New York’s 60-year restriction on “gravity knives” is no more. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the repeal on May 30, ending a ban criticized for disproportionately impacting people of color and soundly rejected in federal court.
A Racist, Vague Law With Permanent Consequences
In general terms, the now-defunct restriction defined a gravity knife as one with a locking blade able to open with the flick of a wrist. As many in the knife community know, the difference between a folding knife that can and can’t open with a flick is minute. A stiff folding knife on Monday may loosen up by Friday with regular use.
However, up until last week, that small difference came with big consequences, including felony charges or prison time for the 4,000 people arrested each year in New York state. Even if those people, overwhelmingly from minority backgrounds, committed no other crime, possession of a gravity knife alone was grounds for arrest. Due to the vague wording of the law, what constituted a gravity knife was left to the discretion of the arresting law enforcement officers.
This absurdity caught the attention of both conservative-minded knife organizations and progressive criminal justice reform advocates, forming what may seem to be an unlikely coalition. However, this intersection of blades and sociology presents itself time and time again with knife law reform issues across the country.
As such, major media outlets featured faces familiar to the world of knives in news packages, such as Doug Ritter of Knife Rights.
News of Gov. Cuomo’s signature, tempered by the fact that that same governor vetoed the repeal twice before, came as a welcome development to those in the knife community and beyond.
“After nine years fighting, it is a relief to close the book on this extraordinary abuse of authority by a corrupt system that has terrorized over 70,000 honest, law-abiding people, disproportionately minorities, for simply carrying a common tool used daily in their lives. I am thrilled that we and our partners across the political spectrum in this fight have finally prevailed, but it is a sad commentary on the state of politics and justice in New York State, New York City and at the Second Circuit that it took this long and that tens of thousands of innocent folks had to suffer so much for so long,” Ritter said in a Knife Rights article posted May 30.
“A sincere thanks to the New York Legal Aid Society, Rep. Dan Quart, and Senator Diane Savino for not giving up on solving the inconsistency and ambiguity that the NY gravity knife law created. We began working with attorneys at the NY Legal Aid Society on draft language back in 2010 – never imaging success would take so long,” a statement on the website of the American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI) read.
“For far too long, the NYPD exploited the gravity-knife ban to drive up arrest numbers at the expense of our clients,” Tina Luong, an attorney representing the Legal Aid Society, was quoted as saying in The New York Times.
BLADE reached out for comment from a number of organizations, and had yet to receive responses as of this writing.
NYC Mayor Expresses Opposition
Despite the repeal, some officials remain determined to enforce the restriction through some other mutation. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office expressed its opposition to the repeal, vowing to find “an alternative” method of restricting gravity knives.