Knife Rights is a pro-knife advocacy organization that works to repeal and oppose anti-knife laws and pass pro-knife laws across the country. We recently spoke with Knife Rights Founder and Chairman Doug Ritter about the current state of knife laws.
Tell me about how Knife Rights was started?
What got things rolling was an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2006. It was an extremely biased, inaccurate and hyperbole-filled piece about these “terrible tactical knives” and there was no timely response from the knife industry.
I realized, then, that there was no NRA for knife owners, no aggressive grassroots organization protecting our interests. I had seen how knives had been demonized and how incredibly restrictive the laws regarding the carrying of knives had become overseas. After posting on some online knife forums, it was clear that I was not the only one concerned, but someone had to take the bull by the horns and do something, and it seemed I was that someone. That was what precipitated the creation of Knife Rights, a grassroots knife owners organization committed to making a difference.
What were some of the early issues that helped galvanize the pro-knife movement?
In 2009, U.S. Customs proposed to redefine what a switchblade was in a manner that would have impacted most of the knives sold in America today. A coalition of the knife industry, with Knife Rights representing the grassroots and with support from a number of Second Amendment organizations, took on Customs and won. We got Congress to pass a fifth exception to the Federal Switchblade Act that protected one-hand openers and assisted openers. This success significantly elevated our exposure and added a tremendous amount of credibility and served to encourage us to become even more aggressive about protecting our rights and freedoms.
Last year, we were able to repeal the law banning switchblades, dirks, daggers and stilettos in New Hampshire. We also successfully lobbied for the passage of the nation’s first knife preexemption law in Arizona. This year we passed knife preemption in Utah and in New Hampshire a knife preemption bill is headed to the governor for signature. We also stopped a very bad anti-knife bill in Nevada this year.
What is preemption and why is it important to the pro-knife movement?
Preemption means that state laws governing knife use trump local ordinances. In many states, counties, cities and other municipalities all have their own knife laws, which can be more restrictive than state law. As a result an individual driving across a metropolitan area could encounter a different law every fifteen minutes. It’s virtually impossible in that situation to know what’s legal.
Once a preemption law is passed, only the state knife laws are valid, which improves the situation for knife owners, as a matter of everyday carry, and it allows us to concentrate our efforts at the state level to improve the legal situation for knife owners in a particular state, which is a much more efficient and effective use of limited resources.
When were many of the anti-knife laws that exist today passed?
Many of these laws were passed during the 50’s. At that time, there was a demonization of switchblades and gravity knifes, encouraged by Hollywood make-believe, and this resulted in model switchblade and gravity knife legislation in many states and the passage of the Federal Switchblade Act. Since then politicians have found regulating and restricting knives to be easy pickings and the diminishment of our knife rights has pretty much flown under the radar without a national grassroots organization to oppose it.
You have been very critical of an effort by New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to prosecute knife owners and knife distributors. Why?
New York State has a very specific switch blade and gravity knife law and New York City and Vance have chosen to use a misinterpretation of that law to abuse the civil rights of New Yorkers. First, he went to major retailers, like Home Depot, Eastern Mountain Sports and Paragon Sports and said, “If you don’t stop carrying what we believe is an illegal knife, “we’re going to put you in jail.”
In order to avoid prosecution, they entered into a settlement in which they paid millions of dollars to the D.A.’s education campaign about illegal knives, which is nothing more than a slush fund that the D..A. controls.
What about arrests of knife owners, hasn’t that been happening quite frequently in New York City?
There has been a huge uptick of law abiding citizens arrested in New York City for carrying pocket knives. In New York City, it is illegal to carry a visible knife, and most citizens don’t realize that a knife clipped in their pocket is visible under their law. If a police officer sees a visible knife, can open is with a ‘flick,” even if it takes numerous atempts, they arrest these folks, take them to jail and book them.
Now they have to go to court and will spend in the neighborhood of $10,000 to get the case dismissed—and it almost always is dismissed, unless they have incompetent counsel. So, at a time when the city is short on funds, the courts are being swamped with these cases that are eventually dismissed. The only ones making money on this are the attorneys. meanwhile, they have succeeded in intimidating New Yorkers from carrying perfectly legal tools.
How serious are these charges?
They are class 4 misdemeanors, which is the most serious misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to a year in jail, and if you have any prior criminal convictions, it becomes a felony. This isn’t just a parking ticket, they take you to the precinct, book you, fingerprint you and throw you in jail.
Do you believe there should be any type of knife regulation?
It is absurd to regulate a tool, when what you really need to regulate is what people do; it shouldn’t matter whether they use a knife, a baseball bat a tire iron or a purse. Prosecute illegal actions, not tools. Going after knife owners is just a red herring for individuals who simply want control and don’t believe in freedom.
What sort of relationship do you have with the NRA?
Well, we are both concerned with civil rights and both guns and knives are Second Amendment issues. I think it is clear the vast majority of NRA members also own and carry knives and use them at home, work and play, so there is certainly a significant amount of crossover. We have a good relation with the NRA and are very thankful for the support we receive from the NRA and other Second Amendment groups. We like to say that Knife Rights is the second front in defense of the Second Amendment.
What do you foresee in terms of future knife advocacy?
We are certainly the knife owner’s best friend and we have every intention of escalating our efforts and becoming stronger. As more people join and we gain more successes, I expect that it will become increasingly difficult for someone to pass a restrictive knife law in the United States. At the same time we will continue our efforts to roll back existing bad laws already on the books and expand knife owner’s freedoms. It has taken over 50 years to get where we are today. We won’t turn it around overnight, but we are already moving things in the right direction and accelerating our efforts.
The biggest issue we have right now is the apathy of knife owners who either don’t believe it is happening, or that it can’t happen here, or think that it’s not their problem. They are wrong. It is happening and it will get worse if we don’t oppose it. If you go overseas to the United Kingdom and other countries, you can see how bad it can get and will get if we don’t continue to work together. With support from knife owners, Knife Rights can prevent that from happening here. It is a modest investment in a sharper future for all Americans.