A study was recently published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform that examines knives and the 2nd Amendment. Noted and esteemed scholars and authors David Kopel, Clayton Cramer and Joseph Edward Olsen conducted the study. They determined from their study of the standard setting District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court ruling, along with other court rulings, that knives are indeed included and protected by the 2nd Amendment, as they are “arms” typically possessed by law-abiding people for lawful purposes, including self defense. The conclusion reached is that laws that restrict and regulate the possession and carrying of knives are unconstitutional and an infringement of the 2nd Amendment.
The study begins with some history and clarification of some of the various types of knives, which include bayonets, short swords, daggers, folding pocketknives, switchblades, butterfly knives and Bowie knives, among others. They show how knives can be used as tools for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to self-defense. It is also pointed out that knives are ubiquitous in our society, with virtually every household possessing some type of knife, not including table knives. The most common knife of all is the folding pocketknife, with estimates of at least 75% of American men carrying one on a daily basis.
Part II of the study provides criminological data that shows conclusively that knives are far less dangerous and deadly than firearms, statistically speaking. In comparisons of homicide rates and assault rates, there is no question that, all things being equal, one is more likely to suffer great injury or death when attacked with a gun versus being attacked with a knife. The data also shows that knives are far less likely to be used in the commission of a crime compared to guns.
In Part III of the study, the authors look at Bowie knives and some of the cases resulting from knife control in the 1800s. They show how some modern laws are holdovers from those days, when it could be argued that knives were deadlier than firearms. In the early 1800s, before the introduction and common usage of cartridge bullets, a firearm used black powder that was exposed to the elements, which could be rendered useless in humid or wet conditions. Most firearms were also single-shot. Therefore, in those days it was much more reliable to use some type of blade for close quarters combat or self-defense. Even though firearm technology has improved substantially since that time, making guns far more reliable and deadly than blades, many of the laws that restricted or prohibited the carrying of certain types of knives are still in existence.
The study goes on to show how knives are indeed classified as “arms” which should be protected by the 2nd Amendment. Using the definition of arms as provided by the Heller decision, and based upon dictionaries common during the Founding era, “arms” are “anything that a man takes into his hands, or uses to cast at or strike another.” The Heller decision also touched on the theory of the 2nd Amendment applying only to arms sufficient for militia use. The Supreme Court ruled that the “milita use” theory was secondary to the 2nd Amendment, as individuals possess a natural right of self-defense. However, for the sake of argument, since the anti-gun/anti-knife crowd like to use the “only for militia arms” theory in their defense of gun/knife control, the study proves that there is a rich history of knife use in warfare by militaries and militias alike, as even today most soldiers and fighters carry a knife as back up and for hand-to-hand combat.
The study also looks at the various standards of review and types of scrutiny used by courts. The authors conclude that, in a post Heller time frame, there is no type of scrutiny or standard that can rule knives as unprotected by the 2nd Amendment, since the more deadly and dangerous firearms have been deemed protected. Using this basis, it becomes obvious that laws that restrict or prohibit the possession or carrying of knives for self-defense are unconstitutional.
Finally, the authors state that knives are indeed covered as protected arms under the 2nd Amendment, as law-abiding people can use them for self-defense. They write:
“Statutes that ban or impose special restrictions based on how a knife opens, or on whether an opened knife can be locked open, cannot survive any form of heightened scrutiny analysis. Indeed, many laws regulating knives cannot even survive rational basis scrutiny. As we have previously observed, knives are among the arms that Americans have a right to bear, and their lower lethality relative to handguns means that there is not even a rational basis for laws that regulate carrying knives more restrictively than carrying handguns.”
Those of us who work to defend gun rights must not forget knife rights. A knife is a proven and trusted weapon that can be used for self-defense. A well-made knife is sturdy and reliable, will most likely not break, and never needs to be reloaded. They make an excellent back up weapon if a firearm runs out of bullets, jams or breaks. I, like a majority of people, carry one everyday. Check out the local statutes in your area, and if you suffer under prohibitive laws against the carrying of certain types of knives, call or write your local representative about it and ask them to change it legislatively. We, as 2nd Amendment supporters, must be sure we fight for the right to keep and bear all arms, not just guns.
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