The nannies are coming.

(And they can have my knife when they pry it from my cold dead hands....)

In a series of some of the dumbest "clarifications" I have ever heard of -- to one of the dumbest laws I have ever heard of -- government Obamacrats have construed the 1958 Switchblade Knife Act in such a way as to prohibit the vast majority of pocket knives routinely sold in stores and carried by ordinary citizens.

Like me.

For many years I've owned the knife pictured here:


It's not a switchblade. I know what a switchblade is; a switchblade is a knife that opens automatically by means of a spring, the pressure of which is released by a switch. The knife I have -- like countless others of the same variety -- has to be opened manually, by directly moving the blade itself. The little post which protrudes from the blade is not a "switch" nor does it release any spring. The idea that this knife is now poised to be considered an illegal switchblade by the federal government is a classic lesson in how overregulated we have become, and in the tyrannical nature of those who implement and "interpret" regulations.

While I think this clearly reflects on the mindset of Barack Obama's people, the fact is that the law they're interpreting is insane to begin with. As Tiger Hawk observes,

The law is a relic of simpler and, in some respects, more authoritarian times. Something to remember.
I think he's absolutely right. While the legislative history of the Switchblade Knife Act is tough to track down without access to a law library, a Customs and Border Patrol ruling quotes some of the language:
It was testified that, practically speaking, there is no legitimate use for the switchblade to which a conventional sheath or jackknife is not better suited. This being the case, your committee believes that it is in the national interest that these articles be banned from interstate commerce. S.Rep. No. 1980, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in 2 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 1958, at 3435-37. As quoted by Precise Imports Corp. v. Kelly, 378 F.2d 1014, 1017 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1967).
Even back in 1958, the federal government thought it had a right to decide what uses are and are not "legitimate."

I'm trying to be logical in analyzing this, but what has me scratching my head is why, if we assume a switchblade has no legitimate use to which another knife is not better suited, the law nonetheless exempts the police and the military:

Sections 1242 and 1243 of this title shall not apply to--
(3) the Armed Forces or any member or employee thereof acting in
the performance of his duty[.]
What possible "legitimate use" might the police or the military have for switchblades that a citizen might not also have? The purpose of any weapons they have is for use against bad guys, right? If the basis of the law is that other knives are in fact better than switchblades, then there should be no need for the police or military to have them. But if they have any value as weapons against bad guys (let's say the factor of intimidation), that would be a legitimate use which goes to the heart of self defense, and it would be just as legitimate for civilians. Arguably, it might decrease the actual need for the use of the knife. If the blade can frighten people by snapping open at the push of a button, and if such brandishing makes bad guys run away, that would mean less, and not more knife fighting. This would be useful for all people faced by bad guys. If OTOH, it could be shown that the knife being clicked open does not frighten away anyone, then the knife would be equally useless as a weapon for both military and civilians.

I'm trying to envision other reasons why a cop might want a switchblade-style knife. Maybe it save a couple of seconds in cutting through stuck seatbelts? No, because that purpose too would be shared by civilians. Once again, the added element of intimidation is the only thing I can come up with. It might cause suspects to surrender more quickly without a fight, and it might serve as a backup weapon in the event the officer's gun was dropped or jammed. Aren't civilians just as entitled to intimidate bad guys, and to have a backup weapon? Try as I might, I'm having a great deal of trouble understanding precisely why a citizen with a right to carry a gun or a knife has no right to carry a knife if it clicks open at the push of a button.

Am I being too logical?

Damn. I almost forgot about entertainment value. Are not switchblades entertaining for some people? The way they open and close is intriguing to watch, and they're probably considered very cool by a good chunk of the male population. Is having something which looks cool all that harmful? Sure, used as a knife it is a potentially dangerous weapon, but many kitchen knives are bigger and sharper, and capable of doing far more damage. (And as Glenn points out, the nannies are coming for them soon.)

But I guess Congress in 1958 did not consider entertainment to be a legitimate use. For civilians, at least. Might they have thought that the police and military should have a right to forms of entertainment not shared by the general public? I hope not. Anyway, the Switchblade Knife Act is a ridiculous law, probably fueled by silly hysteria related to too many busybody do-gooders goading each other into fits of group panic attacks after seeing "West Side Story." I don't mean to single out that lovely musical as a culprit, but it did help fuel a media-abetted "moral panic":

Switchblades are often covered by very specific laws-- enacted at times of moral panic by newspapers and films about knife use by criminals.[1] This was most prominent in the late 1950s, when films such as The Wild One in 1954, Rebel Without a Cause and High School Confidential in 1955, the Broadway play West Side Story and 12 Angry Men in 1957 all featured switchblades, and were closely followed by the US Switchblade Act of 1958 (a federal law; individual state laws differ widely). This US federal law was closely followed by the UK Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959.
(Coco and I can only hope Hollywood doesn't do something like that to "pit bulls.")

Back to my knife. My most frequent use for it is as a letter opener. But I often use it as a work knife, because it's sharp and will cut through almost anything. It's handy as a box cutter, for electrical work, and it can be used to score sheet rock. Several times when I've been in dank and dirty crawl spaces I've been able to pull it out of my pocket, flip it open with one hand, and do repairs. It's versatile. Maybe a switchblade would be better; maybe not.

But my knife is not a switchblade, and for the government to say it is makes me very angry. This is tyranny. Another lost freedom. It might be seen as just one more "little thing" but as I discussed in this post, such "little things" are happening everywhere, all the time.

Once again, the nannies are coming. And they won't leave you alone in the privacy of your own home. Quite the contrary.

Butting into people's homes is what nannying is all about.

posted by Eric on 06.17.09 at 11:31 AM


How many years ago, I don't know, I received training on how to respond to a threatened attack. The advice was, charge a gun, run from a knive.

Second thought, it's not the stabber that will kill you. It's the slasher. Box cutters are incredibly deadly weapons. Mebbe you've heard that already.

OregonGuy   ·  June 17, 2009 12:04 PM

Yes, box cutters are incredibly deadly weapons. Witness 9/11. Why they haven't been banned, I cannot imagine.

Whoops! They're already doing it -- in New York, of course, beginning with minors:

In fact, under Guiliani New York had an anti-box cutter "sting" operation:

After all, a number of cities ban pit bulls, and,

"Box cutters were used to kill more people in 2001 than pit bulls have killed in 20 years.",2,3,4,9&Board=legal&Number=143613&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=4

Eric Scheie   ·  June 17, 2009 12:09 PM

I'm curious, why that book in the background for your pic?

Is it because your knife is a "toole"?

Is it because the people who would ban it are "toole"s?

Or is it because our country is being run by a confederacy of dunces?

Or is it because it appears that Ignatius J. Reilly is in charge of the country?

Alternatively, is it because you think that if Reilly were in charge, that would be a step up?

Or, are you saying that America is run like Levy Pants?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Veeshir   ·  June 17, 2009 2:03 PM

The switchblade act was pure racism, switchblades were most associated at the time with Hispanic street gangs (Sharks and Jets, anyone?). And the 1950's congress was the same one that wanted to ban comic books. Just a bunch of panty-wetting, nervous-Nellie do-gooders, completely unlike today's modern, now a-gogo congress. Or something.

Man Mountain Molehill   ·  June 17, 2009 6:13 PM

Though soon to be banned, I salute your choice of knifery.

I've got a much abused Benchmade 943 in my pocket as I type.

guy   ·  June 17, 2009 6:41 PM

100% with you on this one. And then there's the three-inch carry laws.....

Bill Johnson   ·  June 18, 2009 5:01 PM

Veeshir, you have overwhelmed me!

I should say all of the above!

Eric Scheie   ·  June 18, 2009 6:09 PM

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