At Knife Depot, we pride ourselves on being a business that works toward giving customers the greatest selection of products possible.
So, when we were finally able to sell automatic knives (better known as switchblades), we were downright stoked. We posted on Facebook and sent out an email to our subscribers announcing the arrival of automatic knives for authorized military personnel and law enforcement officers.
Let’s just say that the reception was less than enthusiastic.
We received emails from disgruntled fans attacking our automatic knives policy as dumb, ridiculous, and discriminating.
The truth is we whole-heartedly agree with the hate mail. Unfortunately, as a business that conducts interstate commerce, we’re bound by the federal law of the United States.
The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, and sale of switchblade knives between states, but there are a few exceptions in terms of what can be mailed across state lines found in 18 USC 1716 (G) and 15 USC 1244.
If you didn’t click on the links to the actual code (and we don’t blame you), they basically say switchblades can only be shipped across state lines to certain people, which includes authorized government personnel and those who have the use of only one arm.
So how did we get to this point? Let’s go back to the development of automatic knives.
History of the Switchblade
A switchblade is a folding knife that uses a spring-loaded button to fully engage a knife. (If you’re curious, I wrote an article about the difference between a switchblade and assisted-opening knife.) The blade’s natural position is to be open and the button is absorbing that pressure. Once that pressure is removed, the knife opens up.
Switchblades were around in ewhe form since the mid-18th century, but those mostly used levers and weren’t very practical.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s did George Schrade help pioneer the modern and functional iteration of the switchblade. By 1916, Schrade had created what we know as the switchblade today. He used a button to engage the knife instead of the old lever system.
Legend has it that the automatic knife was developed in order to make it easier for women to open folding knives without breaking a fingernail. While this is a slight exaggeration, early advertisements did use this aspect as a selling point.
Here’s a Schrade advertisement from 1904, according to Gizmodo.
Operated With One Hand.
No Breaking of Finger Nails.
Will Not Open in Your Pocket.
Will Not Close on the Fingers When in Use.
The Schrade Safety Push Button Knife, of which we are the exclusive manufacturers, is rapidly becoming the leading knife on the market because of its many advantages over the ordinary pocket knife. Being easily operated with one hand it is far more convenient than the old style pocket knife which necessitates the use of both hands to open and frequently results in broken finger nails… This novel knife is especially suitable for a gift or souvenir, as it is something out of the ordinary, very useful, and when furnished with one of our attractive handles makes an ideal gift.
What made the knife go from a tool that wouldn’t break your nails to a weapon that was destroying society? We turn to the 1950s for the answer.
How the Switchblade Was Banned
Let’s set the scene of the time. The U.S. was undergoing a major economic boom in the wake of WWII, while the onset of the Cold War had shifted the politics of the country right. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam. Rock-N-Roll was emerging on the scene with artists like Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Howlin’ Wolf, and others were captivating teens. Juvenile delinquency was up during the time, and movie stars like James Dean weren’t helping matters.
The seed that germinated the movement against the automatic knife can be traced back to a 1950 article that appeared in the Women’s Home Companion called “The Toy That Kills.” It basically lays out how the switchblade will quickly become the weapon of choice in gang warfare if it’s not taken care of.
America became obsessed and fearful of the possibility of ethnic gangs and delinquents, and Hollywood seized the opportunity to make films about it.
In the mid-1950s, movies like Rebel Without a Cause, Crime in the Streets, The Delinquents, and others prominently featured violence among the youths and the switchblade became a symbol of delinquency.
Not long after, the senator from Illinois introduced a bill that banned automatic knives in an attempt to reduce gang violence in Chicago. In 1958, the Switchblade Knife Act passed and switchblades have been banned federally ever since.
Efforts to Lift Switchblade Ban
Over the years, more and more people have realized the original switchblade ban was born out of fear and misinformation, so why does the law remain?
The difficulty of getting anything done in Congress cannot be overstated. Not only that but something as controversial as lifting a ban on switchblades is not easy to come by. Many members of congress do not want their name attached to a lift of the ban.
However, the knife advocacy group Knife Rights did clarify the law a bit when it helped add an amendment to the ban in 2009 that clearly exempts spring-assisted knives.
More recently, Rep. Andy Biggs introduced the Knife Owners’ Protection Act of 2017 — a bill thought of and authored by Knife Rights — in the House of Representatives.
Our Issue With The Ban
This leads us full circle as to why switchblades should be legal. Customers point out that in their states, they can carry switchblades because it’s not a regulated item. That’s all fine and well, but we can’t sell automatic knives across state lines thanks to federal law, which brings us to yet another issue. Many state laws conflict with the federal ban.
Knife Rights has passed or is trying to pass laws that repeal the ban in various states. For example, in Maine, the switchblade ban was recently repealed, yet we won’t be able to sell there unless the buyer is an authorized member of the military.
Adding Up the Issues
Let’s tally up the reasons why they should be legal:
1. The Switchblade Ban was passed under false pretenses and fear of a phantom menace. It now seems antiquated.
2. Law-abiding citizens can’t buy automatic knives from businesses like us unless they’re members of the military or only have the use of one arm. It’s somewhat of an arbitrary distinction.
3. Federal laws conflict with state laws, causing issues with jurisdiction and confusion on legality.
4. It’s difficult to discern the difference between a switchblade and a spring-assisted knife, which can lead to confusion and unwarranted arrests.
This last point is actually bigger than you might think. The whole Freddie Gray incident, in which a man was killed by police after they said he was carrying an illegal switchblade that was actually legal, has brought the issue to light even more. News outlets like the Chicago Tribune have recently questioned the point of banning switchblades as a result.
In New York, tons of people are arrested on charges related to switchblades but few convictions actually happen. These mixups just ruin people’s lives and put an extra burden on police.
Aside from our own small issue of not being able to sell automatic knives to everyone, these points perfectly sum up why switchblades should no longer be banned.