New York is grappling with changes to the laws banning gravity knives – a law that has resulted in tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens getting arrested over the past decade.
Most of the focus is on New York City, where a strict interpretation of existing law has led to many arrests, particularly in Manhattan.
A new law passed by the state Legislature would take gravity knives off the illegal weapons list. However, it has not yet been signed into law and faces opposition from some quarters, including both the New York City police commissioner and mayor.
The current law, in force since 1958, outlaws the type of knives that can open with a flick of the wrist. But such knives are often used by workers, including carpenters, stagehands and construction workers, according to an opinion piece written by The New York Times editorial board.
Changing the law would “help to reduce the number of unwarranted arrests without endangering public safety,” the board wrote.
How the Gravity Knives Ban Started
The 1958 law, according to the Times and two state lawmakers who want to change the law, was passed to outlaw a number of weapons that lawmakers deemed dangerous. Those included brass knuckles, “Kung Fu stars” and some tips of knives such as switchblades and gravity knives.
Many modern gravity knives bear little resemblance to the knives of those times. But that has not stopped the law from being enforced. An estimated 70,000 have been arrested for carrying a gravity knife from 2000 to 2012, according to a study from the Legal Aid Society.
“This was never the Legislature’s intent.” wrote Dan Quart, a member of the New York State Assembly, and Diane Savino, a member of the state senate. The two have proposed a law making the sort of knives used by working people to be exempt from the law.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages, gravity knives are available all over New York City and the state. Many people purchase them in stores without having the slightest idea that they are illegal.
This has led to some strange governmental programs. In 2010, according to The Times, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance charged more than a dozen retailers (including Home Depot) with selling gravity knives and other illegal knives. He then said he would not charge them if they stopped selling the knives and gave the state the profits from past knife sales. They also were made to fund a $900,000 public education campaign.
So far, only $100,000 of that money has been spent and the knives are still available in many locations.
The Times urged the law to be changed. Both Quart and Savino did the same in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News.
“The greatest city in the world can manage to be both fair and safe,” the pair wrote. The state Assembly has passed the law to legalize gravity knives, but it is unknown if Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign it into law.