I sometimes do weird posts on weekends. This will be a weird one. The latest news on the Trump/Russia collusion doesn't add much to what we already knew, and the Senate is still just futzing around, so I'm going to write something different. Remember Freddie Gray? The guy in Baltimore whom racist cops beat to death for having the wrong color of skin? I know, it's hard to keep track of which innocent black guy was murdered by which batch of racist cops... Anyway, there's more to it. Let's talk about that.
Topics to be covered in this post include interesting issues like federalism, public policy design, pocket knife engineering, and the despicable evils of racism and musical theater.
Texas and Michigan just passed a pair of interesting laws. They repealed state bans on switchblades. This matters more than you think it does. First, a definition, because this is kind of critical here. You may think you know what a switchblade is. You probably don't. Switchblades are appealing to "mall ninjas," but scary to others, and that leads to bans, but in order to ban something, you have to define it. Problems invariably ensue.
Short version: any knife with a button in the handle that triggers a mechanism that releases the blade. The button being in the handle is critical because every major advance in the design of pocket knives, in terms of ease of deployment, has been aimed at creating a way to deploy the blade just as easily as a switchblade without putting a button in the handle.
For about half a century, federal laws have restricted sales across state lines of "switchblades." That's what the federal government can do. Why? Federalism. Congress can regulate interstate commerce, but flat-out banning something? Constitutional problems ensue. However, many states and localities have had even more restrictive laws. Why? Are switchblades actually, truly dangerous? They are actually less dangerous as weapons than any other knife, for two reasons. First, you know that clicky noise they make? That's called a clue that you are about to be attacked. That makes them the exact opposite of stealthy. Any weapon intended as an ambush weapon should, ya' know, try to not give warning that it is coming. Second, switchblades are mechanically weak. They operate with a spring. That spring is, mechanically speaking, a potential failure point. You know what you don't want on a weapon? A failure point. In fact, in order to make the mechanisms work, the blade almost has to have some either side-to-side or up-and-down movement when extended. We call that "blade play." Blade play is bad. It means the knife is unsafe. Unsafe is bad. Switchblades are stupid. They are ineffective and stupid. And they are particularly bad as ambush weapons. They are more dangerous than other knives, only to the person trying to wield them.
What use are they? Really, they have no use. None. They are stupid and useless. They are non-functional. A knife is a tool-- the oldest tool, really, and a switchblade is an objectively bad tool.
Why, then, do we have so many laws against them even though a basic kitchen knife is more dangerous? Notice, after all, that those knife attacks you keep seeing are done with kitchen knives, not switchblades. There's a reason...
Anyway, the serious, but unfortunate answer is that it has more to do with works of fiction, like West Side Story than anyone wants to admit. Switchblades=scary gangs. Particularly non-white scary gangs. Switchblade laws started right after West Side Story came out. Yes, really.
And yet, engineers are clever. Don't tell them that, but they are clever. Want to see how knife design has evolved in response? Remember I said that the definition of a switchblade is that the button to trigger the mechanism to release the blade is in the handle. The most popular design to mimic a switchblade without being a switchblade is what we call a "flipper." The way a flipper works is that the blade is held shut by the "detent" of the locking mechanism, and you press on the back of the blade, which extends out from the handle until you overcome the detent, and the knife blade just flies out. A properly designed and constructed flipper doesn't just open as easily as a switchblade, it does so without any springs, so you get rid of the failure points, and it does so without any "blade play." A properly designed flipper is superior to a switchblade in every way. The most mechanically interesting flipper I have seen is this one-- the Smock SK-23. I'm embedding a pair of videos by engineering knife geek, Nick Shabazz (PhD., Engineering, although a different kind of engineering), one reviewing the knife, and one disassembling it and reassembling it, to show you how it works. This one does have a button in the handle, but the button doesn't trigger a mechanism to release the blade, like a switchblade. Instead, you use a "flipper tab" to open the blade, and then the button disengages the lock to close the blade. It's a reverse switchblade. Spectacular engineering, and it makes a total mockery of switchblade laws because it is just as easy to deploy as any switchblade, but with none of the mechanical flaws. It is better than a switchblade, but may never have been invented were it not for stupid switchblade laws!
Cool engineering, right? This is what happens when you try to ban something. You must define it. Then, someone finds a loophole. How many times has this played out?
Which brings me to the restrictions that Texas and Michigan just lifted. Until recently, Texas and Michigan had restrictions on switchblades, or, "automatic knives." Why should anyone care? After all, aren't there way cooler knives anyway, like the "Smock SK-23," and of course, plenty of cheaper options?
Here is why you should care, aside from the general issue of not having silly laws on the books.
Picture, in your mind's eye, the kind of person arrested for a knife law violation. Do you picture some big, burly redneck fuck? Maybe a biker or a neo-nazi? WRONG.
Here is the face you should imagine
Yup, that's Freddie Gray. It took a long time to get there, but that's him. When the Baltimore cops decided to hassle him, it was over a "spring-assisted knife," which was actually legal in Maryland. Basically, the way that type of thing works is that the knife remains closed until you add enough force to either a thumb stud or flipper tab, then a spring takes over and opens the blade the rest of the way. Stupid toys, but still... The fucking racist pigs were looking for a reason to beat the living shit out of him. So, they called it an illegal knife, even though it was legal, used that as their excuse, and Freddie Gray wound up dying of injuries received in the process.
His knife was legal and he still died because of how cops handle knife laws. At least when the owner of said knife is black.
Oh, and remember that the real knife attacks are done with kitchen knives, not pocket knives anyway.
Knife laws are... unevenly enforced. Why? Because they're so obviously a joke. Here in Ohio, state laws are basically, "whatever the cop says," and local laws change as soon as you cross a suburban line. One of my default knives to carry is my Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 21 (Nick Shabazz hates this knife, but he's allowed to be wrong...). The blade is under 3 inches, because really, who the hell needs a fuckin' bowie knife? Compensate much, you fuckin' Texans?! Yeah, I'm messin' with you! However, there are places where even my Sebenza is illegal because there are places where a blade can't be longer than 2.5 inches. Really, though, are the cops going to hassle a white guy wearing a button-down shirt and a blazer carrying a Sebenza?
No. I, as a white guy, can carry a knife that is technically illegal, with little fear. My Chris Reeve Mnandi has a 2.75 inch blade, and Cleveland-proper technically has a law against anything over 2.5 inches, although there are loopholes. Still, are the cops going to break out a ruler and measure my... Mnandi? No. Does the term, "white privilege" ring a bell? However, cops might use a cheap, spring-assisted opener as an excuse to beat some black kid to death. Like they did to Freddie Gray. (Hell, they shot Tamir Rice to death for a toy). And that's the real point about these laws, or did you forget where this started? These laws are about race, and they always were. Switchblades are non-functional toys. Please don't buy or carry one. You are more likely to hurt yourself than accomplish anything with it, and even the terrorists and criminals know that they aren't any use for an attack. That's why they keep using kitchen knives. Knowing something about the history of these laws, though, is important, as well as how they are really enforced.
Freddie Gray was killed by racist cops, but they used knife laws as their excuse. Laws against switchblades and spring-assisted knives don't even make the SK-23 illegal. They just give cops the pretense to beat black kids to death if they think the kid might be carrying the wrong kind of knife, or at least decide to claim that. Me? My skin color protects me even if I cross the wrong suburban line with the wrong knife.
Texas and Michigan just made some progress, though. Still, be careful in Ohio, where the laws are an inconsistent mess. Unfortunately, what you can get away with carrying isn't about the law as much as the color of your skin.
That was dark. Here's some bonus country music...