Assemblymember Quart, Senator Savino, Advocates Laud Passage of Gravity Knife Reform, Call on Governor to Sign Bill into Law

Reform to one of New York’s most discriminatory laws overwhelmingly passes both houses of the Legislature

New York, NY – Assemblymember Dan Quart, Senator Diane Savino, Tina Luongo of The Legal Aid Society, and Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, today called upon Governor Cuomo to take swift action and sign gravity knife reform into law. Following strong bipartisan support in the Assembly, the Senate last night voted unanimously (62-0) to reform New York’s antiquated and discriminatory gravity knife laws. The bill is now ready to be transmitted to the Governor’s desk.

“All New Yorkers deserve a fair and equitable justice system,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “Reforming our outdated gravity knife laws will go a long way to keep thousands of New Yorkers, particularly those of color, from facing erroneous and discriminatory arrests and criminal charges. New Yorkers have spoken loud and clear for a second year in a row that they want change. I urge Governor Cuomo to recognize the far reaching support for gravity knife reform, sign this legislation into law, and make New York more just.”

This bill would fix a vaguely worded law that has criminalized working class New Yorkers and targeted minorities. It is an amended version of the bill passed by the Legislature in 2016. After conceding the 1950s law was “absurd,” Governor Cuomo then vetoed the reform. According to recent data released by Legal Aid, around 4,000 individuals are unfairly arrested and charged with gravity knife possession each year, with the vast majority of arrests being Black and Hispanic men.

“This bill addresses a longstanding injustice in the law that is causing the arrest of countless innocent people,” said Senator Diane Savino. “Electricians, stagehands, construction workers, handymen and women, custodians, and other workers are being brought into the criminal justice system for simply carrying a necessary tool of their trade. This bill will eliminate confusion for both workers and law enforcement about what kinds of knives are illegal to possess. It will ensure that innocent workers are not arrested, and that only individuals who try to use knives to harm others are prosecuted. I have been happy to carry this important bill with Assemblymember Quart and I very much hope the Governor signs it into law.”

Under this outdated law, any folding knife that opens by “gravity or the application of centrifugal force” is classified as a weapon. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office and NYPD have used this broad interpretation to treat the possession of any knife that can be forced to open after multiple tries with the flick of a wrist as a criminal offense. Thousands of law-abiding citizens en route to their jobs have been arrested and criminally charged for possessing a tool of their trade and a requirement for their job.

“Last night’s vote reaffirms the need for statewide gravity knife reform,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This is the second straight year that the Legislature has passed this bi-partisan legislation almost unanimously. The law as written disproportionately impacts communities of color and working families. Governor Cuomo has a rare second chance to right last year’s ill-advised veto and enact meaningful reform into law now.”

The latest data has shown 86% of people stopped by NYPD under this section of the penal code being Black or Hispanic. Only 11% are White. Of those stopped, 65% of White people are released without arrest. Only 44% of Black or Hispanic people stopped are released.

“Brooklyn Defender Services believes this legislation to clarify the definition of gravity knives for law enforcement and the courts is necessary and urgent. Under existing law, thousands of New Yorkers, including hundreds of our clients, are criminalized every year for carrying tools of the job that can be purchased at major retailers and local hardware stores. Most are Black and/or Latino, and nearly all are laborers, including stagehands, carpenters, and movers in uniform. After spending a night in a holding cell and missing work to appear in court, they face the prospect of being permanently labeled a criminal, with ‘criminal possession of a weapon’ on their records forever. Immigrants with legal status may even lose their status and be deported due to this conviction for carrying work tools. Reform is needed now to correct this injustice, and thanks to the Senate and the Assembly, the Governor has the power to get it done today,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, a comprehensive indigent legal service organization serving more than 30,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year.

Gravity knife reform has been supported by a broad coalition of interests, including the Legal Aid Society, the NRA, the New York Times editorial board, Brooklyn Defender Services, IATSE, the Chief Defenders Association of New York, Safari Club International, the AFL-CIO, NYCLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the criminal law faculty at Yale Law School.