New York’s Gravity Knife Prosecutions Are Unjust, And New York Knows It

Gravity Knife

An actual “Gravity Knife” is exceedingly rare.

As we all know by now, New York City doesn’t like knife owners. The Big Apple’s misinterpretation of the state’s gravity knife statute, declaring the majority of common locking knives as gravity knives, has resulted in thousands of prosecutions persecutions of law abiding citizens in the past decade. Some estimates put the number at over 60,000. That number comes from an article running in today’s print edition of New York’s The Village Voice, How a ’50s-era New York Knife Law Has Landed Thousands in Jail. No doubt about it, the current situation is lousy.

The author of the article, Jon Campbell, provides an inclusive look at the problems with NYC’s current interpretation. After introducing us to Richard Neal, a man who served six years in prison for standing on his porch with a common utility knife, Cambpell goes on:

According to the vast majority of police departments and district attorneys in New York State — not to mention knife manufacturers, labor unions, and almost everyone else who knows a thing about knives — what Neal was carrying was a perfectly legal folding knife. When gravity knives were banned under New York State law in the 1950s, the legislature actually had a very specific style of weapon in mind — a foot-long terror that bears no resemblance to a knife like the one Neal had. True gravity knives, for all intents and purposes, have been extinct for the better part of a century; today they’re relegated mostly to the antiques section on eBay. [emphasis added]

Nonetheless, under the department’s unique interpretation of Penal Code 265.01, almost every pocketknife on the market today can be considered a gravity knife. It’s as if authorities in New York City were using an antiquated law against flintlock muskets to prosecute BB-gun owners.

Zing! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

At the heart of the matter is the NYPD’s use of a “wrist-flick” to determine if a knife is a gravity knife, or far less often, not, which would make virtually every locking knife in the country a gravity knife. As Campbell explains…

The problem… is that with enough force, and enough practice, virtually any pocketknife can be flicked open like a “gravity knife,” whether it was designed to operate that way or not.

Simple wear-and-tear compounds the problem, [attorney Hara] Robrish found. After years of use, the hinge of a knife has a tendency to loosen up; a knife that was perfectly legal when it was purchased could actually become illegal over time. A quarter-turn of a screw is all it takes for a worn-out knife to become a potential felony.

What I find most encouraging about the article however, is that it highlights the growing trend against NYC’s interpretation of the law.

New York’s gravity-knife law has been formally opposed by a broad swath of the legal community. Elected officials call the statute “flawed” and “unfair.” Defense attorneys call it “outrageous” and “ridiculous” — or worse. Labor unions, which have seen a parade of members arrested for tools they use on the job, say the law is woefully outdated. Even the Office of Court Administration — the official body of the New York State judiciary — says the law is unjustly enforced and needs to change. They’ve petitioned the legislature to do just that. [emphasis added]

Not that it has done any good as of yet. A bill to change the language of the gravity knife statute to require proof of “unlawful intent” is currently dead in the water in the state senate. Baby steps.

There are a lot more gems like the ones above in the source article. Campbell touches on a wide range of subjects, from stop-and-frisk to government corruption, economic and racial disparities, LEO abuse, bipartisan opposition, and even judicial incompetence–far too numerous for me to highlight all of them here. It is thoroughly researched and very informative. Consider it suggested reading.


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  1. Mike L says:

    The person convicted of a “weapon ” felony essentially has his/her life destroyed. Drained bank accounts for lawyers. Inability to get many jobs. Explaining for next several decades what it was all about. Sadly the po po see nothing wrong in making the arrest. The DA sees nothing wrong in prosecuting. This just adds to the general dislike (if not hatred) of the criminal justice system by the greater public. New York City is the perfect example of govt gone insane. Waiting for that scene in the movie “The In Laws ” where the dictator orders everyone to change their underwear daily. AND they have to wear them on the outside “so we can check “. If it weren’t so sad it would be funny.

    1. Mike L says:

      I am so sorry. The movie I referred to is actually Woody Allen’s Bananas. Different crazy dictator. Looking around I found the actual clip on Youtube… Enjoy, and think of this scene when you read about gov’t gone nuts….

    2. Danny K. says:

      I was thinking the very same thing after reading today’s story about the Dallas Sheriff’s Deputy who likely has contracted Ebola. It infuriates me that government can be so incompetent and heavy-handed at the same time. I am really, really, really, really starting to hate our government.

      1. TMLutas says:

        Good news followup, he came back testing negative.

  2. Dantes says:

    The governor and legislature fell all over themselves to get a gun ban in place, but can’t be bothered with a law to stop unjust prosecutions. Tells you what they think of the population, doesn’t it?

    1. GC says:

      Pffffffft who has time to go back and look at laws that are already on the books? There are new laws that need to be made and new obstacles that need to be put in place to keep the unenlightened populace in check.

  3. McGehee says:

    The problem… is that with enough force, and enough practice, virtually any pocketknife can be flicked open like a “gravity knife,” whether it was designed to operate that way or not.

    If I hold my Buck folding knife by the blade I can “flick” it open, but unless I’m planning on throwing it — which ain’t gonna happen — it isn’t useful until I turn it around and take hold of the handle.

    Of course New York City wouldn’t care that (a) I’m lousy at throwing a knife and (2) I wouldn’t throw it in any case because whatever value it has to me in a given circumstance is lost once it leaves my hand because (a).

  4. looking closely says:

    As mentioned above most folding knifes will open if you snap them hard enough.

    A true gravity knife is something like a front opening switchblade without a spring. You press a button, point the end downwards and the blade slides out due to the force of gravity. If the knife won’t open under THE FORCE OF GRAVITY (ie with no extra force necessary), then its not a “gravity knife”. Calling a horse a dog doesn’t make it one, and calling a normal side-folding pocket knife that can be opened with a hard snap of the wrist a “gravity knife” doesn’t make it one either.

    Also, that said, these so called “gravity knifes” are NO MORE DANGEROUS THAN A FIXED BLADE OR ORDINARY FOLDING KNIFE, and they’re even arguably LESS so, because the construction isn’t as strong. So not only is this NY knife law being interpreted in a way that’s probably illegal, the law itself is stupid and contributes absolutely zero to public safety. . .even if we assume that criminals are actually obeying this law and carrying other knives!

    Since the 1950s, when this idiotic legislation was passed, there has been quite a bit of advancement in folding knife design. Many (ordinary, non-gravity) folding pocketknives now come with thumbstuds or even simple holes built into the blades that permit one-handed opening. So far as I know, this feature is legal everywhere, effectively mooting laws against switchblades and gravity knives.

    “Assist open” knifes require the user to partly open the blade with a thumbstud, and then a spring takes over the rest of opening, giving the rapid spring-open effect of a switchblade, only without violating the letter of the law. I don’t know about NY, but these are legal virtually everywhere else, as well, again effectively mooting West-Side Story era 1950s switchblade laws.

  5. DH says:

    There are many reasons I long ago swore to never set foot (or spend money) in New York State. This is merely one of them.

    1. Right Wing Nutter says:

      Exactly how I feel about the place.

  6. George Prudden says:

    But it is worse than that. Sellers of the knives have been shaken down by the DA’s office.

    Take a look at this from Knife Rights, another Second Amendment group.

  7. Brandon says:

    It always breaks my heart to watch everyone trying so hard to make loopholes and always try to figure out ways to bend laws or work so hard and worry so much that they will be I trouble over something so stupid. You are all wasting your time. The government would be laghing at you right now if they seen how curled up and scared and caucious your being trying to simply own a tool such as a knife. There sitting at a huge table drinking wine and eating surf n turf saying HAHA LOOK AT THE LITTLE PIGS SQUEEL ABOUT IT !!! HAHAHA!!
    I’m laghing myself! Haha
    its amazing how the government programs people to think

  8. Heartland Patriot says:

    @Brandon: I know your post was months ago, and you will likely never see this. However, I will still ask my question. Since are so smirking and snarky about it, what do you propose, as concrete steps, to change things for the better? People always have platitudes but seldom do they have real solutions. My personal solution is to stay out of statist left-wing police states like NYC.

  9. Sam says:

    Easy; all they need to do is demonstrate that the law is only designed to persecute minorities, and use some statistic or another to demonstrate that blacks and minorities have been “disproportionately” prosecuted under the law (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was an easy statistic to frame), and then suddenly you’ll see a big media hoopla about it and people pissing themselves to get the unjust law repealed. No-one cares if it just applies to “citizens”, it needs to affect MINORITIES or it isn’t news.
    What’s kind of scary is that this is basically the same as a state deciding to define lever and bolt action long-arms and revolvers as “semi-automatic” since they could be considered partially “automatic” in how they load themselves. and using that new definition of the meaning of the law to prosecute people. I’m not saying that is likely, since MOST firearms laws aren’t written so vaguely, but is’ basically the same thing, and the possibility shouldn’t be forgotten. Not that they need to worry about it; in most places if they want to ban everything but single shots, they just go ahead and do it, never mind the legality. No fancy excuses needed that way. “Why is it illegal? Because we SAID so.”

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New York’s Gravity Knife Prosecutions Are Unjust, And New York Knows It

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