New York City’s Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., has been on a campaign to burnish his crime-fighting credentials and replenish the city’s coffers with an attack on retailers who sell pocketknives. In the past two months, companies including Eastern Mountain Sports, Home Depot, Paragon and Orvis have seen their inventories of folding knives confiscated and have been forced to make payments totaling $1.9 million – an estimate of their profits on sales of these knives in the past four years that retailers say is grossly overstated – in exchange for deferred prosecution.
At a press conference on June 17, Vance stood beside tables filled with more than 1,300 confiscated knives, claiming they were outlawed switchblades and “gravity knives” – an overzealous interpretation of a 1950s New York state law that bans such knives.
The American Knife and Tool Institute, a knife advocacy group, has identified many of the knives featured in Vance’s press conference and confirms that they ARE NOT opened by gravity. Instead, they must be opened by a practiced and pronounced movement of the wrist. This is a blatant distortion of the intent of the statute and a total misunderstanding of the knife design mechanisms involved.
“The DA is applying the gravity knife prohibition to a wide variety of knives that can be opened with one hand,” said AKTI president Goldie Russell. “Even the federal government amended the 1958 Switchblade Act last year to confine the gravity knife prohibition to the intent of legislators.”
Instead of understanding that such knives are used daily for activities including hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities as well as by electricians, construction workers and emergency personnel, New York is presuming all knives are carried only as weapons for unlawful use against another person.
“The DA’s office claims homicides and knife use in non-fatal stabbings to be a serious problem in Manhattan,” Russell said. “Yet according to the National Safety Council – in your lifetime you have a greater chance [1 in 81,701] of getting killed by lightning than residents of Manhattan had last year of getting killed with a knife [1 in 90,503].”
While knives are being removed from the shelves of lawful retail establishments, and thus not available to law-abiding consumers for purchase, the district attorney’s office is profiting handsomely from the issue.
“As part of the agreements and Office policy, nearly $1.9 million will be distributed to the City and State: 10 percent will be given to the State ($190K); 51 percent will be given to the City ($969,000); and the remainder ($741,000) set aside for our law enforcement partners,” reads a press release sent by Vance’s office. “Those funds will be available to other DA’s offices who want to partner with the Manhattan DA’s Office to continue this fight against illegal (sic) knives.” (Quote from Cyrus Vance Jr’s press release dated June 17, 2010.) Review entire press release available at http://www.manhattanda.org/whatsnew/press/2010-06-17.shtml)
According to retailers in New York and even in other states who have contacted AKTI, Vance’s office has given them the choice of making a heavy “contribution” to the DA’s office or face being reported to the federal government for possible violation of interstate commerce laws.
“It is obvious that Mr. Vance intends to make up for the city’s short fall of funds and at the same time build his political career on the backs of companies who make available to the citizens of New York a common everyday tool that is no more dangerous as a weapon than a ball bat, an ink pen or a brick that can picked up on almost any street in New York City,” Russell said.
“Even an automobile can easily be used to intentionally kill someone. When do we stop making the object the criminal and not the person using the object? Disarming law-abiding citizens never results in a decreased crime level.”
One notable concern voiced by retailers is that the DA’s office has not shown the kind of good faith that would be evident if their only desire were to remove “illegal” knives from the marketplace. The DA should have notified retailers that they believed were selling illegal merchandise so those stores could remove the offending items without having them seized or having to pay six-figure “contributions.”
The American Knife & Tool Institute is actively seeking methods to counter-act these actions by the Manhattan DA. The organization is currently seeking sponsors for a legislative solution in New York that is more along the lines of other states and the 2009 Federal Switchblade Amendment.
“We hope that citizens of New York will flood the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney with letters, emails and phone calls of protest and outrage,” Russell said. “Protest that government resources are being used against legitimate businesses that sell knives to law-abiding citizens who need them as a useful tool, instead of finding fiscally responsible ways to solve their financial problems.”
The American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI) is a non-profit organization (501(c)6) representing all segments of the knife industry and all knife users. Formed by concerned industry leaders after considerable discussion with individual knifemakers, knife magazine publishers, and a broad section of the knife community, AKTI has been the reasonable and responsible voice of the knife community since 1998. For updates on this issue and more about AKTI, please see our website at AKTI.org.