At the behest of Buck Knives in Post Falls, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has introduced legislation to lift a decades-old ban on interstate commerce in switchblade knives.
Switchblades, also known as automatic knives, have a mechanism allowing one-handed operation to easily open the blade. They’ve been illegal in interstate commerce since 1958, but are legal in 27 states, including Idaho. They’re illegal in 23 states, including Washington.
A 2009 amendment to the 1958 ban allowed “spring-assisted” knives to be sold through interstate commerce, but not fully automatic ones that don’t first require a manual push to open the blade.
Crapo’s bill wouldn’t make any changes to state laws. It would just allow people in states where switchblades are legal to buy them from out-of-state U.S. firms – and allow firms like Buck Knives to market them in those states.
“We’re thrilled to see this legislation introduced,” said CJ Buck, president of Buck Knives, “and we couldn’t be prouder to have Buck Knives’ senior senator leading the charge.”
In a statement, he said Crapo’s bill would “help knife owners and consumers, remove unnecessary federal burdens, and allow states to decide what tools are legal within their jurisdiction, as the Constitution guarantees.”
The bill, if it became law, would be a significant boost to companies like Buck Knives that manufacture switchblades, but now are restricted from shipping them out of state, other than for military use.
“It is imperative that law-abiding citizens and sportsmen have the ability to buy and sell the tools vital to their trade,” Crapo said. “This measure would remove one of the many federal regulatory burdens that have hindered manufacturing growth, interstate commerce and consumer practices for far too long.”
Switchblade knives were popular in the U.S. in the first part of 20th Century, when they were marketed as useful tools for farmers, woodsmen and others who needed a modern knife that could easily and quickly be deployed with one hand. But in the 1950s, they became associated with criminal gangs, an image cemented in the public consciousness through popular entertainment including the 1957 Broadway musical “West Side Story,” which became a Hollywood movie in 1961.
“Some people have asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’” said Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo. “It’s a lot of sporting stuff – when you’re out in the field, when you get a deer or something and you want to clean it, a lot of people use these blades because you can operate them with one hand.”
Nothern said Crapo’s received no pushback on the idea thus far, and hasn’t received any questions about it from law enforcement.
Asked if the bill is likely to pass, Nothern said, “We got it introduced, so we’ll go from there. Let’s see how many people we get signed on.”
Because of the number of states that still ban switchblades, he said, “we may have to do some explanation about it to folks, but it does not impede state law, so if a state has banned it, you can’t ship a knife in there anyway.”
Switchblades remain illegal in Canada and much of Europe.