|The four knives on the bottom left are traditional gravity knives. Some police officers have found the others to be "gravity knives" in NYC.|
On October 12, the New York State's ACLU affiliate, the NYCLU, joined the NRA, the NAACP, the New York Times editorial board, the Legal Aid society, the office of Court Administration, and the Village Voice in support of Knife law reform.
This unusual set of allies was brought together by the heavy handed abuse of the current knife law by New York City prosecutors, especially District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
As many as 80% of the arrests for possession of common pocket knives were of Hispanics and blacks. Common pocket knives have been characterized as "gravity knives" by a bizarre interpretation of the law. That interpretation is almost exclusively in New York City.
A lawsuit against District Attorney Vance by Knife Rights is in progress, but may take years to bring relief. We are not talking a small number of abuses. The Village Voice estimates 60,000 arrests over a 10 year period. That was two years ago.
The lawsuit may be moot. Knife Rights also pushed a legislative reform that would prevent most abuses of the law. It was heavily lobbied against by Cyrus Vance. This year it passed both houses of the New York legislature with overwhelming margins: 117 to 12 in the Assembly, unanimously in the Senate.
It is unknown if Governor Cuomo will sign or veto the bill. New York City Mayor De Blasio has come out against it, as has the Cyrus Vance. Now the NYCLU has sent a letter in support of the reform to Governor Cuomo. From kniferights.org, here are the concluding paragraphs of the NCLU letter:
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been charged with carrying gravity and switchblade knives since 2000, although the knives the law was actually meant to ban are today rare antiques.4Knife Rights has shown the time is right for the repeal of irrational and unconstitutional knife laws. Even in New York City, organizations that are often in opposition, can agree to stop the abuse that has been ongoing for decades.
Nevertheless, the penal code provisions prohibiting possession of gravity knives and switchblades are aggressively enforced, in manner that is starkly discriminatory. Knife possession charges are disproportionately brought against people of color, and stops in which a knife is found are far more likely to result in arrest for people of color than for white New Yorkers.5
The legal consequences can be grave. The law permits prosecutors to charge possession of a gravity knife or switchblade as a felony if the defendant has a prior criminal conviction. And because these offenses are prosecuted as strict liability crimes, any person with a criminal record who owns a folding knife is, for all intents and purposes, a Class D felon waiting to be stopped.
This bill would amend the legal definitions of gravity knives and switchblades, excluding from these definitions knives whose mechanism creates pressure against releasing the knife blade, and a bias toward closure once the knife is opened. These amendments will restore the meaning of the law as intended, and will prevent the unwarranted arrest and prosecution of persons carrying common utility knives and work knives
The New York Civil Liberties Union joins the New York State Office of Court Administration, law enforcement officials, defenders, and civil rights advocates in calling on you to approve A.9082-A/S.6483-A.
Perhaps Governor Cuomo will sign the bill into law. A number of civil rights organizations, including the NRA, are asking him to do so. But he may find political power brokers like Mayor De Blasio and Cyrus Vance to be more persuasive.
If he does not sign the bill, perhaps Knife Rights will prevail in court.
Eventually, knives will be recognized as arms protected by the Second Amendment. In New York City, we have not reached that point.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.