This week’s cover story is about the NYPD’s very strict — and some say ridiculous — interpretation of a state statute regulating “gravity knives.”
Under the legal interpretation used by the department and district attorneys in the five boroughs, almost any pocketknife can be considered an illegal weapon. Some people charged under the law face serious consequences — Richard Neal, a man profiled in our story, spent six years in prison for the pocketknife he was carrying.
But it seems that everyone’s favorite faux-conservative, Stephen Colbert, might also be a knife-toting criminal, at least under the stringent legal postures taken by law enforcement in the city.
As a knife advocacy group called Knife Rights first pointed out a few years ago, the host flashed a potentially illegal knife on his show in 2010. Right there on the ol’ TV.
The Benchmade-brand “spring assist” knife that Colbert is holding in the clip below is a variety that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., for one, considers illegal under state law. (Our story focused on a different aspect of New York’s knife laws, the gravity knife prohibition, because legal experts say it’s by far the more common charge, and the one being misapplied most egregiously, in their view.)
For all of his gun-loving, flag-waving talk, we never took Colbert for an actual criminal. But here’s the proof.
In reality, spring assist knives do tread very close to the legal definition of a switchblade. They’re not, most experts say, because the mechanism that releases the blade is attached to the blade itself, and isn’t a button housed in the knife’s handle, a critical part of the switchblade definition.
But under the all-encompassing standards used by New York City law enforcement, almost any knife can be shoehorned into a legal definition that makes them a serious crime even to possess.
In fact, it was only about two months before this show aired that Vance raided large retailers like Home Depot and Eastern Mountain Sports, confiscating knives essentially identical to the one Mr. Truthiness is waving around there like it’s Old Glory. Since Colbert’s show is taped in New York City, he was, by definition, “violating” the law simply by handling the thing.
We’ve reached out to Colbert’s publicist to see what he has to say for himself, and we’ll update this post if he decides to stop ducking the tough questions.