Washington state top court: some knives are likely constitutionally protected 'arms,' but paring knives aren't

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

My constitutionally unprotected knife, according to the Washington Supreme Court.
My constitutionally unprotected knife, according to the Washington Supreme Court.

From today's Washington Supreme Court decision in City of Seattle v. Evans, which also usefully canvasses decisions from other state courts:

We hold that the right to bear arms protects instruments that are designed as weapons traditionally or commonly used by law abiding citizens for the lawful purpose of self-defense. In considering whether a weapon is an arm, we look to the historical origins and use of that weapon, noting that a weapon does not need to be designed for military use to be traditionally or commonly used for self-defense. We will also consider the weapon's purpose and intended function….

[T]he small knife found on Evans's person is a utility tool, not a weapon…. Evans does not demonstrate that his paring knife is a constitutionally protected arm.

The court's analysis interprets both the Second Amendment and the Washington Constitution's right to bear arms provision, and also says it's consistent with Oregon and Connecticut caselaw, which views "arms" as covering switchblades, dirks, billy clubs and police batons. The court doesn't discuss whether the protection would extend to concealed carrying, but it reaffirmed that the right to bear arms includes a "right to carry a weapon" in some way, presumably including carrying in most public places.

The court also expressly noted that "many knives banned under the Seattle ordinance may be arms deserving constitutional protection…. In a different case under appropriate facts, the ordinance's 'broad prohibition' on carrying arms for purposes of self-defense may well be constitutionally infirm. We reserve judgment on this issue for an appropriate case."

Four of the nine Justices dissented, reasoning that knives are generally constitutionally protected, whether or not the particular knife is designed as a weapon. (For gender identity politics buffs, note that the less weapons-friendly—but still quite weapons-friendly—majority was three women and two men, and the more weapons-friendly dissent was three women and one man.)

Thanks to David Stearns for the pointer.