National knife rights group mounts appeal from second circuit, district court decision that dismissed their complaint against New York City officials who are allegedly, unfairly and unlawfully, prosecuting knife owners.
“Nothing city officials are doing has any impact on actual criminal activity,” said Doug Ritter, founder and chairman of Knife Rights, an organization formed in 2006 to combat an anti-knife agenda that seeks to restrict citizens of their right to own, use and carry knives. “This is about persecuting honest, law abiding citizens for carrying a simple pocket knife.”
Most knife attacks, including the most recent one at a synagogue in Brooklyn, are not committed with pocket knives; most are committed with large fixed-blade kitchen knives, he said. “The vast majority of people who carry the pocket knife do so because they use them – just like everyone else – they use the pocket knife as a tool.”
Nonetheless, prosecutions for the highest-level misdemeanor crime of carrying an illegal knife are on the rise, and according to a count provided by the Village Voice, there have been 60,000 prosecutions on this charge in the last ten years, he said. “Essentially it is the tenth most prosecuted crime in the city of New York today, and it is essentially a victimless crime because 99.99 percent of all the people that are arrested for carrying an illegal knife, are carrying a knife because that is what people do.”
In 2010, at the direction of New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Dan Jack Rather, son of former CBS News anchor, Daniel Irvin “Dan” Rather Jr., efforts to arrest knife carriers were ramped-up, he said. The attorney general’s office created a new gravity knife test that Ritter said subjectively clumps pocket knives into the illegal gravity knife category. A gravity knife, which is illegal to carry in New York State, is a knife that opens readily by force of gravity or application of centrifugal force.
City officials claim that if one can “wrist-click” the knife open then that is an illegal gravity knife because it opens by centrifugal force, said Ritter, who is founder, publisher and editor of Equipped to Survive, an online resource for independent reviews of survival equipment and outdoors gear.
“Regardless of whether that is centrifugal force or not, the issue is that there is no way for anyone to tell whether their folding knife is legal or not because there is no way to know that if you cannot open the knife that way, some cop or someone else can.” This unprecedented move was really a publicity stunt for attention, power and cronyism, he said.
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s office decided to go after a number of retailers that they alleged to be selling illegal gravity knives and switch blades which were simply the same pocket knives – folding knives – that were being sold everywhere else in the country and have always been perfectly legal.”
Many of those Manhattan retailers were offered immunity from prosecution for a fixed-time period if they agreed to discontinue selling their pocket knives and if they donated a fixed-amount to Vance’s knife education fund, he said. “The district attorney took this as a way to raise nearly $2 million into a fund – that he had control of – because most of the retailers agreed to pay to avoid prosecution.” Other preferred retailers received preferential treatment, he said.
Paragon Sports, which is the largest sporting goods store in Manhattan, for example, made a deal with the city that makes it appear as if they discontinued pocket knives, but in reality they sell custom knives with the exact same physical characteristics as pocket knives at a much higher price, said Ritter. “In fact, some of their production knives are simply production versions of the custom knives that cost anywhere from $3,000-$4,000 or more.”
He said in addition to effecting one’s general right to carry a pocket knife; the city ordinance affects firearms rights, as well.
“One of the side effects of being arrested for carrying a knife is if you a firearm permit holder, you have to turn over your guns immediately,” he said. “If you get the illegal knife case dismissed, which what happens usually in one manner or another, you have to convince the city to give you back your weapons, and as you might expect, that is not an easy thing to accomplish.”
In an attempt to stop pocket knife arrests and prosecutions, he said Knife Rights and two individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the district attorney and the city of New York claiming that the city’s variable standard in defining the illegal gravity knife should be voided for vagueness. Court papers allege that the Manhattan attorney general chose to treat nearly any folding knife as an illegal gravity knife. Plaintiffs argued that after decades of enforcing state law with clarity and predictability, no one can determine any longer what in New York City is legal or prohibited.
Although the lawsuit before the district court was proceeding at a snails’ pace, they were going through the various stages of discovery fine, with one witness left to depose, and each ruling having been in their favor, is when Ritter said the action was re-assigned to an Obama administration, recently-appointed judge who almost dismissed the case immediately. District court Judge Katherine B. Forrest would ultimately dismiss Gun Rights complaint based on convoluted reasoning, he said.
“The decision basically amounted to saying that we did not have standing to sue because we did not name the specific knives that were illegal that the plaintiffs wanted to purchase, when the whole point of the lawsuit is that it is impossible for anyone to know whether the knife they want to purchase is legal or illegal because of this indeterminate wrist flick test that the city and the district attorney use.”
He said their appeal is scheduled for oral argument before an appellate division 3-judge panel on Jan. 13. If they follow precedent and the law, he said the appellate court should rule in their favor and send the case back to the district court for the finish of discovery and a trial of the merits contained in their complaint.
“We hope good sense and justice will prevail,” said Ritter. “Even the district attorney has admitted that different specimens of the exact same make and model knife could be simultaneously found to be both legal and illegal.”
Knives that are illegal in New York City represent over 80% of the pocket knives sold throughout the United States today, and a significant portion of those arrested for carrying an illegal knife are workers simply going back and forth to work, he said.
“That is why we call this a persecution instead of a prosecution, because this is way beyond simply enforcing some obscure law, this is corrupting the law in a manner that allows them to persecute knife owners.”