NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF LEGISLATION submitted in accordance with Assembly Rule III, Sec 1(f)
BILL NUMBER: A5944 REVISED MEMO 03/12/2019
TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the penal law, in relation to gravity
PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL:
This bill will remove provisions of the penal code used to criminalize
basic utility knives
SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS:
Section 1 removes "gravity knife" from subsection 1 of section 265.01 of
the penal law.
Section 2 removes "gravity knife" from subdivision 12 of section 10.00
of the penal law.
Section 3 removes "gravity knife" from subdivision 5-c of section 265.00
of the penal law.
Section 4 removes "gravity knife" from subdivisions 1 and 2 of section
265.10 of the penal law.
Section 5 removes "gravity knife" from subdivision 3 of section 265.15
of the penal law.
Section 6 removes "gravity knife" from paragraphs 2 and 6 of subdivision
a of section 265.20 of the penal law.
Section 7 sets the effective date.
In the 1950's, amid a widespread fear of knife crime, the legislature
enacted a sweeping ban of switch blades and gravity knives. Decades
later, coinciding with the rise of stop and frisk policing in New York
City, the application of this law spread to any common pocket knife,
resulting in thousands of arrests.
Those who have been arrested include:
Manhattan artist John Copeland, arrested in the East Village after
having been previously assured by officers that his knife was legal. He
was offered an ACD.
Bernard Perez, an electrician who used his knife to strip wire, cut
fruit and clean his fingernails. Perez sued the city for false arrest
and won $57,000.
Carsten Vogel, who was a staunch NYPD supporter until he overheard a
conversation between the officers who arrested him for gravity knife
possession. Their casual references to arrests in pursuit of promotions
made Vogel feel like "a pawn."
Bed-Stuy folk singer and record label owner Christopher Stelling was
arrested for possession of a gravity knife that he used to open boxes in
his home office. Stelling is suing for violations of his 4th and 14th
Amendment rights and litigation is ongoing.
Jonathan Worthley, a sculptor who uses his knife in his work, had his
case dismissed and was awarded $7500 after suing.
Richard Neal, who had prior convictions, served 6 years in prison after
he was stopped for gravity knife possession.
Richard Neal is Black. John Copeland, Carsten Vogel, Christopher Stell-
ing and Jonathan Worthley are all White. At every step in the process of
gravity knife arrests, Black and Hispanic people fare worse than white
people. 86% of all arrests for gravity knife possession are of Black or
Hispanic suspects. 35% of White suspects stopped for a gravity knife are
arrested while 56% of Black or Hispanic suspects are.
Beyond the inequities that are clearly replicated in prosecutions of
gravity knife possession cases, there is a larger question of whether
these knives pose a threat to public safety. A widely reported increase
in slashings in 2016 in New York City, proved to be statistically insig-
nificant natural variation, not the beginning of an uptick in violent
crime. What's more, the only difference between an illegal gravity knife
and a legal fixed-blade knife is a gravity knife's folding mechanism.
The idea that a folding knife is somehow more dangerous than a knife
that doesn't fold is patently absurd. It is clear from the data that
stopping thousands of law-abiding New Yorkers for carrying common pocket
knives cannot contribute to public safety. Rather, these stops distract
officers from doing the work of keeping New York safe while unfairly
pushing New Yorkers with no unlawful intentions into the criminal
This bill solves this problem by clarifying that the Legislature's
intent is not to ban pocket knives. The Legislature intended to ban
switchblades and gravity knives, two very specific kinds of weapons with
very specific characteristic mechanisms. The Legislature did not intend
to ban common folding knives that are widely available for purchase
throughout New York State. Since the 1958 ban US manufacturers have
ceased to produce the original gravity knife and they cannot be found at
retailers in the state, or even anywhere in the US. Many states have
repealed knife bans, including New Hampshire, Missouri, Alaska, Indiana,
Tennessee and Maine with no accompanying increase in crime. It's time
for New York to join them.
PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY:
This is a new bill.
STATE OF NEW YORK
S. 3898 A. 5944
2019-2020 Regular Sessions
SENATE - ASSEMBLY
February 20, 2019
IN SENATE -- Introduced by Sen. JACKSON -- read twice and ordered print-
ed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Codes
IN ASSEMBLY -- Introduced by M. of A. QUART -- read once and referred to
the Committee on Codes
AN ACT to amend the penal law, in relation to gravity knives
The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assem-bly, do enact as follows:
1 Section 1. Subdivision 1 of section 265.01 of the penal law, as
2 amended by chapter 1 of the laws of 2013, is amended to read as follows:
3 (1) He or she possesses any firearm, electronic dart gun, electronic
4 stun gun, [gravity knife,] switchblade knife, pilum ballistic knife,
5 metal knuckle knife, cane sword, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, plastic
6 knuckles, metal knuckles, chuka stick, sand bag, sandclub, wrist-brace
7 type slingshot or slungshot, shirken, or "Kung Fu star"; [or]
8 § 2. Subdivision 12 of section 10.00 of the penal law, as amended by
9 chapter 257 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as follows:
10 12. "Deadly weapon" means any loaded weapon from which a shot, readily
11 capable of producing death or other serious physical injury, may be
12 discharged, or a switchblade knife, [gravity knife,] pilum ballistic
13 knife, metal knuckle knife, dagger, billy, blackjack, plastic knuckles,
14 or metal knuckles.
15 § 3. Subdivision 5-c of section 265.00 of the penal law, as added by
16 chapter 510 of the laws of 2007, is amended to read as follows:
17 5-c. "Automatic knife" includes a stiletto, a switchblade knife, [a
18 gravity knife,] a cane sword, a pilum ballistic knife, and a metal
19 knuckle knife.
20 § 4. Subdivisions 1 and 2 of section 265.10 of the penal law, as
21 amended by chapter 257 of the laws of 2008, are amended to read as
EXPLANATION--Matter in italics (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
 is old law to be omitted.
S. 3898 2 A. 5944
1 1. Any person who manufactures or causes to be manufactured any
2 machine-gun, assault weapon, large capacity ammunition feeding device or
3 disguised gun is guilty of a class D felony. Any person who manufactures
4 or causes to be manufactured any switchblade knife, [gravity knife,]
5 pilum ballistic knife, metal knuckle knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon,
6 plastic knuckles, metal knuckles, Kung Fu star, chuka stick, sandbag,
7 sandclub or slungshot is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
8 2. Any person who transports or ships any machine-gun, firearm silenc-
9 er, assault weapon or large capacity ammunition feeding device or
10 disguised gun, or who transports or ships as merchandise five or more
11 firearms, is guilty of a class D felony. Any person who transports or
12 ships as merchandise any firearm, other than an assault weapon, switch-
13 blade knife, [gravity knife,] pilum ballistic knife, billy, blackjack,
14 bludgeon, plastic knuckles, metal knuckles, Kung Fu star, chuka stick,
15 sandbag or slungshot is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
16 § 5. Subdivision 3 of section 265.15 of the penal law, as amended by
17 chapter 257 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as follows:
18 3. The presence in an automobile, other than a stolen one or a public
19 omnibus, of any firearm, large capacity ammunition feeding device,
20 defaced firearm, defaced rifle or shotgun, defaced large capacity ammu-
21 nition feeding device, firearm silencer, explosive or incendiary bomb,
22 bombshell, [gravity knife,] switchblade knife, pilum ballistic knife,
23 metal knuckle knife, dagger, dirk, stiletto, billy, blackjack, plastic
24 knuckles, metal knuckles, chuka stick, sandbag, sandclub or slungshot is
25 presumptive evidence of its possession by all persons occupying such
26 automobile at the time such weapon, instrument or appliance is found,
27 except under the following circumstances: (a) if such weapon, instrument
28 or appliance is found upon the person of one of the occupants therein;
29 (b) if such weapon, instrument or appliance is found in an automobile
30 which is being operated for hire by a duly licensed driver in the due,
31 lawful and proper pursuit of his or her trade, then such presumption
32 shall not apply to the driver; or (c) if the weapon so found is a pistol
33 or revolver and one of the occupants, not present under duress, has in
34 his or her possession a valid license to have and carry concealed the
36 § 6. Paragraphs 2 and 6 of subdivision a of section 265.20 of the
37 penal law, paragraph 2 as amended by chapter 189 of the laws of 2000 and
38 paragraph 6 as amended by chapter 1041 of the laws of 1974, are amended
39 to read as follows:
40 2. Possession of a machine-gun, large capacity ammunition feeding
41 device, firearm, switchblade knife, [gravity knife,] pilum ballistic
42 knife, billy or blackjack by a warden, superintendent, headkeeper or
43 deputy of a state prison, penitentiary, workhouse, county jail or other
44 institution for the detention of persons convicted or accused of crime
45 or detained as witnesses in criminal cases, in pursuit of official duty
46 or when duly authorized by regulation or order to possess the same.
47 6. Possession of a switchblade [or gravity knife] for use while hunt-
48 ing, trapping or fishing by a person carrying a valid license issued to
49 him pursuant to section 11-0713 of the environmental conservation law.
50 § 7. This act shall take effect immediately.