A panel of judges in the Pennsylvania Superior Court reaffirmed a ruling Thursday that says switchblades are not protected under the Second Amendment.
In a short non-precedential opinion published Thursday, the three-judge panel struck down an appeal filed by a man arrested for carrying a switchblade, also known as an automatic knife. (See the difference between a switchblade and assisted-opener here.)
On July 29, 2014, William Battle went into the Pike County Administrative Building for an appointment with a probation officer related to an incident in 2009. When Battle emptied his pockets to go through the metal detector, a deputy saw an automatic knife with a four-inch blade.
Battle was promptly arrested and charged with possession of an illegal offensive weapon.
He was found guilty in a jury trial in January 2016 and was subsequently sentenced to one to three years in jail, despite his attorney’s arguing that Pennsylvania’s criminal code (18 Pa.C.S. § 908) prohibiting the possession of offensive weapons was unconstitutional.
So he filed an appeal.
Switchblades ‘serve no common purpose’
While Battle and his attorneys acknowledge that the state law does indeed prohibit the possession of automatic knives, they argue that it conflicts with the right to bear arms laid out in the Second Amendment.
The main question at the heart of the appeal was this:
“Whether the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, in prohibiting the possession of automatic knives, violates the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution?”
Pennsylvania also has its own provision in the state’s constitution that protects a citizen’s right to bear arms in Article 1, Section 21:
The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court was having none of it.
The court said that the Second Amendment does not cover “offensive weapons,” like those that “serve no common purpose.” Here is part of the memorandum from the court:
Appellant was free to possess an instrument with a common lawful purpose and use that instrument for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Instead, Appellant possessed a switchblade. While it is conceivable that Appellant possessed a switchblade for self-defense, that is not the switchblade’s common purpose.
The court used some twisted and roundabout logic to support its conclusion. It says that the Second Amendment does not protect weapons not usually possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. Switchblades were outlawed by the state, which stops law-abiding citizens from possessing them. And since switchblades “are not possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” they are dangerous and unusual weapons.
That’s a lot to digest, but I assure you it makes little sense.
Switchblades aren’t inherently dangerous
Aside from some of the circular logic, it’s false to say switchblades are not carried by law-abiding citizens for uses other than attacking people.
Automatic knives are legal in many states these days and were outlawed in the first place largely thanks to a bizarre panic in Congress after watching too many James Dean movies.
I’ve written passionately about why switchblades should be legal in the past so I won’t go into too much detail. However, to say that a switchblade is more dangerous than a standard folding knife (or even a machete) is insane. Some legal knives with flippers open faster than automatic knives.
The good thing about all of this is that it was a non-precedential ruling, meaning it won’t be added to the existing body of law nor can it be cited as authority in future cases. The ruling is still really unfortunate for Battle, but his attorneys may keep trying to obtain justice for the man.
Knife Rights has been working with states across the United States to repeal all switchblade bans and clarify knife laws. The organization helped introduce a bill repealing this very law in Pennsylvania in 2012, but I haven’t heard anything else about it since.
We’ll see if Knife Rights weighs in or uses this case as motivation for getting something done quicker.