Maine to legalize switchblades for one-armed people

A Maine legislator has introduced a bill to make it legal for people with one arm to own and carry a switchblade (because you need two hands to operate a regular clasp knife). I actually quite like this idea, but think it's too narrow, I'd have worded it more like "lawful for people who, due to infirmity, disability or amputation find it difficult to operate a clasp-knife..." so people with arthritis, one-side paralysis, etc, could have and use that most useful of tools: a knife.
The Lewiston Sun-Journal reports that Rep. Sheryl Briggs has introduced LD 126, entitled "An Act to Allow a Person With One Arm to Possess Certain Kinds of Prohibited Knives." The bill would provide that Maine's "dangerous knives" law, which restricts switchblades, would not apply to the "possession or transportation of a knife . . . by an individual who has only one arm." This exception would allow single-armed Americans (male or female, of course, but probably male) the same access to folding knives that is enjoyed by the fully limbed.

According to the report, Briggs was asked to propose the legislation by a one-armed lawyer in her district, who pointed out that current law "utterly fails to accommodate" people who cannot use two hands to open a folding knife and who, I guess, have a need for that kind of knife rather than a regular one with a sheath or something for safety reasons. He also pointed out that a similar exception is already part of federal law.

Maine Bill Would Allow One-Armed Men to Use Switchblades

(Image: IMGA0174_tijuana, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from gregor_y's photostream)


  1. Why should they be illegal for use by anyone? It’s just a knife. Bans on assisted opening knives seemed to be predicated on the fears raised by the fifties teen exploitation films.

    1. Agreed. It’s absurd to make tools less useful because of irrational fears. And frankly it’s more dangerous in certain circumstances (like climbing) to have to use both hands to operate your knife.

    1. I was totally waiting for that.

      But I fail to understand why a right to bear arms doesn’t extend to knives, but extends to assault weapons. I mean, I know we have debates about gun rights all the time, but I’m just talking about consistency.

  2. Why not just use a box-cutter? I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those things. I’ve heard a guy with one can take down a skyscraper if he approaches the job in the right way.

  3. Any folding knife with a thumb-stud or a sufficiently large hole in the back of the blade (such as seen on the redesigned Swiss Army Soldier knife) can be opened with one hand.

    1. True! And if the knife is one like a liner-lock or frame-lock, it can also be easily closed with one hand, which may be even more important to this argument.
      This somewhat negates the state’s argument for legalization – much as I hate to say it, because I also believe that the banning of switchblades, butterfly knives and similar tools is the result of baseless anti-crime hysteria.

  4. These knife laws were probably invented to make it easy to pull street rips on gang members and have something to prosecute them on. Does anyone know the history?

    1. You are so right, that whole sentence “shall not be infringed” is so damned ambiguous.

      If they had anticipated todays weapons development they would have included the clause they at the time were considering: “any weapon useful or in common military use”

  5. Cory, this is just a bill, so I’ll nitpick and suggest your header should read “Maine bill would legalize…”, not “Maine to legalize…”. It hasn’t happened and may not happen. BTW-love BB!

  6. “current law ‘utterly fails to accommodate’ people who cannot use two hands to open a folding knife and who, I guess, have a need for that kind of knife rather than a regular one with a sheath or something for safety reasons”

    A few comments.

    First, wearing a sheath knife is considered provocative in some municipalities (although I’m sure they would not be any happier with a switch blade). A pocket knife can be more discreet.

    Second, after the civil war, disabled soldiers used knives that could be opened against a seam or pocket of a pair of jeans. They had a U-shaped notch at the end of the blade. Nowadays there are many and various designs that allow one-handed opening from simple thumb-studs to elaborate spring-assisted designs.

    The summary of the law would seem to cover a wide range of designs rather than the classic push-button stiletto:

    “This bill provides an exception to the prohibition against possession of a knife that has a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure or that has a blade that opens, falls or is ejected into position for an individual who has only one arm, based on a federal exemption.”

  7. I’ve got to agree with the many previous commenters who wonder why switchblades are illegal in the first place. They’re certainly no more dangerous than fixed-blade or folding knives of similar length. They must have been outlawed solely on the grounds that, half a century ago, gang members and other delinquents liked to carry them. But outlawing switchblades solely because of their popularity among young hoodlums would be nearly as absurd as outlawing the wearing of certain colors because those colors are associated with street gangs. Some laws are simply the product of irrational paranoia and prejudice, and ought to be stricken from the books.

  8. I hope more states make it legal for everyone. It is rediculous they are banned. They were demonized and banned as a knee-jerk reaction (like the comics code authority).

    Fortunately, Missouri allows you to own, but not carry, a switchblade, so I stand to inherit my dads Navy survival knife.

  9. I agree that they should be legal for everyone, but there are lots of alternatives. For example, I have a Kershaw Speedsafe knife which is effectively a switchblade. It’s spring “assisted.” A portion of the blade protrudes from the spine. Press on it and the knife springs open. The legality comes down to whether the user pushes a button or must touch the blade itself.

  10. Approximately 17 years ago I was crossing the border between Tijuana and San Diego. Along with the poorly made knock off items my wife had purchased I had also bought a switch blade on a whim. Customs confiscated it and took me to a side room. The first question out of their mouth was “Are you a one armed man?”. I lol’d

  11. I thought assisted-open knives were already legal. (they are here in VA, anyways). Frankly, I’m glad EMTs that show up to accidents and such have nearly instant access to a blade.

    Being from CA, I was raised hearing about the evils of “switchblades” and other *dangerous* items. But, it takes about 3 seconds of holding one to realize how ridiculous it is to ban something based on appearances and bigotry.

  12. Yeah, the BoingBoing headline is misleading. This is just a bill… bills that never get adopted are introduced all the time.

  13. I agree that your wording would be better. The law should not apply only to those with one arm but anyone that only has use of one arm…

  14. I think most of the switch ban laws were passed before the “one-handed” knives, like Spydercos, became popular.

    I remember when Portland, Oregon legalized switchblades after a lawsuit by a person who only had the use of one hand, but they just dropped the ban entirely, because someone actually realized that the spring didn’t make the knife any more dangerous.

    But yes, it’s part of our whole “ban things because they’re scary looking” concept. A a barrel shroud doesn’t make a gun any more dangerous, but it LOOKS mean, so it was one of the 4 or 5 criteria that used to classify a gun as an “assault weapon” in California.
    (which is a totally meaningless term, but again, it SOUNDS scary)

  15. I’m not a fan of the wording:

    “possession or transportation of a knife . . . by an individual who has only one arm.”

    If you’re missing a hand , or you have an accident that cuts your arm off at the elbow — you’re not covered. And what if you have nerve damage and have an arm , but have no feeling/mobility?

  16. This is absurd.

    There are plenty of legal one-handed opening knives available, such as the one handed forester from Victorinox.

    There are even assisted opening knives that just barely skirt switchblade/gravity knife legality laws.

    This is a clever way to enable manufacturers to produce a product that will be sold illegally.

    The real issue here is legality of a concealable tool/potential weapon. Lets deal with that like adults.

  17. Authorizing knives which can be operated one-handed can be very different from authorizing switchblades. A gravity knife or butterfly knife works just fine one-handed without requiring the switchblade’s spring. I know several people who have worked normal folding knives to the point where a fingernail to lift the blade slightly and a sharp wrist-snap are enough to open the knife. And a nonfolding sheath knife doesn’t require opening at all.

    So I consider the proposed law — at least as described in brief — suspect; it sounds like the wrong fix for the stated problem.

    Whether switchblades should be considered to cross the line from primarily-tool to primarily-weapon is a separate question and should be considered explicitly. As is, there’s a strong scent here of a manufactured excuse and failing to distinguish bathwater from baby.

  18. Although I have several switchblades in my collection, I would have no interest in carrying them even if it were legal to do so. I do not like the idea of a springloaded blade in my pocket.

    As others have said, many knives have thumbstuds, thumb-holes, or Carson flippers which give all of the advantages of a switchblade with none of the drawbacks.

    Switchblades are good, dramatic movie props, but dangerously impractical, IMO.

  19. Seconding what TimeMachine and nox have said — assisted opening knives are great, and might as well be switchblades. Most of my knives are assisted and I love them. All can be opened with one hand, and are legal. See also:

  20. All this law will do will be to encourage criminals to cut off one of their arms so they can legally carry switchblades. Bad idea.

  21. Been a long time since I’ve used one of those archaic “you need two hands to open this knife” knives. I’ve modded some of them that had right-handed thumbstuds to be left-handed, but that’s it.

    If you’re holding onto a rope that you want to cut quickly, why would you want a knife that required you to DROP the rope in order to be able to cut it?

    So yes, as others have said: either the one-armed lawyer is uninformed about the wealth of modern 1-handed knives, or has a more complex goal with the bill.

  22. Here in Boston it’s illegal to carry ANY knife with a blade longer that 2.5″! As a person who finds knives quite useful, this restriction is very annoying. My knives (and I have many) are all tools. I have never used any of my knives on a living being. Furthermore, a criminal who wants to carry a knife for stabbin’ purposes will just ignore the ordinance. Knives are extremely easy to obtain. The only people who will follow the law are people like me, who want to be good and law-abiding. As a result my EDC knife is a Spyderco Ladybug Salt, with a blade length of 1 and 15/16 inches. Works great for most tasks, but it’s uncomfortably small in the hand. Still, I can do a one-hand opening pretty easily.

      1. No, not really. I just googled around for Massachusetts/Boston knife laws when I moved here.

        I don’t think that argument is “dumb” in this context. The 2.5″ limit is completely ineffective at stopping criminals from using longer blades. No criminal is going to think “oh man, if only I could carry a longer knife”. If they want to carry a longer knife, they’ll carry a longer knife. They are available at several stores in the city and on hundreds of websites online. Stabbings happen all the time here. Even our heavy restrictions on firearms do practically nothing. Shootings happen almost every week, and the guns being used are certainly not registered.

        My point: These laws don’t stop criminals from obtaining and using weapons, they just delude us into thinking we are safer. If that’s not “security theater”, then I don’t know what is.

        1. “These laws don’t stop criminals from obtaining and using weapons, they just delude us into thinking we are safer.”

          No: but they will allow us to punish people for merely having them, and thus hopefully thereby allow us to avoid the costs and bother of actually waiting until they are used.

          “Delude us into thinking, etc….”?

          Perhaps so. Nevertheless, to FEEL secure is (and has always been) a large part of what it means, practically speaking, to BE secure.

    1. The “criminals will still get the illegal thing” argument is dumb.

      Just because some terrorist could get his hands on an RPG, I still don’t want every drunken redneck jackoff that is pissed off at his local politician, abortion clinic or mailman, to be able to easy buy one at his local gun store and kill people after getting through a jug of bad moonshine.

  23. Not every one armed person has full use of their remaining fingers. While I think bans on something as truly innocuous as a knife that just opens quickly should be eliminated I also think this law should extend to anyone who may have hand/finger related disabilities that makes it difficult to open even the nicer assisted knives.

    Personally, I find a well made “tactical” (a very poor term for this) switch blade to be very practical. One I would often borrow from a coworker years ago made my life much more happy when trying to do electrical and other work in awkward places.

    1. half-smooth half-serrated is awesome for cutting any kind of line/rope.

      I certainly hope that doesn’t make me a mall-ninja

  24. This doesn’t go far enough. People with NO arms should be specifically authorized to own and operate mind-controlled laser cannons.

  25. In california this is the current state. After an accident I had little use of my left arm for a couple years (pretty much all better now).

    While going through PT and rehabilitation the techs gave me a form to get signed by my doctor, allowing me to use “automatic opening” knives.

    I declined as I have always used a pocket knife that’s easy enough to use single handed anyway.

  26. Michigan already allows carry of automatic knives for people with one arm (only). I don’t know how common this is in other states, but it’s not a new concept.

  27. Oh, awesome. Now if I go to Maine on vacation, I’ll have to listen to douchebags sing about love and violence, until I leave.

  28. Is it really that difficult to operate a flip-open knife with a liner lock with one hand? I do it all the time…

  29. I carry an ultratech, a makora, or a troodon by microtech (alternate) never had any hassle from a badge toting douche yet.
    I love my autos
    I have a halo also.
    greatest knives I own :)

  30. You all have to remember that it wasn’t young hoodlums that caused the law, it was Hollywood and the movies they produced that got under this womans skin and it esculated into what you have now “The 1958 Switchblade Law”. I guess she figured that the movies would influence the youth and cause the kids to imitate the actors in the movies. Instead of banning the knives she should have had a ban on any movie that had a switchblade in it.

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