The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

N.M. court upholds ban on switchblades, suggests broader knife bans might be constitutional, too


Switchblade knife, slighly unfolded, on rough red metal surface.

From State v. Murillo (N.M. Ct. App. Jan. 21, 2015) (paragraph break added):

Viewed from any approach, the switchblade statute is a modest infringement. Because Section 30-7-8 bans only a small subset of knives, which are themselves a peripheral subset of arms typically used for self-defense or security, the statute effects an unsubstantial burden on the right to keep and bear arms. Cf. Heller I, 554 U.S. at 629 ("[T]he American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon…. [H]andguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home[.]").

And switchblades are designed for uses that are remote from the core of the right to keep and bear arms. Cf. id. at 635 ("[The Second Amendment] elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home."). Switchblades are specifically "designed for quick use in a knife fight." "[T]hey are more readily concealable [than regular knives] and hence more suitable for criminal use." Congress passed a statute in 1958, still in effect, that prohibits the transportation or distribution of switchblade knives in interstate commerce and possession within territories of the United States. The need for this law was "[t]he problem of the use of switchblade and other quick-opening knives for criminal purposes[.]"

The statement that "knives … are themselves a peripheral subset of arms typically used for self-defense or security" seems to suggest that the court would have upheld knife bans even more broadly, including bans that are not limited to switchblades. For cases concluding that knives are substantially protected by the Second Amendment, see this post; in particular, State v. Delgado (Ore. 1984) held that switchblades are constitutionally protected by the Oregon Constitution's "right to bear arms" provision—the New Mexico case expressly disagreed with Delgado on this.