By Don N.
Knives are arms and according to the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution, and according to similar declarations of rights in most State Constitutions, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed . . .
In the protracted debate over the 2nd amendment critics and supporters usually never talk about the fact that it is “the right to keep and bear arms” (RKBA) that is protected, not just the subset of arms inclusive of firearms. It is all about an equality we would like to instill in civilized society, that we shall not restrict a person’s use of technology to compensate natural born differences in strength, size, and physical ability when it comes to their right to try to survive a malevolent actor.
Critics of RKBA often offer that they would be ok with the 2nd Amendment if it was restricted to arms available in the day it was written. Knives, dirks, daggers, and swords were available the day the 2nd Amendment was written. Supporters of RKBA believe that any restriction of common arms violates the 2nd Amendment. So if there is agreement among all parties on the 2nd Amendment applying to edged weapons, why do we suffer such ridiculous prohibitions today?
Knives are arms. While firearms are often considered superior arms, in certain life contexts edged weapons are still a good choice. Those who exist in these life contexts should not be ignored. Knives are more available and less expensive than firearms. If a person does not have extensive means they can still afford a decent knife. Why do many of the draconian knife restrictions which exist force cash-strapped into the role of “helpless victim”? Due to culture and personal tastes, or even household circumstances, some people may not be comfortable with firearms and may be more comfortable with a knife for self-defense. Knife restrictions force these people to choose from two unworkable options, a gun they don’t feel they want and relegation to “helpless victim” status.
Restrictions on knives have historically been based in prejudicial reasoning. This reasoning was colored by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. The earliest prohibitions on knives began in the south in response to poorer and less metropolitan demographics of the population engaging in lethal duels with large blades like bowie knives. These large blades were formidable tools employed in practical tasks typical of their owners’ lifestyles, such as chopping, cutting, and hunting, and self-defense. Towns and local governments, full of city dwellers and politicians, functionally oblivious to the practical need for such a tool, took the ignorant and lazy approach to addressing the problem of dueling and they restricted the large blades. Perhaps they should have instead done their jobs in earnest by apprehending and punishing the duelers.
Entering Post Civil War times and in the era of Black Codes, we see more restrictions on knives ushered in as part of the effort to criminalize being black. This time the new knife restrictions were based in racial prejudice in addition socioeconomic. With freed slaves abound and the price of guns out of reach, a freed slave would have nothing better to rely on but a knife for much-needed self-defense. The well-to-do had guns, but all of those freed slaves had knives. To assuage the fears of the upper classes who had exploited black people for decades, their counterparts in law and government passed more regulations criminalizing the carrying of knives.
Entering into the 20th Century, more ethnic and socioeconomic prejudice initiated limits on the kinds of knives a person could keep and bear. Daggers, dirks, stilettos, spring knives were all legitimate defensive weapons which began being outlawed during the various European emigrations to the US. These weapons where culturally preferred by Europeans of this time period due to their attainability and familiarity. These were carried in ubiquity by lower class European immigrants. By criminalizing these items these “undesirable” elements of society (Irish, Italians, Asians) could be harassed and targeted successfully by the state via a simple stop and frisk followed by an illegal weapons charge. The excuse was “crime”… these were “gangster weapons”, and so on, but the reason was ethnic and socioeconomic prejudice again.
Weapons restrictions have always been biased by the ignorant fear of “otherness”. Race, ethnicity, and class produce a sense of “otherness” which the ignorant will fear. If a particular weapon is affordable, attainable, or a culturally-preferred weapon of any relatively disenfranchised unit of society, it gets controlled or restricted by the state. The history of knife regulation is a parable of unequal protection under the law an prejudicial lawmaking.