While not by any stretch hoplophiles, the folks at the Christian Science Monitor have demonstrated the ability to handle the topic of gun-rights/control in a reasonably fair manner in the past. They published an extensive piece this week on the march of knife rights, using the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray in police custody following his arrest for a “concealed deadly weapon”. It was a pocket-clipped, spring assisted knife; no different than many of us carry on a daily basis.
For those unfamiliar with the case, the above CNN video is a good quick primer. In a nutshell: citizen (Gray) runs from police for unknown reason when they approach; citizen is arrested for carrying above-mentioned knife; citizen taken/dragged into back of police van, out of sight of the public; half an hour later police call for ambulance, Gray lapses into a coma from a severed spine and dies several days later. 6 police are on paid vacation while the case is investigated, and the FBI has opened its own investigation. The police brutality angle has the media circus spooling up full-bore, and we hope that a transparent and full investigation takes place, but the knife angle that underlies the arrest is what interests me here.
The uproar over Gray’s mysterious death and the circumstances of his arrest comes amid a seismic shift in knife rights, as growing numbers of states are lifting knife bans. The issue also resonates as the country debates the essential fairness of the US justice system, where critics say obscure laws like knife bans have at times been used selectively by police and prosecutors to clean up poor minority neighborhoods under zero-tolerance and “broken windows” style policing.
The CSM article continues:
The immediate question for investigators is whether that knife qualifies as a “switchblade” under Baltimore city statutes, given that Gray’s specimen was not a fully automatic knife. Another is whether, if officers spotted the knife without searching Gray, it could really be considered concealed. Outside of Baltimore, almost any knife can be worn in the state as long as it can be seen by others.
But given court rulings and crime statistics that show that such knives are primarily used as tools, not weapons, a larger question emerging for legislators in states like Maryland is whether bans on certain kinds of concealed knives can too easily become convenient excuses for police officers to achieve arrests in minority neighborhoods, thus dovetailing into national concerns about police stereotyping and conduct.
“Too often we see an officer who may or may not understand the law arrest somebody for having an illegal knife that isn’t illegal,” says Doug Ritter, founder of the Arizona-based Knife Rights group. “We too often see that kind of either blatant ignorance of the law or willful ignorance of the law, in an effort to abuse citizens’ rights to carry this tool.”.
The article goes into considerable detail on the history of knife bans and their disparate impact on lower class communities. 60,000 NYC knife-owners alone have run afoul of out of control prohibitions, despite the fact that courts are repeatedly finding such laws violate Second Amendment protections as well as common sense:
“In 2007, a federal court in New York questioned the decision by police to ascertain that certain knife-carriers are criminals. The court in US v. Irizarry found that “the widespread and lawful presence of an item in society undercuts the reasonableness of an officer’s belief that it represents contraband.”
I recommend you read the whole thing.