For many years now, KnifeRights has sought to end the travesty that is the “Gravity Knife” prohibition in New York. This has been a multi-pronged campaign involving both the courts and the New York legislature. The dam has (possibly) broken on the legislative front, with a bill adding “bias towards closure” language to existing statute clearing both the Assembly and state Senate. When the technical details work themselves out it will hit Governor Cuomo’s desk. I wouldn’t put a veto past one of the archangels of hoplophobia, but as the bill passed the Senate unanimously it would hopefully be a futile gesture on his part.
Concurrent with the legislative developments, there have been significant developments on the judicial front.
A federal judge pulled out an illegal “gravity knife” in a New York City courtroom Thursday and flicked it open.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest wasn’t trying to show off her street skills. She was applying the the so-called “flick test” to see if the knife qualified as an illegal weapon under state law, the New York Law Journal reported.
The gravity knife is one of several obscure items banned by the state as weapons. A Downstate artist, John Copeland, is challenging the law as unconstitutional. Copeland bought the knife to make his artwork, but it was later deemed illegal.
Critics say the state weapons law expose people who use everyday folding knives for their jobs or simple tasks to criminal liability, the Law Journal reported. The law is vague and, critics say, has been disproportionately enforced against minorities.
Under law, a gravity knife is:
…any knife which has a blade which is release from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.
Unfortunately, the “flick test” has been abused to the point where 60K residents of NYC have ended up in the crosshairs of Prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr. in the past decade.
KnifeRights issued a Press Release explaining the developments, and highlighting that this is the first time a Federal Judge has opened a true gravity knife in a courtroom. Fwiw, I haven’t ever even seen a gravity knife in person.
June 22, 2016: After five years, Knife Rights finally got its day in court in its Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against New York City and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. Last Thursday’s oral argument wrapped up the actual trial in our long-running battle against New York City’s unconstitutional enforcement of the state’s gravity knife law against owners of common folding knives.
This was likely the first time a federal judge ever handled a true gravity knife (a German paratrooper knife) in any federal courtroom. That watershed moment came during a demonstration by Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter and Plaintiff’s attorney Daniel Schmutter of the operation of three true gravity knives and eight common folding knives with bias toward closure. The 11 knives were selected from a total of 15 knives that were brought to court by Knife Rights in compliance with an order from Federal District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest.
The purpose of the knife demonstrations was to contrast for Judge Forrest the differences in the operating characteristics of true gravity knives compared to common folding knives with a bias toward closure. A true gravity knife, such as that German paratrooper knife, is what legislators had in mind when the statute was passed in the 1950s. True gravity knives open easily by gravity or with minimal centrifugal force the exact same way every time for every person. Common folding knives with bias toward closure cannot open the exact same way every time for every person due to the inherent variability of the bias. Because of this, New York’s “wrist flick” test is inherently subjective, variable, inconsistent, and therefore unconstitutionally vague.
The demonstration for Judge Forrest showed her that two individuals had varying degrees of success performing the New York City “wrist flick” test on the exact same common folding knives — points that are critical to Knife Rights’ void for vagueness claim attempting to have the “wrist flick” test declared unconstitutional.
Under current interpretation of New York’s gravity knife statute by the courts, all that is required for a person to be found guilty is that a cop or prosecutor can demonstrate to the judge that the knife opens with a “wrist flick,” even if the knife’s owner cannot do so and even if it takes multiple attempts to succeed in the test. A recent ruling by New York’s highest court confirmed that even if the knife’s owner had no idea it was even possible to wrist flick the knife open and had never tried to do so, it does not matter.
There is no test that can be performed, or any other means, for any person in New York to be assured that any common folding knife with bias toward closure and a locking blade is not an illegal gravity knife as long as some other person, and in particular some New York cop with more experience, more skill or more strength, can successfully “wrist flick” the knife open.
Whether any of this really matters is now in the hands of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Knife Rights’ Switchblade and Gravity Knife Law Reform bill that is headed to his desk would put a stop to the unconstitutional wrist flick test by specifically exempting folding knives with a bias toward closure from the definitions in the statute. According to The Village Voice article published two years ago, over 60,000 persons had been prosecuted in NYC over the past decade with the rate doubling in the last five years of that review. We can readily extrapolate that number to be in excess of 80,000 prosecutions today.
If the Governor signs the bill to stop the bogus gravity knife arrests in New York City, then Judge Forrest is unlikely to have to make a decision in the case. If he vetoes the bill, then the Judge will have to issue a decision. Regardless of which way that decision goes, any decision she issues is most likely headed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This would add years before a potentially binding decision is made, during which the City would likely be free to continue with its persecution of knife owners at a rate of approximately 500-800 prosecutions every month!
We hope that the Governor does the right and just thing and signs this bill into law once it is transmitted to him in the coming weeks. At this point there is no need to call or write the Governor, but we will let you know when we need your help.
Finally, we’d like to again warn those living in or visiting New York City that it has an under 4-inch blade length limit and also requires that any knife be carried COMPLETELY CONCEALED and not visible. The most common cause for a stop and subsequent confiscation or gravity knife arrest is a knife clipped to the pocket, which is illegal in NYC. Using the City’s “wrist flick” test, any lockblade knife could potentially be claimed to be an illegal gravity knife.
It isn’t over until it’s over, and Knife Rights continues to be the one organization getting it done for knife owners in America™. Our tenacity and perseverance exemplified in this case over the past five years, including two previous attempts to remedy the situation via legislation and a successful appeal in the federal lawsuit, is only possible with your generous support. Help Knife Rights continue to forge a Sharper Future for all Americans with a donation in the Ultimate Steel™. You could win your choice from over $170,000 in prizes in the Main Drawing PLUS all who donate between now and July 31st are also eligible for the Tail End Drawing with its own separate pool of over $7,000 in prizes.
That trademarked phrase in the final paragraph is not an idle boast. With their track record of passing Knife Law preemption in more than a dozen states, and repealing switchblade prohibition in many more, there is no more effective organization than KnifeRights in the fight.