The Cutting Edge

The official blog of Knife Depot

PA Court Rules Switchblades Aren’t Covered Under Second Amendment

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In a short non-precedential opinion published Thursday, the three-judge panel struck down an appeal filed by a man arrested for carrying a switchblade, also known as an automatic knife.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.

Philadelphia skyline

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.

James Dean wielding a switchblade in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The film was part of the inspiration for the original switchblade ban.

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.

7 Comments

  1. An outrageous, narrow-minded and willfully ignorant ruling by this Court. Downright provincial. Have any of these judges handled a tool in their life? What if some one is handicapped (temporarily, or permanently), or simply have their hands busy? An automatic knife has nothing more than a knife with a convenience feature in it. It is just so obtuse.

  2. It is the blade of a knife that that can cause harm, the way it is deployed has nothing to do with it. Can the spring hurt you? Think about it.

  3. Douglas DiToro

    March 16, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Does this current ruling also affect law enforcement officers and military ie active reserve or retired ?

    • Tim

      March 16, 2017 at 9:26 am

      That’s a tough one to parse, and I’m not a lawyer so take this as you will. Everyone must conform to state knife laws, so if there is a state law that says anyone (or even only active or retired law enforcement and military personnel) can carry switchblades, then it’s OK to carry — unless you’re going into a federal building. The federal switchblade act allows the military to buy switchblades and does not apply to ” the Armed Forces or any member or employee thereof acting in the performance of his duty.”

  4. This is another decision by the elitists out of certain universities that in reality do not believe in democracy or individual rights, but only in what the elitists think in how everyone should live.

    • We are a Republic. If you want proof: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Democracy_vs_Republic Start studying. And I do disagree with the elites, I truly believe in regards to the 2nd amendment they are trying to destroy our rights out of emotional fear. I believe the most inexcusable is with knives. They are not weapons, they are tools, I will give them this, some designs are MUCH better for combat than others like a western tanto or triangular knife, banned from warfare due to a triangular stab wound being impossible to sew up therefore increasing the chance of death. But still, they are tools that happen to be great for combat if made properly yet as a tool, a triangular knife can be a holepunch, an awl, even something to poke into a bag of jerky with and cut the package open. The Western tanto, with that kind of tip, the transition (for lack of better terms) has the right edge to be used like or similar to a boxcutter blade since you have that tip facing downwards right there. The tanto part itself (Again for lack of better terms) great for use as a marking knife that woodworkers use to get an even more accurate mark for their artisanry. Its not the fact that its a knife that matters let alone its mechanism in the case of folders, but how the design of the blade is suited for what. As for one handed opening. Yeah if you have a broken arm and can’t operate a folder with 2 hands, using a switchblade that you press down on the handle and open up the blade, you have an optimal folding knife for the physically handicapped. Yes some locks are more reliable than others, but opening mechanisms, while yes a criminal using a folder can have the chance to sneak up, open the knife quicker and go in for the kill, the same can be a lifesaver (Both metaphorically and literally) for someone who is physically disabled and cant use a knife with 2 hands. What works for evil, can also be rewritten for good. Knives are tragically and arguably the most misunderstood tool in the world because of an endless history of madmen and failures of excuses of a good citizen. I hope one day the actions of madmen won’t lead to our constitution, our legal holy grail, being demolished, once that happens, we as an american people, would have committed suicide of our nation since we destroyed it from within. I hope that never happens or at least I hope that I won’t live to see it. May this great Republic thrive for all of eternity and may the American way never be dark to the point of invisibility and may it always guide us untill this planet earth no longer exists.

  5. Bill Setterlund

    March 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

    The ban of switchblades’ is absolutely ridiculous any knife with a thumbstud will deploy just as quickly.

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