A 1950s law banning gravity knives in New York will stay on the books after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill, a loss for knife-owning proponents.
Supporters of the new law argue that the knife ban has led to unfair arrests of law-abiding citizens who carry the knife. By some estimates, police arrested as many as 70,000 people for carrying the knife between 2000 and 2012.
Both houses of the state legislature approved the measure early in 2016. Cuomo, who has had the bill on his desk since June, vetoed the bill on the last day of 2016.
In a message delivered with his decision, Cuomo called the current law “absurd” but said the legislation “falls short in its intent” to protect the rights of legal knife owners. He also noted law enforcement’s opposition to the bill.
History of the New York Gravity Knife Ban
The ban against gravity knives dates back to 1958, when state lawmakers added them to a list of dangerous weapons. The list also included brass knuckles, “Kung Fun stars” and switchblades.
However, supporters of the change say it has become outdated. Gravity knifes today are used primarily by day laborers and people in the construction industry. They also are available all around New York City and the state, meaning people purchase the knives without the slightest idea the state lists them as illegal.
New York City sits at the center of the issues. Most of the arrests have happened in Manhattan.
Retailers also have been unaware of the ban. At one point in 2010, the Manhattan district attorney ended up charging more than a dozen retailers with selling the knife. The list of retailers included Home Depot.
The Governor’s Issues
While agreeing the current law is not good, Cuomo argued that the legislation should have been amended. He wanted language making it legal for tradesmen and laborers to carry a gravity knife. He also wanted language offering a defense against arrest for those with a knife but no intent to use it.
State Rep. Dan Quart of Manhattan and state Sen. Diane Savino introduced the bill.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed with the veto. He said the new law would have made potentially dangerous weapons legal. The New York Police Department and District Attorney’s Office also opposed the bill.
However, the battle is expected to continue. The Legal Aid Society continues to argue that the law unfairly makes criminals out of law-abiding citizens. In a study of arrests from July to December 2015, the Legal Aid Society found 849 cases where people were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for carrying the knife in just Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Quart already has said he will reintroduce the legislation during the 2017 legislative session.