Pocket knives, box cutters, and other kinds of small blades can be found at almost all hardware stores across New York, and yet, if an individual is caught carrying one, they can be arrested and convicted for criminal possession of a weapon.
Since the 1950’s, New York has outlawed “gravity knives,” which is defined as any knife that opens with “the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force,” such as opening it with the flick of the wrist. But the knives of the past that the statute targeted, no longer resemble modern day knives. Under the current definition, common work tools, such as box cutters, are unlawful to possess and can result in an arrest and conviction for criminal possession of a weapon. This is because many knives can be opened with centrifugal force, although many owners are unaware of this.
New York’s carpenters, construction workers, electricians, and fisherman, have been longtime victims of New York’s outdated knife law. These law abiding citizens have been arrested and convicted for simply carrying their tools to and from work every day. Between 2000 and 2012, 70,000 people were arrested in New York City alone for carrying a “gravity knife.” The Editorial Board, New York’s Outdated Knife Law, N.Y. Times, May 31, 2016. This crime is considered a Class A Misdemeanor, which can result in a one year jail sentence. Because of the potential severity of punishment, these cases frequently cause hardship on a defendant due to money spent, time lost, and stress suffered, regardless if the case makes it to trial or not.
For these reasons, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) has proposed two bills that would amend New York’s current gravity knife law, using two different strategies. Their first bill proposes a more narrow definition of switchblades and gravity knives to exclude the types of knives used by law abiding citizens for work. Specifically, it excludes, “a knife that has a spring, detent, or other mechanism, designed to create a bias toward closure and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure and open the knife.” The second bill would make all gravity knives legal, unless the knife is possessed with the intent to use it unlawfully against another person.
With these proposals, this group hopes to eliminate the confusion between individuals and law enforcement and to most importantly eliminate unjustified prosecutions of law abiding New York citizens.
For more information on these proposals, click here.
UPDATE: Cuomo Vetoes Bill
On January 1, 2017, Governor Cuomo vetoed the proposed bills to amend New York’s gravity knife law. In Cuomo’s veto message, he expressly writes that the current gravity knife law is “absurd” but that the bills do not promote public safety. Specifically he stated, “ . . . at a time when gun violence in New York continues to decline, passing a law that would promote the unrestricted possession of knives designed to rapidly open with one hand would serve only to open a new door to crime and violence statewide.” Instead, Cuomo suggested modifications to the legislature that would allow crafts and tradespeople to possess these knives without penalty and to create an affirmative defense for those charged with the crime that they had no criminal intent, although the legislature didn’t adapt any of his suggestions.
Many, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, supported Cuomo’s veto believing that these amendments would have allowed people to carry dangerous weapons. But many are also frustrated with the Governor’s move pointing out that many innocent New Yorkers are still subject to police harassment and unfair arrests.