Editorial: When Do We Call An Automatic Knife A ‘Switchblade?’

Image courtesy Wikipedia

There may be minuscule distinctions, but the terms ‘automatic knife’ and ‘switchblade’ refer to the same kinds of knives. Knife aficionados tend to avoid the word ‘switchblade’ because it creates confusion about assisted openers, and because just like ‘silencers’ and ‘Saturday night specials,’ the term ‘switchblade’ has been used to manipulate public opinion in order to restrict the possession of scary-sounding things the public doesn’t understand. I dislike the term myself, but I still find myself using it sometimes. Here’s why . . .

We just reported that Texas and Indiana have repealed their ‘switchblade bans.’ I love reporting this kind of news, and thanks to Knife Rights, there’s been a fairly constant stream of it to report.

We call these silly laws ‘switchblade bans’ (instead of ‘automatic knife bans’) because the laws themselves (all passed in the 1950s, after West Side Story and Rebel Without A Cause) use the word ‘switchblade.’ When we talk about the knives themselves, the favored term is ‘automatic knives.’

Just like the terms ‘silencer’ and ‘Saturday night special’, I’d be perfectly happy to see the day when ‘switchblade’ is an archaic and obsolete word. As more people are allowed to own and carry automatic knives (and as we encourage them to use the correct terminology) I think this day will come.


  1. Robert Farago says:

    Thank God the antis didn’t come up with something worse. And no I’m not going to offer suggestions in that regard. Automatic knife is the correct terminology, as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Aharon says:

    “Historically, the term “stiletto” encompassed any dagger featuring a slender, pointed tip and triangular cross-section. Since the 1950s, however, the term has become synonymous with the automatic switchblades that American G.I.’s brought home as souvenirs at the end of World War II.

    The roots of the iconic “stiletto” switchblade design can be traced to the French “Chatellerault” automatic blades of the mid-1800s. Production of the first modern stiletto switchblades began in the northeastern town of Maniago somewhere between 1900 and 1920.

    American soldiers were introduced to the modern Italian switchblade after Italy’s surrender in 1943. An instant hit, the knives found their way back to the United States as souvenirs.”


  3. Rick says:

    You should look at knife laws in Illinois. If the knife is over a certain length (3.5″?) it becomes a “dangerous weapon”, but the classification only serves to increase jail time in the event it is used in an assault; however, anything you use to assault someone that actually causes injury is automatically defined as a dangerous weapon for the purpose of sentencing, making the first definition pointless. But wait, there’s more! You can carry a single edged knife of any length legally anywhere except Chicago, but if the knife has two sharpened edges (even if it is only 1/4″ long) you have committed a crime because that’s defined as a dagger and is illegal. So 6 inch single edge knife, no problem; quarter inch two edged knife and you get a ‘go directly to jail do not pass go’ card.

  4. Duncan Idaho says:

    I don’t see the point of discriminating against double-edged blades. Can’t you inflict just as much damage with a single edge? Or is it the whole “Evil Black Scary-Looking Rifle” thing?

    Anyway, great article here. It’s amazing how we’re influenced by terminology so much these days.

  5. Nate says:

    To me the term switchblade is like using the term assault weapon for an AR-15. CA’s switchblade law says that a switchblade is an auto, bali, or gravity knife over two inches. Funny how they don’t ban the action, or knives over 2 inches, but when they’re together they magically become machines of death

  6. Out_Fang_Thief says:

    I am fortunate that I live in Florida. Automatic knives are allowed.
    I’ve used one on the job for the last 15 years, and the only surprise I
    get from anyone who sees it is how much I spent for it. $180 is a lot.
    Most seem to carry a $200+ price tag, which is the only downside of
    most automatic knives. It may be to keep it out of the hands of the
    young or the less than serious knife buying public. Still, the power of
    negative imagery connected to the word “switchblade” is undeniable.
    Maybe we could, call them mechanically actuated knives? Better?

  7. Don says:

    At least no one is trying to call them “assault knives”.


  8. racer88 says:

    Knives (when sighted) have an interesting effect on some people. I’ve had people FREAK out when I have opened a pocket knife to open a package. “You carry a KNIFE????” LOL… if they only knew (what I carried).

    I have a few automatic knives. And, even though they are legal, I prefer a regular Spyderco, as I can actually deploy it faster and more easily than an automatic.

    I find the notion of automatic knives being socially unpalatable rather amusing, considering that a fixed blade is even “faster.”

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Editorial: When Do We Call An Automatic Knife A ‘Switchblade?’

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