New York has one of the most draconian and burdensome knife laws in the Country and as we have reported over almost a decade in this blog many innocent people have been caught up in New York’s knife law maze. Last week, however, after several prior attempts at changing the law, Governor Cuomo finally signed a law that will change New York’s knife laws.
As we wrote as early as 2010, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office made a deal with several retailers in Manhattan, including Home Depot and other major retailers for them to pay a financial penalty and stop selling gravity knives in New York. The problem was that these knives were being sold by companies who paid only a relatively small financial penalty while citizens, many african-american and latino youths were being arrested and given criminal records for buying these knives which were readily available. In 2016, we wrote another blog about this problem after the Village Voice wrote an extensive article about it. According to the Village Voice article, there had been as many as 60,000 arrests for gravity knives in the preceding 10 years which put gravity knives in the top 10 most prosecuted cases. Village Voice analysis also seemed to indicate that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos were prosecuted for gravity knives.
Finally Some Relief
As early as April 2016, we also wrote that a new case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court entitled Caetano v. Massachusetts could ultimately result in many of New York’s weapons laws being found to be unconstitutional. In Caetano, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment applied to not only firearms but all “bearable arms.” Therefore, outright bans on any such bearable arms would be hard to justify. Ultimately, the 2016 gravity knife amendment never passed, however, since that time Courts in New York have found bans on both Nunchucks and Stun Guns to be unconstitutional. More recently,a federal appeals court, without specifically overturning the law, raised questions about the implementation of New York’s gravity knife law. However, in March 2019, a Federal District Judge in New York City in Cracco v. Vance, ruled that New York’s gravity knife law was unconstitutionally vague.
Governor Cuomo Finally Signs a Bill Amending New York’s Knife Laws
Last week, after two previous vetoes of similar bills, and in a huge victory for Civil Rights in New York, Governor Cuomo finally signed a bill that would make legal to possess gravity knives in New York. Effective, May 30, 2019, “gravity knife” was deleted from the list of “per se” weapons listed under Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree. In addition, the term “gravity knife” was deleted from the definition of deadly weapon in the New York Penal and the definition of automatic knife. The term was also deleted from a number of other places in the penal law. Notably, the bans on Chucka Sticks and Stun Guns which were found to be unconstitutional by New York based Courts remain in the Penal Law as illegal. It remains to be seen what the exact impact of the new law will be. As of know, New York City still has bans in the Administrative Code of the City of New York on the possession of any knife with a blade length over 4 inches and the possession of a knife in plain view, often interpreted to include a knife clipped to a pocket. Therefore, it is likely that New York, at least New York City will remain hostile to knife owners.