The SEPTA train station at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The SEPTA train station at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / Stephen Gutowski

Philly Democrats Introduce Switchblade Decriminalization

Expanded knife rights could be on the agenda for the Pennsylvania legislature this session.

Three Pennsylvania Democrats introduced a bill on Tuesday that would repeal the state’s criminal prohibition on automatic knives, including switchblades.

“These knives are commonly used by and serve a valuable purpose for outdoor enthusiasts like hunters, boaters, and hikers, and tradespeople like contractors, landscapers, and mechanics,” Senator Sharif Street (D.), who represents Philadelphia in the state Senate and is the prime sponsor of the bill, said in a memo circulated to fellow Senators. “Simply put, many Pennsylvanians are at risk of being swept up in the criminal justice system merely by possessing this tool that has many everyday practical purposes.”

According to Street, amending the state’s weapons code to remove automatic knives is a matter of addressing overcriminalization.

“Under my legislation, Pennsylvania’s prohibited offensive weapons statute would be amended to categorize these automatic knives as ‘dangerous weapons’ as opposed to ‘offensive weapons,'” Street said. “Importantly this change will criminalize automatic knives only when carried with the intent to commit an offense graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree or higher as defined under the Crimes Code.”

Street said this change to the code was particularly important in the context of racial justice. He pointed to multiple studies from both the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and the Stanford Open Policing Project that showed black drivers were disproportionately more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers and were more likely to be searched. He said these encounters create opportunities for otherwise law-abiding black men to get caught up in the criminal justice system.

“The mere possession of one of these knives when a young Black man is stopped by police is enough to get him a criminal charge,” he said.

The bill currently awaits a hearing in the state Senate Judiciary Committee. It is unclear if it will pick up enough momentum to pass the legislature, or if it will be supported by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

However, as Street points out, the momentum has been building nationwide for liberalized knife laws, and Pennsylvania remains one of the few states that still criminalizes automatic knives.

“Recently, twenty-three states have repealed or revised laws regarding the sale and possession of automatic knives,” he said. “Pennsylvania is among just seven states that still criminalize the mere possession of an automatic knife. It is past time for Pennsylvania to end this antiquated restriction and help protect Pennsylvanians from being impacted by an overzealous and overly punitive criminal justice system.”

UPDATE 1-13-2022 10:13 AM EST: This piece has been corrected. While the bill does include a preemption section, the language does not block localities from implementing their own knife restrictions as other preemption laws do. We apologize for the error. 

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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