According to the the United States Federal Government, a switchblade is any knife that has a blade that “opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or operation of inertia, gravity, or both.”  At the federal level, it’s illegal to buy, sell, or trade switchblade knives between any of the 50 states and U.S. Territories (interstate commerce). In fact, the federal switchblade law clarifies that anyone who “knowingly introduces, or manufactures for introduction, into interstate commerce, or transports or distributes in interstate commerce, any switchblade knife” is breaking the law. The penalty is for breaking this federal law is a fine of no more than $2,000 or imprisonment for no more than five years, or both. That’s pretty stiff.

The current federal law, includes language that defines so-called “Assisted-Opening” knives as an exception to this law, as they are not opened by pressing a button in the handle or by inertia or gravity (or both). In fact, the federal law was amended in 2009 to specifically exclude “assisted-opening” knives (15 U.S. Code § 1244 Exception 5): (5) a knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife.

With very few exceptions, if you live in Texas and sell a switchblade knife to someone in Louisiana, you could end up with a $2,000 fine and go to prison for five years for committing a federal crime. But, if you live in Texas, and sell an assisted-opening knife to someone in Louisiana, you’re in the clear.

What’s the difference? At the core of it, what’s the real difference?  

Assisted-opening knives are everywhere these days and constantly improving. The innovations associated with assisted-openers have made them blazing fast. And frankly, they take little to no more manual dexterity to open than an “automatic” or “switchblade” knife. In fact, I personally believe that many automatic knives are harder to get open than some of the assisted-openers on the market. Manufacturers seem to make it hard to accidentally push a button or throw a switch on an automatic knife, because they don’t want it to deploy accidentally.

To me, there just isn’t any real, substantial difference between the two. They both can be opened easily with one hand. They both deploy their blades in tenths (if not hundredths) of a second, and yes, in the wrong hands, (like any cutting tool) they can both be just as dangerous. The justification that one is legal and the other illegal seems arduous at best. They just don’t seem different enough for one to carry such a stiff penalty and the other nothing.

We’re then left with a choice. Do we classify assisted-openers as automatic knives and enforce the ban, or do we finally make automatic (so-called switchblade) knives legal as well? Based on performance, outcome, and knife crime statistics, I think we’re simply arguing semantics now, but we want to hear what you think.

Should we repeal the federal switchblade law?