Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) proposal to designate any knife that opens using a spring- or release-assisted mechanism a switchblade, thus barring its import into the United States, has provoked outrage on Capitol Hill as well as among sportsmen organizations and knifemakers.
"This classification could render millions of law-abiding knife owners in violation of the law and expose major market retailers, manufacturers, dealers and importers subject to possible federal felony charges, and could drive domestic manufacturers and importers out of business, potentially costing thousands of jobs," Rep. Bob Latta (R-KY) wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
At issue is a proposed rule from early May, where CBP's Office of Regulations and Rulings published its decision to revoke earlier decisions, which allowed "certain knives with spring- or release-assisted opening mechanisms" as admissible under the Switchblade Knife Act.
Upon review, the letter noted, "[i]t is now CBP’s position that knives incorporating spring- and release-assisted opening mechanisms are prohibited from entry into the United States pursuant to the Switchblade Knife Act."
Jenny Burke, a CBP spokeswoman, told CQ Politics that the agency's new rules clarify previously conflicting rules.
The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 defined a switchblade as "any knife having a blade which opens automatically - (1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or(2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both." The law banned the manufacture, transportation, and distribution of switchblades inside the United States.
The proposal, reports CQ Politics, has angered not only knifemakers and traditional sportsmen groups, but the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). Much like Latta, the NRA believes the new rules would make hundreds of millions of knives illegal.
Moreover, Latta argues that the new rules violates the law's original intent.
"The intent of this regulation is to re-interpret the word 'inertia' so as to cover all knives using a spring (even a Boy Scout knife or multi-tool has one that maintains a knife's inherent bias toward closure) and contradicts the intent of Congress," he said in a press release.
The Joplin Independent reports CBP's new rules also contradicts its' previous rulings as to what constitutes a switchblade.
The redefinition reverses their ruling made late in 2004 allowing Friskars to import"utilitarian" knives for use by what they defined as a "wide assortment of people including fishing and hunting enthusiasts, electricians and repairmen" whom they contended needed a knife that they could open with one hand. It also negates a ruling in May 2006 for Columbia River Knife and Tool in which it was determined that their knives operating with a "slight spring action" were admissible since they were defined as "utilitarian" knives.
And while the new rules only restrict the import of knives deemed swithblades, knifemakers fear the precedent could spread into the domestic marketplace and run afoul of the interstate commerce restrictions of the Switchblade Knife Act. Under the law, "[w]hoever knowingly introduces, or manufactures for introduction, into interstate commerce, or transports or distributes in interstate commerce, any switchblade knife," can be fined or imprisoned or both.
According to The Washington Times, Latta and Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) failed to block the new rule in the House. Opponents of the measure, including Doug Ritter, executive director of Knife Rights Inc., say they will shift their efforts to the Senate to defeat the new rule.
Comments regarding the new rule ended last Monday, meaning the rules will go into effect by late July.
♦ Photo by Arabella*/Flickr