Legislation to Amend a Controversial New York Gravity Knife Law Heads to Assembly

The original gravity knife bears little resemblance to the knives that currently land New Yorkers in jail.
The original gravity knife bears little resemblance to the knives that currently land New Yorkers in jail.
Photo courtesy of snyderstreasures.com

A Manhattan lawmaker will take another stab at changing a knife law that has led to the arrest of as many as 60,000 people in New York City over the last ten years and drawn criticism from all over the legal community.

Assemblyman Dan Quart will introduce a bill today to adjust the language of the state law, which was originally passed in the 1950s and was aimed at a switchblade-like weapon called a "gravity knife." In recent years the law has been enforced almost exclusively in New York City, where it has been used to arrest thousands of suspects carrying commonly available pocketknives. Construction workers, artists, and many others who use pocketknives for work have found themselves caught up in the aggressive enforcement.

Quart's bill would allow criminal penalties only when a suspect has "criminal intent" for the knife in his or her possession; currently, simply possessing a knife that can be opened with the flick of a wrist, the legal standard long accepted by the courts, can land you in jail, or even draw significant prison time. Amanda Wallwin, Quart's chief of staff, said "we expect it to pass easily...the real battle is in the senate."

See also: How a '50s-Era Knife Law Has Landed Thousands in Jail

Little has changed since the Voice published a lengthy article on the gravity knife law last fall. A constitutional challenge, filed by Second Amendment advocacy group Knife Rights, is ongoing in the courts, with oral argument expected on January 13. One arrest involving the law resulted in a settlement for "malicious prosecution", something that may signal that courts are turning against the statute as written.

Quart, a Democrat from New York's 73rd District, which includes the Upper East Side and Midtown East, introduced his legislative fix once before, in 2013. It successfully passed the assembly but stalled in the senate. In an odd reversal of typical ideological battle lines for a bill relaxing weapon laws, the majority of opposition in the assembly came from Republican lawmakers.

Last time around, Quart's bill was supported by groups like the Legal Aid Society and some trade unions. The language closely tracks that of a proposed fix offered by the Office of Court Administration, the official body of the state judiciary. The Voice's reporting suggested that the law's enforcement falls disproportionately on people of color; 86 percent of those arrested are black or Hispanic, and whites are nearly twice as likely to be let go when caught with a knife during a stop-and-frisk encounter as are their non-white counterparts.

If comments posted on Thee Rant — a verified, moderated message board for NYPD officers — are any indication, some cops just might support Quart's measure, too. (Although they are generally not big fans of the Voice.) We'll leave you with a few of their comments.

With respect to time (and redundancy), we'll just go with a blanket [sic] on all of this:

This collar is a favorite of the " NEW BREED" of cop. The saddest part I would see the rookies stalking the subways between 5-7pm to catch a construction worker wearing one so they could get there number and Big CPW arrest. This is why the public hates us. Cause discretion has been taking away and it's all about numbers.

- Retirednutjob

I know of cases where a Con Edison worker was stopped by cops for having a knife clipped to his belt.  That guy eluded arrest ONLY because his brother was a cop and he could prove it. I know of another incident in which the son of a  MOS attending Fordham University was arrested and put through the motherf u c k i n g system for possession of a knife.  That case was D.P.'d. 

These EMBARRASSING true stories are a clear example of how far the NYPD has drifted from it's core mission in the Impact ROBOT'S unending search for numbers. 

- FiftyOneFiveOh

I've seen too often, guys brought into the SH with "gravity" knives. Half them, decent looking folks, meaning construction workers, college aged kids, etc. ones you can tell weren't going whip out the knives and recreate a scene from West Side Story. Mostly a BS collar IMO.

- My Two Sense

I agree 100%...but again...in a pinch when a savage gets out of hand it should/could be used....

- RetBxMos

I'm not opposed to making the collar. If the timing'$ right for you or the mutt is in need of being collared then do so.

- O A Fan

Of course, there is also some obligatory Voice-bashing, but we've probably earned it...

There is NOTHING the Villiage Voice writes about Cops and/or law is good!

The ONLY thing that RAG is good for is to line the kitty litter box with, (even then most cars won't dump on it).

- RetBxMos

Shame on the officer who locks up a working man with one of these knives, but...

That law comes in handy, (back in the day and ESPECIALLY these days) when a stop gets out of hand. If a savage is in possession of one of these weapons....."click click...1 under" end of story....we dont make the laws...we are "suppose" to enforce them.

I repeat F#CK the Villiage Voice....liberal trash that HATES cops, but LOVES RATS & SchoolCRAFTY....

- RetBxMos

Nevertheless, this article is bringing up something that needs to be addressed. No way a construction worker or warehouse worker coming to and from work should be getting arrested or summonsed for their knives.

There was a time when a cop had discretion and used common sense when enforcing the law. Now we look at the public as a "number" to use to keep our steady tours and make OT and we wonder why the public hates cops.

- PJ

Thanks, PJ!

Send news tips to jcampbell@villagevoice.com
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