Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is proposing a new definition that could be used to eliminate 8 of 10 legal pocketknives in the United States right now, according to activists who are gearing up to fight the plan.
The federal bureaucracy is accepting comments – written only – that must be received by June 21 before its planned changes could become final, but Doug Ritter of KnifeRights.org, said the implications of the decision would be far-reaching, since many state and federal agencies depend on the agency’s definitions to determine what is legal in the United States.
For a long time, those switchblades that have long stiletto blades that are spring-ejected powerfully from the side or end of the handle have been illegal in the United States, but now a review by the agency of its own approval in 2008 of a particular type of knife for import is raising serious alarms.
Ritter said the effect of the proposed change would be that the new design in knives, many of which contain a tiny spring to help the user pull open the blade and lock it into position, would be classified alongside those true weapons where the user just presses a button and the blade is ejected.
“They are saying that any knife that you can open quickly or any knife that you can open with one hand is therefore a switchblade,” Ritter told WND.
On his organization’s website there are suggested letters for consumers to reproduce and dispatch to both the Customs agency as well as their members of Congress over the issue.
Ritter suggested that up to 80 percent of the pocketknives sold in America today either are one-handed opening knives or so-called assisted opening knives – and they all suddenly would be classified as illegal switchblades.
The agency change came in a case involving a knife called the “VanHoy Assist,” whose importers were represented in a request for affirmation of its legality by a San Francisco law firm.
Such determinations are not unusual since an importer does not want to have a shipment of products sitting on a ship waiting for unloading only to have a federal agent call them illegal.
The knives first were approved by the agency in 2008. But only a few weeks ago, Frederick McCray of the agency’s Intellectual Property Rights and Restricted Merchandise Branch did a review.
“This is in reference to Headquarters Ruling Letter (‘HQ’) H032255, dated
August 12, 2008, which concerned the admissibility of the ‘VanHoy Assist,’
a ‘release-assisted’ knife described below, pursuant to the Switchblade
Knife Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1241, et seq. In the referenced ruling, U.S. Customs
and Border Protection (hereinafter ‘CBP’) determined that the knives at issue
were admissible into the United States pursuant to the Switchblade
Knife Act. We have reconsidered the rationale of, and the admissibility determination
made in HQ H032255 and found both to be in error. For the reasons
set forth below, we hereby revoke HQ H032255,” the letter said.
That could mean headaches for the knife industry, Ritter said.
“Customs,” continued Ritter, “is the only place where the switchblade is interpreted in various rulings. Whenever a federal, state, or local jurisdiction is looking at what a switchblade is, whenever there’s a court case or whatever … they will look to the feds.”
He said the change came after the incoming administration of President Barack Obama reassigned some managers at the agency.
“What we do know is when the incoming administration reshuffled assignments at Customs, it moved the responsibility for knives and switchblades from one organization with Customs to a new organization,” he said. “That group has, as far we can tell, virtually no experiences, background or anything with knives.”
Officials with Customs told WND that they do not comment on issues during an open comment period, such as going on for the regulation change right now.
“We do not comment on pending proposals for changes in our rulings under 19 USC 1625. We are in the comment period and we will carefully weigh the comments that we receive before deciding whether to proceed to a final decision,” the prepared statement e-mailed to WND said.
Ritter said the reason for the change isn’t clear, “but certainly this administration is no friend to things like knives and guns,” he said.
A successful campaign to change the definition would mean thousands would be out of work in the knife industry, and the impact would have far-reaching effects.
For example, if someone would be caught with a newly-illegal “pocketknife,” would the resulting charges be structured to allege that person was dangerous or had an illegal weapon, and how would that change the defendant’s right to own a firearm, he wondered.
“If this law were to pass and you cross the state line with a folder (pocketknife) in your pocket, it would be a federal felony,” he said.
In reality, pocketknives are tools, he said. “Certainly they can be used as a weapon.” But so could a screw driver or other hand tools.