried to flick it open and couldn’t. He handed it toanother officer, who did flick it open after several tries.

Baltzer was arrested and charged with the highest degree of misdemeanor under NewYork law. He had another knife in his backpack, a fixed-blade one he used to whittlefor kids at a special-needs camp in Pennsylvania. He forgot he had it in his bag. Policeconfiscated that one, too.

Phillips, supra note 233.235. Phillips, supra note 233.236. State v. Delgado, 692 P.2d 610 (Or. 1984).

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212 University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform [VOL. 47:1

the Oregon Constitution’s “right to bear arms” provision.237 The de-fendant, Joseph Delgado, “was walking with a companion on apublic street. The two appeared disorderly to an officer nearby, andwhen the defendant reached up as he passed a street sign andtapped or struck it with his hand, the officer confronted both indi-viduals and conducted a pat down search.”238 In the course of thatsearch, officers found a switchblade knife concealed in Delgado’spocket, which he claimed that he carried for self-defense.239

The Oregon Supreme Court built upon a previous decision, Statev. Kessler, which had recognized that “the term ‘arms,’ as contem-plated by the constitutional framers, was not limited to firearms butincluded those hand-carried weapons commonly used for personaldefense.”240 Kessler had recognized that possession of billy clubs wasprotected in one’s home.241 Delgado extended Kessler’s decision andrecognized that a switchblade knife was also a protected arm underthe state’s constitution.242

The state argued that the switchblade knife “is an offensiveweapon used primarily by criminals.”243 The Oregon SupremeCourt decided that the distinction between defensive and offensiveweapons was unpersuasive because the characteristics of defensiveand offense of weapons strongly overlap: “It is not the design of theknife but the use to which it is put that determines its ‘offensive’ or‘defensive’ character.”244

The Oregon Supreme Court also engaged in originalist analysis,observing that possessing and carrying pocketknives is deeply em-bedded in European and American history. The court wrote that“knives have played an important role in American life, both astools and as weapons. The folding pocketknife, in particular, sincethe early 18th century has been commonly carried by men inAmerica and used primarily for work, but also for fighting.”245

What about the switchblade? The state had argued that theswitchblade is fundamentally different from its historical ancestor,the folding pocketknife, which would have been known when theOregon Constitution was drafted in 1859. The Oregon SupremeCourt was not persuaded:

237. Id. at 610.238. Id. at 611.239. Id.240. See id. at 611 (citing State v. Kessler, 614 P.2d 94, 98 (Or. 1980)).241. Kessler, 614 P.2d at 100.242. Delgado, 692 P.2d at 611, 614.243. Id. at 612.244. Id.245. Id. at 613–14.

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FALL 2013] Knives and the Second Amendment 213

We are unconvinced by the state’s argument that the switch-blade is so “substantially different from its historical antece-dent” (the jackknife) that it could not have been within thecontemplation of the constitutional drafters. They must havebeen aware that technological changes were occurring inweaponry as in tools generally. . . . This was the period of de-velopment of the Gatling gun, breach loading rifles, metalliccartridges and repeating rifles. The addition of a spring toopen the blade of a jackknife is hardly a more astonishing in-novation than those just mentioned.246

The Oregon Supreme Court noted that the 1958 Federal Switch-blade Act was based on the theory that switchblades were “almostexclusively the weapon of the thug and the delinquent.”247 The Del-gado court, however, observed that the relevant congressionaltestimony “offers no more than impressionistic observations onthe criminal use of switch-blades.”248 The Delgado decision did notcompletely forbid the state from regulating the manner in whicha switchblade might be carried. The state could prohibit theconcealed carry of a switchblade; the complete prohibitionon sale, transfer, manufacture, or possession, however, wasunconstitutional.249

Unlike Oregon, some states continue to ban even the home pos-session of switchblades.250 If switchblades are “typically possessed . . .for lawful purposes,” then the bans are unconstitutional under Hel-ler. Of course, in a state where switchblades are banned, everyonewho owns a switchblade is, by definition, a criminal. Besides that,bans on the sale of switchblades will have made it impossible forlaw-abiding citizens to obtain them, so the switchblades will not bein “typical” use in that state. A law passed during a moral panic sixtyyears ago might thus end up trumping the Constitution because itsprohibition has made that weapon “not typically possessed . . . forlawful purposes.”251

We can see this problem in Lacy v. State, in which the IndianaCourt of Appeals upheld a ban on the possession of automaticknives on the grounds that “switchblades are primarily used by

246. Id. at 614.247. Id. at 612 (quoting S. REP. NO. 85-1980 (1958), reprinted in 1958 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3435).248. Id.249. See id. at 614.250. E.g., COLO. REV. STAT. § 18-12-102 (2012) (possession of gravity or switchblade knives

is a felony, even in one’s home); TENN. CODE ANN. § 39-17-1302 (2012) (possession, manufac-ture, transportation, repair, or sale of a switchblade knife is a class A misdemeanor).

251. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 625 (2008).

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214 University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform [VOL. 47:1

criminals and are not substantially similar to a regular knife or jack-knife.”252 If they are illegal, then by definition they will be“primarily used by criminals,”253 as any prohibited arm would be.

Lacy quotes Crowley Cutlery Co. v. U.S. to refute the Oregon Su-preme Court’s position in Delgado that switchblade knives are notintrinsically different from other knives.254 Crowley argued thatswitchblade knives “are more dangerous than regular knives be-cause they are more readily concealable and hence more suitablefor criminal use.”255 It requires no expert testimony to demonstratethat this claim is incorrect. A switchblade knife’s handle, whenclosed, must be at least as long as the blade. In this respect, it is nodifferent from any folding knife; the enclosure must be slightlylonger than the blade. No switchblade knife can be any more con-cealable than its non-automatic counterpart.

Besides that, all one need do is look at states where switchbladesare not banned, and one will see that switchblades are indeed typi-cally possessed by law-abiding citizens for legitimate purposes.


Knives are among the “arms” protected by the Second Amend-ment. They easily fit with the Supreme Court’s Heller definition ofprotected arms, namely that they be usable for self-defense and typi-cally owned by law-abiding citizens for legitimate purposes.

Statutes that ban or impose special restrictions based on how aknife opens, or on whether an opened knife can be locked open,cannot survive any form of heightened scrutiny analysis. Indeed,many laws regulating knives cannot even survive rational basis scru-tiny. As we have previously observed, knives are among the armsthat Americans have a right to bear, and their lower lethality rela-tive to handguns means that there is not even a rational basis forlaws that regulate carrying knives more restrictively than carryinghandguns.

252. Lacy v. State, 903 N.E.2d 486, 492 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).253. See id. at 488, 491–92.254. Delgado, 692 P.2d at 614 (“We are unconvinced by the state’s argument that the

switch-blade is so ‘substantially different from its historical antecedent’ (the jackknife) that itcould not have been within the contemplation of the constitutional drafters. They must havebeen aware that technological changes were occurring in weaponry as in tools generally.”)

255. Crowley Cutlery Co. v. United States, 849 F.2d 273, 278 (7th Cir. 1988). Note thatthe plaintiff’s suit had far more serious problems than the question of the criminal nature ofswitchblades. The Court of Appeals wrote: “this is not to say that the issue of the SwitchbladeKnife Act’s constitutionality necessarily is frivolous. It is the specific grounds articulated byCrowley that are frivolous, and make the suit frivolous.” Id. at 279.

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FALL 2013] Knives and the Second Amendment 215

This Article has not aimed to resolve definitively every questionabout knife laws in the United States. Rather, it has endeavored toprovide a starting point for further study and to examine some ofthe prohibitions that may be most clearly unconstitutional underthe Second Amendment. In a practical sense, the most frequentway that Americans exercise their Second Amendment rights is byowning and carrying knives. Knife rights are worthy of judicial pro-tection and of further scholarly study.

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Why is the 2nd amendment controversial? ›

Modern debates about the Second Amendment have focused on whether it protects a private right of individuals to keep and bear arms, or a right that can be exercised only through militia organizations like the National Guard.

What exactly does the Second Amendment say? ›

Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What is the major idea of Amendment II? ›

In short, the Second Amendment states that as an American citizen, you have the individual right to arm yourself. The amendment also firmly establishes that the government cannot infringe on that right.

What is the history of the Second Amendment right to bear arms? ›

In England, following the Glorious Revolution, the Second Amendment's predecessor was codified in the British Bill of Rights in 1689, under its Article VII, which proclaimed “that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” Often misinterpreted ...

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According to joint polls published by CNN and the SSRS Institute: 64% of Americans support stricter gun control laws, 36% oppose it.

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Legal legitimacy

Most militia organizations envisage themselves as legally legitimate organizations, despite the fact that all 50 states prohibit private paramilitary activity.

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Since the Supreme Court ruled that citizens may keep a handgun at home for self-defense in District of Columbia v. Heller, courts across the country have reaffirmed that gun safety laws are constitutional and not in conflict with Second Amendment rights.

Is the Second Amendment still relevant today? ›

The Second Amendment and public safety go hand-in-hand—and the federal government has a duty to protect both. Data suggests that gun control laws do not contribute significantly to the prevention of violent crime. Rather, these restrictions act as a barrier between law-abiding citizens and their Constitutional right.

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The amendment prohibits the United States or any state from denying or abridging equal rights under the law on account of sex.

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What does the right to bear arms really mean? The right to bear arms generally refers to a person's right to possess weapons. Over the years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution's right to bear arms as an individual self-defense right, making it very difficult for Congress to regulate guns.

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“The fanciful claim that the Second Amendment exists to allow armed groups to overthrow the government is the basis for the equally deranged claim that the people must have an arsenal equal to the government's.

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A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

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Limitations of the Second Amendment
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Jun 10, 2023

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Our Constitution's framers affirmed our right to bear arms through the Second Amendment for an important reason; to provide Americans with means of protection and self-defense.

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