June 1, 2023 – Gilbert, Arizona: Knife Rights has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of portions of the Federal Switchblade Act (Title 15 Chapter 29 §1241), originally enacted in 1958, that restricts the introduction into interstate commerce of common automatically opening (“switchblade”) knives. It also challenges the ban on their possession on Native American reservations and in U.S. territories. The definition of a “switchblade knife” includes gravity knives and butterfly knives.
Joining Knife Rights in the case are members Russell Arnold and Jeffery Folloder and retailer members RGA Auction Services d.b.a. Firearm Solutions and MOD Specialties. They are represented by attorneys John W. Dillon at the Dillon Law Group and R. Brent Cooper at Cooper & Scully.
In its complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the Federal government’s restrictions and bans are unconstitutional and said that “there can be no question that knives are “arms” protected under the plain text of the Second Amendment.…And indeed, the Supreme Court made clear in [NYSRPA v. Bruen] that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right to acquire, possess, and carry arms for self-defense and all other lawful purposes.”
Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter said, “Under Supreme Court precedent, the Federal Switchblade Act cannot pass muster and must be enjoined. The Federal government has no right to restrict interstate commerce in commonly possessed automatically opening knives of any type, or to ban their possession. The interstate trade in automatically opening knives is essential to the right to acquire these common arms. After 65 years it is time to end this anachronism that was deceitfully enacted and which remains an insult to common sense.”
Since 2010, Knife Rights has led the charge to restore the right to keep and bear knives in 28 states, including repealing bans on civilian automatic (switchblade) knives in 16 states.
In its 2022 NYSRPA v. Bruen decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” In 2021, Knife Rights filed an important amicus (friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court that was cited in the Bruen decision.
Attorney John Dillon said, “The Federal Switchblade Act has always been constitutionally questionable. After Bruen, there is no doubt this Act has been violating the Second Amendment rights of Americans for decades. Forty five states currently allow automatically opening knives to one degree or another, 36 with no restrictions whatsoever on possession. They are unquestionably common and therefore cannot be banned, either in interstate commerce or on Native American Reservations and U.S. territories. It is past time to free the switchblades.”
Please support this Knife Rights’ lawsuit with a tax-deductible donation to the Knife Rights Foundation at: www.KnifeRights.org/donate (select Knife Rights Foundation)
Federal Switchblade Act Background
In 1950, a sensationalist article by a known hack journalist titled The Toy That Kills appeared in the Women’s Home Companion, a widely read U.S. periodical. The article sparked a storm of controversy. It ultimately led to a nationwide campaign by political opportunists of the day that would eventually result in a number of state laws restricting switchblade possession or carry and in the Federal Switchblade Act. You can read that article at: www.KnifeRights.org/TheToyThatKills.pdf
By the mid-1950s Hollywood’s fixation on the myth of the switchblade as the symbol of youth violence, sex, and delinquency resulted in demands from the public and Congress to control the sale and possession of such knives. State laws restricting or criminalizing switchblade possession and carry, of varying severity, were adopted by 24 states (16 of which have been repealed by Knife rights’ efforts since 2010). Only 14 of these states enacted full bans on switchblade knives, of which only 5 remain in force. In 1958 Congress passed the Federal Switchblade Act.
Broadly, in NYSRPA v. Bruen the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment includes the right to be armed for self-defense at home and in public. This right can only be limited to the extent that there is a historical tradition of limitation in the period immediately prior to and around the time of the Constitution’s framing in the late 18th century up to the late 19th century. A few restrictions on knives of various sorts that are outliers from that time period do not count. Restrictions imposed later, including on switchblades in the 1950s, including the Federal Switchblade Act, don’t count. Acquisition, possession and carry of knives survives this constitutional test.
NYSRPA v. Bruen upheld restrictions on weapons such as machine guns that are deemed by the court to be both “dangerous and unusual.” A weapon that is either not “dangerous” or not “unusual” cannot be prohibited. Automatically opening (“switchblade”) knives and other knife designs and opening mechanisms are neither “unusual,” being legal and common in most places today, nor any more “dangerous” than other non-prohibited knives or weapons. Knife bans existent today do not pass constitutional muster after Bruen.
NYSRPA v. Bruen also emphasized emphatically from the court’s prior Second Amendment McDonald decision that “the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” Second Amendment decisions by courts must be made on the basis of strict scrutiny, just as with other rights. Intermediate scrutiny or “interest balancing” can no longer be used to decide Second Amendment cases. As such, the government can no longer defend knife bans, for whatever irrational basis it comes up with.
About Knife Rights
Knife Rights (www.KnifeRights.org) is America’s grassroots knife owners’ organization; leading the fight to Rewrite Knife Law in America™ and forging a Sharper Future for all Americans™. Knife Rights efforts have resulted in 44 bills enacted repealing knife bans in 28 states and over 175 cities and towns since 2010.