The third time is obviously the charm. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed AB 5944 which removed the vague term “gravity knife” from the Penal Code. Cuomo had vetoed two previous passed bills which would have changed the law. He signed this bill in the face of both Federal court rulings and the realization that the Supreme Court probably would have changed the law anyway.
From his signing message:
As I review this bill for a third time, the legal landscape has changed. In March of this
year, the United States District Court for the Southern District ofNew York declared the State’s
existing “gravity knife” ban unconstitutional. As argued by many who have advocated for this
change in law, the court reasoned that the existing law could result in arbitrary and
While I remain aware of the cautious community voices, I cannot veto a bill passed by
the Legislature to address a decided constitutional infmnity in existing law, as recently affirmed
by a federal court. I remain confident that our law enforcement community will continue to keep
our communities safe by pursuing anyone who uses, or attempts to use, one of these knives in an
This is a huge win for Knife Rights who have been fighting in both the courts and in the New York State Assembly and Senate to rectify the injustices caused by the prior knife law. It is also a big loss for New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. who used the Penal Code to charge way too many honest people with violations of the gravity knife ban and who also used it to shake down a number of businesses.
Knife Rights was assisted in this battle by the New York Legal Aid Society whom they recognized in their statement below. Knife Rights is still warning people to be careful carrying a knife in NYC.
Nine years of hard work and effort, including eight years of
costly Federal litigation and the threat of losing big time at the U.S.
Supreme Court (see below), has finally convinced New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo to sign A5944,
repealing the state’s bans on Gravity Knives. Cuomo previously vetoed
two similar bills which Knife Rights Director of Legislative Affairs,
Todd Rathner, also worked on tirelessly in Albany.
bill leaves the definition of a gravity knife intact, the statutory
repeals make the knives legal, stripping New York City and District
Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. of their ability to continue to abuse the
definition of a gravity knife and continue to arrest and prosecute
people by claiming a common lock blade folding knife or utility knife is
an illegal gravity knife
The repeal is effective immediately.
Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter said, “After nine years fighting, it
is a relief to close the book on this extraordinary abuse of authority
by a corrupt system that has terrorized over 70,000 honest, law-abiding
people, disproportionately minorities, for simply carrying a common tool
used daily in their lives. I am thrilled that we and our partners
across the political spectrum in this fight have finally prevailed, but
it is a sad commentary on the state of politics and justice in New York
State, New York City and at the Second Circuit that it took this long
and that tens of thousands of innocent folks had to suffer so much for
“This is a big win for Knife Rights, the people of New
York, and for the sponsors who tenaciously fought to get these
injustices stopped. I am very proud to have worked with them on the
ground in Albany as we fought so long to get this done,” said Rathner.
Knife Rights congratulates our longtime legislative allies in this
effort, sponsors Assemblymember Dan Quart and Senator Diane Savino, as
well as Senator Robert Jackson, for gaining unanimous approval of this
bill this time around and for helping to assemble the coalition of
diverse organizations and politicians who urged Cuomo to sign the bill
after two previous vetoes of similar overwhelmingly passed bills.
“No stage hand, no plumber, no maintenance worker, no office worker, no
New Yorker should have to risk their freedom to carry a tool because of
a vaguely worded 1950’s era statute,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart.
“I’m proud to have been a part of this unlikely and diverse coalition
that included public defenders, union members, criminal justice reform
advocates and Knife Rights. Knife Rights’ tenacious 9-year fight in
Federal court against this unjust and unconstitutional enforcement
scheme proved an important element in this struggle.”
We are very thankful for the support of our friends at The Legal Aid Society who have been on the front lines in this fight.
Legal Aid Society’s Martin LaFalce said, “Repealing New York’s gravity
knife statute has been a team effort with Legal Aid and Knife Rights
partnering to lead the charge. Governor Cuomo’s signature was clearly
influenced by Knife Rights determined litigation strategy and
partnership with Legal Aid. Together we exposed the wrist flick test as
constitutionally absurd and NYPD’s enforcement of the statute flagrantly
We’d also like to credit journalist Jon Campbell whose series of articles starting in 2014 in the Village Voice
publicized these abuses and helped immeasurably to catalyze public
support for a solution. Also credit to VICE News who more recently highlighted this issue and Knife Rights’ efforts to solve it to a broad audience, further arousing opposition to this abuse.
this is unlikely to be the end of knife owners being harassed by the
New York Police Department. READ OUR WARNINGS BELOW on why knife owners
in New York and especially in New York City need to still be careful
about what knife they carry going forward and how they carry it in NYC.
Cuomo’s action on this bill came as briefing was completed in Knife Rights’ appeal of its federal civil rights case on these gravity knife arrests to the Supreme Court of the United States. With a strong case including a 4 to 1 circuit split against the Second Circuit on an important constitutional issue, three strong amicus briefs from across the political spectrum and, just recently, feeble and obfuscatory opposition briefs from NYC and DA, the possibility of Knife Rights’ case being heard increased significantly.
A conference to decide whether to take up this case is currently scheduled for June 13th.
A decision in favor of the plaintiffs against the City and DA Vance in
our case would make it much harder for the Second Circuit to abuse the
issue of vagueness, as they have in our case, to make other cases
opposed by these politicians go away, again, as they have also done
previously. That possibility was so concerning that even DA Vance, who
previously steadfastly opposed any reasonable solution and who is a
close confidant of Gov. Cuomo, reversed his prior opposition to the
Governor signing any bill that would stop his abuse.
As cited in the Governor’s signing statement, it didn’t hurt that in another case recently a Federal Judge in New York issued a very narrow ruling saying that the City’s “wrist
flick” test was, indeed, unconstitutional, although in limited
circumstances that did not substantially impact the ability of the City
and DA to continue the arrests and prosecutions. That case relied
heavily on the briefs in our case. But, despite its serious limitations
and the fact that NYC and Vance were working around it, that decision
provided some public cover for Cuomo and Vance without revealing their
real fear, losing at the Supreme Court in our case. They hope the
signing of this bill will moot our case.
Even better for Vance,
if they don’t lose to us in court, Vance won’t be forced to pay our
million dollar legal bills for eight years of Federal litigation, which
he’d consider doubly painful on top of the embarrassing loss he’s
facing. (This is also painfully illustrative, by the way, as to why we
oppose the Interstate Transport Act (S.542) in the U.S. Senate because
is leaves individuals and other open to similar financial abuse while
providing the appearance of solving a problem that it does not
NOTE: The repeal also applies to true gravity knives, such as the German Paratrooper Knife that we demonstrated in Federal Court. Please note the WARNING below as to New York City.
In particular, some of these aforementioned true gravity knives have
blades that are 4-inches or longer and would not be legal in NYC.
New York City Administrative Code still has an Under-4-inch Length
Limit and requires knives be carried COMPLETELY concealed.
Knife Rights recommends that you never carry your knife clipped to your pocket in New York City.
If you plan to carry a folding knife in New York City, we suggest that
if it has a pocket clip, you should remove it so you don’t inadvertently
clip it to your pocket after use. Even when covered by a jacket, simply
moving the jacket aside to get to a wallet has been enough to get folks
stopped. Always ensure your knife is completely concealed at all times,
including not “printing” on the outside of your clothing. In addition,
be extremely circumspect about using a knife for any purpose in a public
setting. Knife Rights suggests that you never carry a knife with a 4-inch or longer blade in NYC.
While there is nothing in the Administrative Code compelling or
allowing seizure of the knife in question, invariably the knife will be
taken by the officer and chances of it being returned are very low. In
cases where it has been returned is has taken months of effort and often
use of an attorney. Knife Rights recommends that you never carry a
valuable knife in NYC or one you would not want to lose. Knife Rights
strongly suggests that you not resist the officer seizing your knife as
that can lead to more serious legal complications.
For more information on New York City’s Administrative Code with regards to knives: https://kniferights.org/legislative-update/new-york-city-administrative-code-knives/
For more information on what to do when stopped or arrested: https://kniferights.org/if-arrested/
WARNING: Assisted-Opening Knives may be considered illegal Switchblade Knives in New York State.
On June 10, 2018, the highest court in New York State upheld the conviction of an individual in possession of an assisted-opening (spring-assisted) folding knife that
he used in his work under the theory that it was an illegal switchblade
knife under New York law. Essentially, this decision redefined what a
switchblade is under New York State law to include assisted opening
(spring-assisted) knives. This decision applies to the entire state, not
just New York City. The New York Police Department and DA Vance have
since been prosecuting those caught with assisted-opening knives as
having illegal switchblades. Knife Rights recommends that you do not carry an assisted-opening knife in New York.