Since the 1950s, switchblades — sometimes known as automatic knives — have been demonized as the preferred weapon of criminals. All these years later, most people have the ability to understand that switchblades are no bigger threat than any other tool.
Unfortunately, there remains a common misconception about the legality of switchblades. Most people think that owning and carrying a switchblade is illegal. We’re here to bust the myth.
What the Switchblade Act Actually Says
The Federal Switchblade Act was passed in 1958 after films like Rebel Without a Cause and Crime in the Streets glorified switchblade use among gangs. I dove much deeper into the early switchblades and why they were banned in my article Why Switchblades Should Be Legal, but it boils down to unnecessary panic.
Congress used its power to regulate commerce through the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to limit the sales of switchblades.
Here are the two pertinent sections:
§ 1242. Introduction, manufacture for introduction, transportation or distribution in interstate commerce; penalty
Whoever knowingly introduces, or manufactures for introduction, into interstate commerce, or transports or distributes in interstate commerce, any switchblade knife, shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
§ 1243. Manufacture, sale, or possession within specific jurisdictions; penalty
Whoever, within any Territory or possession of the United States, within Indian country (as defined in section 1151 of title 18), or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States (as defined in section 7 of title 18), manufactures, sells, or possesses any switchblade knife, shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Knife Rights does an excellent job going through the whole act with notes, but here’s a basic breakdown.
The first section only prohibits selling or buying switchblades if the knives are going over state lines or coming from another country.
The second section only prohibits the possession of a switchblade on “Native American reservations, territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas, U. S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa and certain maritime situations such as Navy vessels or government-owned aircraft,” according to Knife Rights.
Owning & Carrying an Auto Isn’t Restricted Federally
Nowhere in the Federal Switchblade Act does it say that someone cannot carry or own a switchblade in the United States — except for those specific locations discussed above.
So why do we think they’re banned? Probably because many states did carry restrictions on switchblades. However, over the years, organizations like Knife Rights have helped roll back restrictions on many knives including switchblades.
In fact, all but a few states allow the ownership and possession of a switchblade. Even a place thought to be conservative (in the traditional sense) like California allows switchblades under 2 inches.
Selling & Shipping Autos Isn’t Necessarily Illegal
While selling knives across state lines is illegal, there are a few caveats. First, you can buy a switchblade within a state as long as there are no laws against it. You can also send an automatic knife across state lines as long as it’s not a sale (or sent through the US Postal Service I believe).
You can also technically sell and ship knives across state lines through other mail carriers besides USPS like UPS, DHL, or FedEx, according to the American Knife & Tool Institute anyway. I’d be consult with a lawyer before doing that.
So why can’t you just go on Knife Depot and buy a switchblade? Companies need to be cautious when it comes to federal laws because the sales often go over state lines and are done through the USPS. Even when it’s not, companies can get into trouble and face fines or penalties and that’s not worth the trouble.
Because switchblades are legal in most states to a certain extent, the Federal Switchblade Act is feeling more and more outdated. It is just making it harder for people to get tools they want. That’s why AKTI and Knife Rights are working to repeal the act. However, a lot still needs to be down before any repeals happen.
Those organization would probably appreciate your donations to help get their respective bills passed.