Bid to ex­pand knife ban doesn’t cut it with crit­ics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Hun­ters, whit­tlers and Boy Scouts, be­ware — your knives may soon be on the gov­ern­ment’s chop­ping block.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to ex­pand the 50-year-old ban on im­port­ing “switch­blades” to in­clude fold­ing knives that can be opened with one hand, stir­ring fears the gov­ern­ment may on the path to out­law­ing most pock­etknives.

Crit­ics, in­clud­ing U.S. knife man­u­fac­tur­ers and col­lec­tors, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, sports­men’s groups and a bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill, say the rule change pro­posed by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) would re­write U.S. law defin­ing what con­sti­tutes a switch­blade and po­ten­tially make de facto crim­i­nals of the es­ti­mated 35 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who use fold­ing knives.

“Boy Scout knives, Swiss Army knives — the most ba­sic of knives can be opened one­handed if you know what you are do­ing,” said Doug Rit­ter, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Knife Rights, an ad­vo­cacy group fight­ing to de­feat the mea­sure.

“The out­rage steam,” he said.

Cus­toms of­fi­cials dis­miss fears that the new lan­guage will out­law or­di­nary pock­etknives, say­ing the change was is­sued to clear up con­flict­ing guide­lines for bor­der agents about what con­sti­tutes an il­le­gal switch­blade that can­not be im­ported into the United States. The rule could be im­posed


gain­ing within 30 days if not blocked.

A re­view of case law and “in con­sid­er­a­tion of the health and pub­lic safety con­cerns raised by such im­por­ta­tions” prompted the agency to re­voke the rul­ing that al­lowed the im­port­ing of knives with spring-and release-as­sisted open­ing mech­a­nisms, CBP spokes­woman Jenny L. Burke said.

Cus­toms of­fi­cials ar­gue the rule deals only with im­ported mer­chan­dise, and thus does not af­fect knives al­ready in the coun­try or that are man­u­fac­tured do­mes­ti­cally.

The rule change would af­fect the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Switch­blade Knife Act of 1958, which de­fined a “switch­blade” as any knife hav­ing a blade that opens au­to­mat­i­cally by hand pres­sure ap­plied to a but­ton or other de­vice in the han­dle, or by op­er­a­tion of in­er­tia or grav­ity.

The new def­i­ni­tion would in­clude any spring-as­sisted or one­handed-open­ing knife.

The 1958 law bans the pos­ses­sion of switch­blades on fed­eral lands and pro­hibits the mail­ing or sale of switch­blades across state lines. It does not man­date pro­hi­bi­tion within states and lo­cal­i­ties, though a num­ber of states, in­clud­ing Mary­land, have passed their own statutes ban­ning or lim­it­ing the pos­ses­sion and car­ry­ing of switch­blades.

Pos­ses­sion of switch­blades is le­gal in Vir­ginia if not in­tended for sale.

Crit­ics of the rule say that broad­en­ing the def­i­ni­tion of switch­blades in fed­eral law would in­stantly make pre­vi­ously per­mit­ted knives il­le­gal in states that have adopted the ban. Hun­ters and hik­ers who cross state lines with their knives in tow may find them­selves guilty of a fed­eral felony, they warn.

The bi­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Cau­cus, boast­ing one of the largest mem­ber­ships on Capi­tol Hill, two weeks ago sent a let­ter to Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano, who over­sees CBP, urg­ing her to quash the pro­posed rule change. The let­ter was signed by 61 Repub­li­can and 18 Demo­cratic law­mak­ers.

“This clas­si­fi­ca­tion could ren­der mil­lions of law-abid­ing knife own­ers in vi­o­la­tion of the law and ex­pose ma­jor mar­ket re­tail­ers, man­u­fac­tur­ers, dealers and im­porters to pos­si­ble fed­eral felony charges, and could drive do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers and im­porters out of busi­ness, po­ten­tially cost­ing thou­sands of jobs,” said cau­cus mem­ber Rep. Robert E. Latta, Ohio Repub­li­can.

In much the same way that gun rights is­sues have cut across the par­ti­san di­vide in Congress, the threat of a gov­ern­ment knife grab has es­pe­cially ran­kled mem­bers from West­ern and South­ern states, re­gard­less of their party.

Miss Napoli­tano has not re­sponded, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional staffers.

The knife lobby does not be­lieve the agency’s as­sur­ances that the rule has only a nar­row ap­pli­ca­tion.

“The lan­guage used [. . . ] is so broad and uses vir­tu­ally ev­ery term ever ap­plied to any knife that opens with one hand. We fear that they are at­tempt­ing to by­pass the will of Congress and that once they suc­ceed in get­ting as­sisted-open­ers de­fined as switch­blades, they could move against all fold­ing knives,” said the Amer­i­can Knife and Tool In­sti­tute, which rep­re­sents knife man­u­fac­tur­ers, dis­trib­u­tors, re­tail­ers and custom-knife ar­ti­sans.

Boy Scouts of Amer­ica spokesman Deron Smith said he did not want to com­ment be­cause he was not fa­mil­iar with the de­tails of the pro­posed rule. But he said the Boy Scout Hand­book does in­clude many ref­er­ences to pock­etknives.

“Knives are a part of the scouting pro­gram,” Mr. Smith said. “We pri­mar­ily stress safe knife us­age and main­te­nance of knives. [. . . ] We will just con­tinue to stick to what’s in the hand­book.”

The rel­a­tively quick pace of the rule-mak­ing process — a 30day com­ment pe­riod that ended June 22, fol­lowed by a 30-day im­ple­men­ta­tion sched­ule — has op­po­nents looking to head off the mea­sure in Congress.

Mr. Latta and Rep. Walt Min­nick, Idaho Demo­crat, in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion June 23 that would block CBP from broad­en­ing the def­i­ni­tion of switch­blades.

The leg­is­la­tion was of­fered as an amend­ment to the ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill for the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, which is ex­pected to come to the House floor soon.


Po­ten­tial threat? Boy Scouts

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