Police Abuse

Andrew Cuomo Vetoes Bill Aimed at Stopping NYPD's Unjust 'Gravity Knife' Arrests

Cops read New York's ban as criminalizing possession of commonly used tools.

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Last week New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill aimed at stopping trumped-up arrests of innocent people for possessing tools that police arbitrarily identify as prohibited "gravity knives." Cuomo acknowledges in his veto message that the current application of the state's ban on gravity knives, which criminalizes possession of openly sold and commonly used tools, "is absurd and must be addressed." But he argues that the revised definition in S.B. 6483A (a.k.a. A.B. 9042A) is ambiguous and would impose too heavy a burden on cops and prosecutors. Cuomo's position is reasonable only if you think ordinary New Yorkers should bear the burden of demonstrating the legality of knives they bought at Home Depot to cut drywall, carpeting, or linoleum.

New York's ban, which was enacted in 1958, defines a gravity knife as "any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device." The law was meant to cover a substitute for switchblades, which New York legislators banned in 1954, that was modeled after knives carried by German paratroopers during World War II. The original gravity knife could be opened with one hand by pressing a button, trigger, or lever, relying on gravity instead of a spring, which was handy for injured paratroopers trying to free themselves from their parachutes. But New York City cops read the state's definition of gravity knife to cover any folding knife that can be opened by flicking the wrist, even if the operation is difficult or can be accomplished only by grasping the blade and flicking the handle open.

"This interpretation of the 'gravity knife' has resulted in a definition that is both amorphous [and] subject to abuse and could include nearly any pocket knife," Cuomo notes. "Under current New York law and practice, knives that are classified as 'gravity knives' are designed, marketed and sold as work tools for construction workers and day laborers at a variety of major retailers across the State. However, any person who goes into a store and purchases the product can be subsequently arrested and prosecuted for mere possession." A 2007 case involved the Husky Sure-Grip Folding Knife, a top seller at Home Depot, which had sold more than 67,000 in New York state the previous fiscal year. That's just one brand at one chain in one year. Applied consistently throughout the state, the NYPD's wrist-flick test probably would transform hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of nonviolent knife owners into criminals. Cuomo rightly describes that situation as "an absurd contradiction [between] existing commercial and enforcement practices."

A 2014 investigation by The Village Voice found that there had been some 60,000 cases involving gravity knife possession in New York City during the previous decade, making it one of the city's most prosecuted crimes. Stops for allegedly illegal knives overwhelmingly target blacks and Latinos. "The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal intent and believed that the common folding knives they carried were legal," notes the the preamble to S.B. 6483A, which was introduced by state Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. "These arrests and prosecutions do not contribute to public safety."

In 2015 Savino proposed changing the law to allow conviction for possessing a gravity knife, which is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail, "only if the defendant has intent to use the same unlawfully against another." That bill died in the Senate. The 2016 version would have amended the definition of gravity knife to clarify that it "does not include a knife that has a spring, detent, or other mechanism, including but not limited to resistance to opening, designed to create a bias toward closure and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure and open the knife."

Cuomo, whose veto was welcomed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, worries that Savino's revised definition "would potentially legalize all folding knives." It is hard to see how, since a classic gravity knife does not have a bias toward closure that needs to be overcome by "exertion," and neither does a spring-loaded switchblade. Cuomo also complains that Savino's bill "would place the burden upon law enforcement to determine the design attributes of each given knife." That burden seems unavoidable if New York legislators are 1) determined to ban certain kinds of knives and 2) bound by the basic due process principle that people must be given fair notice of the actions that make them subject to arrest and prosecution. When the law bans tools based on their "design attributes," police have to be familiar with those, unless they simply arrest anyone with a pocket knife and let the courts sort it out, which is precisely the situation that Cuomo claims he wants to avoid.

Cuomo's preferred solution is "allow[ing] crafts and tradespeople to possess these knives without penalty" while "creat[ing] an affirmative defense for those who possessed gravity knives with no intent to use it unlawfully." The first exception would not necessarily prevent bogus arrests, since anyone carrying a folding knife that might fail the wrist-flick test would still have to show that he practiced an expiating occupation. The latter exception would not even prevent prosecution, since the "affirmative defense" could be presented only after a knife owner was arrested and hauled into court. In the name of making life easier for cops, Cuomo's approach would leave innocent people subject to arbitrary police harassment.

Addendum: If state legislators do not reform the gravity knife ban on their own, a successful constitutional challenge could force police to narrow their application of it. A federal lawsuit pending before U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York argues that the wrist-flick test renders the gravity knife ban unconstitutionally vague.

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  1. Common sense knife control.

    Common sense truck control.

    It’s like some people don’t know what “common sense” is.

    1. Common sense “common sense ___ control” control NOW!

      1. Common sense Cock control?

        1. common sense Cuomo control?

          1. Is “Cuomo” Italian for penis?

            1. He sure looks like it. An italian penis, that is.

              1. That is an insult to penii.

    2. They are not interested in “common sense”, they just want control at any cost and nevermind your rights…

  2. I’ve been saying this 30 years…..fuck you Cuomo.

  3. The more civilized states are moving towards no prohibition of any knives. In GA and many other states anything which folds is perfectly legal to carry concealed.

    1. In AZ I could conceivably walk around in public with a samurai sword. There are no restrictions on the carrying of blades whatsoever.

      Amazingly, the streets aren’t running red with blood from sword and knife fights.

      1. Honestly, my reaction to someone holding sword is stronger than my reaction to someone holding a gun. There’s something about a 3 foot razor blade that I just have a visceral reaction to, and I say that as the proud owner of a matched katana and wakizashi set.

        1. Real Libertarians use sword canes.

          1. and monocles, don’t forget the fucking monocles!!!

            1. Are we talking a monocle-cane or a sword-monocle?

      2. Amazingly, the streets aren’t running red with blood from sword and knife fights

        Yeah, but that’s just because ninjas.

    2. NH did the same several years ago. I think fixed blades, including double edged ones, are also legal to carry.

      I’ve got a nice knife that springs open with the press of a button. It’s a very useful thing to have. I just have to remember to take it out of my pocket if I leave the state.

      1. http://www.kniferights.org/ind…..view&id=99

        NH Governor Signs Knife Rights Bill into Law Print E-mail
        May 18, 2010 : New Hampshire Governor John Lynch has signed Rep. Jenn Coffey’s Knife Rights Bill into law, removing restrictions on switchblades, dirks, daggers and stilettos in Hew Hampshire and essentially removing all restrictions on knives in New Hampshire state law. New Hampshire now has no knife laws which stop law abiding citizens from buying, selling, owning, carrying, possessing, transporting, collecting, or lawfully using any type of knife. This is the first complete repeal of a state’s knife restrictions ever.

        1. Some of those New England types do, after all, have their head screwed on right.

  4. The fact that switchblades are illegal is absurd. They’re like the “assault weapons” of knives. Pure pearl clutching backed up by nothing. People are idiots, that goes double for politicians and the journalists that fuel the derp panics.

    1. It was originally more about who was carrying that particular type of knife, not the knife itself.

      1. (((New York)))

        1. (((Puerto Ricans)))?

          1. (((Juvenile Delinquents)))

            1. (((Your Mom’s name here)))

              1. My Mom would cut your ear off so fast, you wouldn’t know it was missing til you passed out from blood loss.

    2. Aye. Any fixed blade knife of similar size/style will prove an equal if not better weapon.

    3. old man memory: back in the 80s switchblades were illegal, yet one could buy a kit to make your own. I had a survivalist friend who built two of ’em.

      Of course they weren’t good for much of anything other than the scare factor, quickly overtaken by the popular “Rambo knife”.

      1. Springs were notorious for failing if you held the handle a certain way.

  5. seven felonies a day

  6. the NYPD’s wrist-flick test probably would transform hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of nonviolent knife owners into criminals

    Feature, not bug

  7. I’m pretty sure the original bans on switchblades were, essentially, Jim Crow laws aimed at the undesirable races. Much like drug prohibition and gun control. I never cease to be amused by the stridently “correct” people who nonetheless strongly defend the last vestiges of Jim Crow.

    1. Yes, they were a moral panic, like banning pinball and drugs. The “wrong” sort of people liked them, so let’s ban them and make it easy for the police to harass them.

    2. Didn’t white greasers and nogoodniks also carry switchblades in the 50s? Or did they only carry the switchblade combs for primping their pompadours?

  8. “Stops for allegedly illegal knives overwhelmingly target blacks and Latinos”

    I know that’s the only strategy that was likely to work here but… who the fuck cares?

    1. Presumably the targeted blacks and Latinos do.

      And I think it helps to point out how the over-criminalization of everything can be used by police to specifically target and fuck with whomever they like (which often ends up being the poor and racial minorities).

    2. The law is only enforced in the city, and the police only seem to target dark-skinned men with knives on their belts.

      1. So they’re targeting people who walk around with the banned item in plain sight? If such people happen to be disproportionately minorities, the argument that the cops are “targeting minorities” is bullshit – in the same way it was bullshit in relation to smoking pot on the street or school suspensions.

        No, my point is that the proportion of minorities punished for something that should be perfectly legal is irrelevant.

  9. Cuomo’s position is reasonable only if you think Cuomo’s position on the current application of the state’s ban on gravity knives (“is absurd and must be addressed”) is remotely honest.

    I believe what a man does, not what he says. Cuomo is just fine with the law, otherwise his actions would be different.

  10. In the name of making life easier for cops, Cuomo’s approach would leave innocent people subject to arbitrary police harassment.

    Everybody wins!

    1. Everybody that matters.

  11. If you don’t ban gravity knives now, soon there will be gravity guns everywhere. And I think we can all agree that nobody wants that.

    1. Ban gravity. For the children.

      1. Screw that. Then my gravity bong won’t work.

    2. Isn’t a gravity gun just dropping a bullet off of a tall building or something?

        1. Fuck that thing. I was pissed at the part of the game where they took away my real weapons and left me with just that piece of shit (while having the weapon-wielding NPCs stop dropping weapons).

          1. I enjoyed killing guards with other guards or with the energy orbs floating around everywhere in the Citadel. It was the one part where the thing was finally useful as a weapon.

        1. +1 hunting rifle fired at a neutron star

  12. So I guess karambit sales are tricky in New York?

    It doesn’t use a button–it’s just a folding knife. It just has a catch that folds it open against your pocket as you draw it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuwSK2O9_t0

    In Los Angeles, they don’t want you carrying fixed blades over 3″ concealed–without a concealed carry permit. I suspect a lot of karambits are made under 3″ and folding because of those kinds of restrictions. You can’t ban such things without banning swiss army knives, too–and, politically, people don’t think of rednecks and bad guys when they think of swiss army knives. They think of grandpa and cub scouts.

    Switchblades in 1958 must have been the “assault weapons” of their time.

    https://vimeo.com/12862582

    1. Dicks Out for Karambit

      1. *cringes, crosses legs*

    2. “West Side Story” still relevant?

        1. Norm MacDonald: “We are so gonna get our asses kicked!”

    3. So I guess karambit sales are tricky in New York?

      It doesn’t use a button–it’s just a folding knife. It just has a catch that folds it open against your pocket as you draw it.

      That’s not a karambit-specific thing; karambits are just claw-shaped knives with the edge on the inside curve, often with a finger-ring on the end of the hilt to improve grip.

      The pocket-opening mechanism is called the Emerson Wave and is featured on a lot of different types of knives.

  13. I see today is “Bash Cuomo Day” here. Excellent.

    “The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal intent and believed that the common folding knives they carried were legal,”

    An acceptable price according to Democrats, since allowing for mens rea to be taken into account might mean that TEH CORPORASHUNZ occassionally get away with something bad.

    Cuomo also complains that Savino’s bill “would place the burden upon law enforcement to determine the design attributes of each given knife.”

    This is the NY politician mindset laid bare: the proles exist only as tax cattle, and their rights are only important to the extent that they don’t inconvenience agents of the State.

    1. *casts loving gaze at that machine which chips fascists*

    2. Mens rea? Sexist!

      1. how is that different from U rea?

        1. How much it burns your eyes?

  14. The people who use these knives for crimes don’t care if they’re illegal. This is such a basic concept I don’t understand how these people don’t understand it. It is mind-boggling.

    1. Please note that stabbing people is already illegal. If a law was all it took, that would be enough.

    2. If something is illegal but people keep doing it, it needs to be made illegal harder. This is Government 101.

      1. +1 “DO SOMETHING!”

      2. Things that are perceived to be related must be made illegal, as well.

    3. But if you catch a person with the knife, you can assume they were going to use it to commit a crime, and stop that person before the crime is committed. It’s smrt.

    4. I’ve been arguing gun control on derpbook this morning. Someone posted a “toddlers shoot a person a week” article, to which the reply was made that gun locks should be mandatory, with stiff penalties for non-compliance. I pointed out that gun locks endanger the lives of responsible owners, while anyone irresponsible enough to allow their toddler to access a loaded weapon was certainly not going to be responsible enough to engage their gun lock. I was then called a monster, because apparently I don’t want to do anything to save children. I pointed out that kids were 3x as likely to die choking on a hot dog as shooting themselves with daddy’s pistol, and asked if the lady favored hot dog lock laws…at which point the conversation strangely ended very abruptly.

      Long story short – the very SECOND you get a partisan to realize their ‘common-sense’ argument is illogical, impractical and self-defeating, is the very moment they are no longer interested in talking to you.

  15. Your honor, the defendant was caught using the knife to carve his pop tart into a gun!

  16. Anyone that has ever used one of those husky folding razors would know it would take Jupiter’s gravity to open it by it self. Good veto

    1. wait shit, misread, he vetoed a bill aimed at preventing those idiotic arrests. Fuck that guy

      1. I’m utterly shocked a city run by democrats has stupid weapons laws…

  17. Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Reed!

    You got a black .38 and a gravity knife
    you still have to ride the train
    There’s the smelly essence of N.Y. down there
    but you ain’t no Bernard Goetz, ah
    There’s no Mafia lawyer to fight in your corner
    for that 15 minutes of fame
    The have and the have nots are bleeding in the tub
    that’s New York’s future not mine, oh

    1. Every time old bernie comes up I remember the Howard Stern bit where “Bernard Hugo Goetz what he wants” is sung to “You can’t always get what you want” 1980s nyc..good times.

      1. You mean “Bernhard Hugo Goetz what he shoots.”

  18. Christ, what an asshole.

  19. The law was meant to cover a substitute for switchblades, which New York legislators banned in 1954, that was modeled after knives carried by German paratroopers during World War II.

    Aha! So if you support the bill Cuomo vetoed you are a Nazi!

    (The way our political discourse is going, I would not be slightly surprised to hear a prog say that with a straight face.)

    1. easy to keep a straight face when there aint no brain attached

  20. This is so stupid it hurts. Of course, any law banning “mere possession” of anything isn’t going to turn out well.
    I’ve been carrying some form of knife pretty much everyday since the 10th grade. Needless to say, I don’t and won’t live in new york.

    1. I’ve probably had a knife in my pocket pretty much all the time (excepting certain secured buildings and travel) since I was 10 or so because it is a useful tool. Never even thought of it as a weapon.

      1. clearly not thinking hard enough…

        1. I don’t often carry a knife of any kind.I often carry a pistol, which by the way has yet to,all by itself, create havoc or commit a crime. Funny thing about this,while I’m often armed, I have yet to commit a crime of violence. I have,now and then,exceeded the posted speed limit on the highway though,shame on me.

      2. A knife, like a sword, a gun, or a club, is a tool. You are the weapon. You may or may not use tools to inflict violence.

  21. Speaking of West Side Story. It’s the most unrealistic movie ever made, not because the gang bangers dance ballet. It’s the guy running through Spanish Harlem calling out “Maria! Maria!” and only one girl comes to the window.

    1. It’s like the Prince spaghetti commercial where the grandmother is leaning out of the window yelling “Anthony!” and only one boy comes running.

    2. That’s cause the rest of the Marias were busy cooking and cleaning for their men like they were supposed to be doing.

  22. Just another example that the supposed smart, enlightened people are actually primitives who thing objects have power to control behavior. They’re animists.

  23. …would impose too heavy a burden on cops and prosecutors.

    Isn’t this just another demonstration of where today’s Democrat Party has gone wrong? When faced with the choice of placing a hardship on voters – the effect being possible arrest – or placing a hardship on the state – the effect being fewer arrests – Cuomo chooses the former. New York is lagging behind other areas of the country in the realization this is what voting Democrat today gets you.

    1. So what I’m hearing is that you hate cops, you hater.

      1. Burden me… BURDEN ME!!!!!!!

  24. Wouldn’t a swithblade be easier for an injured paratrooper to open than a gravity knife?

  25. Mr. Sullum, you give numbers of people arrested for having these so-called gravity knives, but do we know how many people have actually been convicted of using them to attack somebody? Because I would be surprised if that’s a major problem.

  26. Does the legislature have the balls to override? By the way, this isn’t the only piece of garbage that graces the statute books of New York, be it City or State.

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