So What Knives ARE Legal in New York City, Anyway? The Answer Might Surprise You

You can legally carry some pretty serious knives in New York City.
You can legally carry some pretty serious knives in New York City.
Photo Credit: aarongilson via Compfight cc

Our cover story this week is about the thousands of people arrested in New York City in recent years for possession of common folding knives.

Constructions workers, plumbers, coffee shop workers -- even a Bible camp counselor -- have all been caught up in what many critics say is an unfair interpretation of a law first passed in 1956.

See also: Blade Stunner: How a '50s-Era New York Knife Law Landed Thousands in Jail, Padded Stop-and-Frisk Numbers, and Brought Right and Left Together

But a reader pointed out something the other day that bears following up on.

We talked a lot about New York's gravity knife statute, and how it has been interpreted by law enforcement in New York City to encompass virtually every pocketknife on the market today. But one point we didn't touch on in detail were the knives that are legal.

Here's what the reader, "Tagio," had to say:

"I am surprised, however, that the author did not further illustrate the absurdity of the law by contrasting, in greater detail, the illegal 'gravity knife' with the perfectly legal unless you have unlawful intent sub-4" fixed blade knife ..."

Tagio is right that the laws in New York make a strong distinction between folding knives and "fixed blade" knives, those that don't fold. As he or she points out, non-folding knives of four inches or less are perfectly legal to carry anywhere in New York City, unless you have unlawful intent. "Gravity knives," on the other hand -- which under the legal interpretation used by law enforcement in NYC can include virtually any folding knife -- are "per se" weapons, illegal even to have in one's own home.

Historically, knives that can be flicked open or otherwise quickly brandished have been seen as more dangerous, because they're ready for violence in a split second. It was part of the rationale for passing these laws to begin with. But the same, of course, can be said of fixed-blade knives. They can arguably be brandished even faster. They're probably more difficult to conceal, but only marginally.

As a visual aid, here are two examples. The knife on the left has a blade that's just barely under four inches, measured from the end of the wooden handle, and is perfectly legal to own and even carry on your person in the city. The knife on the right has a blade of about 2.5 inches, but with its extremely worn-out hinge, it could easily lead to arrest under the NYPD's view of the gravity knife statute.

The knife on the left is perfectly legal; the one on the right could get you sent to jail.
The knife on the left is perfectly legal; the one on the right could get you sent to jail.

Tagio again:

"A rational person reviewing the NYC knife laws would have to conclude that NYC actually PREFERS that you carry sub-4" fixed blade knives which are not per se illegal but only illegal if you have bad (criminal) intent, over the per se illegal "gravity knives" because the latter is just so much more scary/dangerous."

See also: Blade Stunner: How a '50s-Era New York Knife Law Landed Thousands in Jail, Padded Stop-and-Frisk Numbers, and Brought Right and Left Together


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