Bloomberg Law’s® extensive network of reporters and editors helps subscribers to stay ahead of legal
By Lance J. Rogers
Jan. 5 — There is no Second Amendment right to carry a kitchen knife in public, a sharply divided Washington Supreme Court ruled Dec. 31.
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Charles K. Wiggins characterized the knife in this case as a “utility tool,” which he said is entitled to no more protection than a frying pan, rolling pin or any other culinary utensil that is capable of being converted into an instrument of self-defense.
“While almost any common object may be used as a weapon, that does not necessarily mean that possession of otherwise innocuous objects that could be wielded with malice will trigger the constitutional protections afforded to ‘arms,' ” the court said.
The court agreed with most modern decisions that have held that the right to bear arms isn't limited to guns, but also includes the right to carry less lethal weapons.
However, the court added, those “weapons” must be of the type that law-abiding citizens traditionally turn to for self-defense.
The knife that Wayne Anthony Evans had in his front pants pocket—which was characterized by the arresting officer as a “kitchen knife” or a “paring knife”—doesn't fall into that category, the court said.
Evans was convicted of violating Seattle Municipal Code 12A.14.080, which makes it unlawful to carry concealed or unconcealed “any fixed-blade knife and any other knife having a blade more than 3½ inches in length.”
The police found the knife after they stopped Evans for speeding and asked him if he had any weapons. Evans told the officer he had a sheathed knife in his pocket and claimed he carried it for self-defense purposes.
The court said its ruling was consistent with decisions from other states that have reasoned that items like switchblades, dirks and billy clubs qualify as “arms” for purposes of a Second Amendment analysis.
In those decisions, it said, the courts all found that the historical origins and traditional uses of those weapons supported the conclusion that they were customarily used for self-defense.
By contrast, it said Evans's knife was a culinary tool and he pushed the envelope too far by arguing that a utensil customarily used to cut fruit and vegetables fits that traditional definition.
“Were we to adopt Evans's analysis and hold that a kitchen knife was a protected arm because it could be used for self-defense, there would be no end to the extent of utensils arguably constitutionally protected as arms,” the court said.
The majority conceded in a footnote that many knives banned by the Seattle ordinance might qualify for Second Amendment protection.
“In a different case under appropriate facts, the ordinance's ‘broad prohibition' on carrying arms for purposes of self-defense may well be constitutionally infirm,” it said. However, it added, it didn't need to reach that issue because Evans's as-applied challenge to the ordinance failed to meet the threshold showing that his knife qualified as an “arm.”
In a dissent joined by Justices Charles W. Johnson, Susan Owens and Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst argued that all fixed-blade knives carried for personal security ought to be protected regardless of their design because historically knives have always been regarded as “militia arms.”
“I would hold that the SMC, as applied to Evans—a law-abiding citizen possessing a fixed-blade knife for self-defense—is presumptively unconstitutional under the Second Amendment,” Fairhurst wrote.
This stance is consistent with that taken by knife-rights advocacy groups like Knife Rights Inc, which argue that there is a strong history of law-abiding citizens carrying knives for lawful purposes, including self-defense.
Because there is no knife that is more dangerous than a modern handgun, these advocates say that blanket bans on the carrying of certain types of knives violates the Second Amendment, even using an intermediate scrutiny standard (see Kopel, Cramer & Olson, Knives and the Second Amendment, 47 U. Mich. J of Law Reform 167 (2013)).
Casey Grannis, of Nielsen, Broman & Koch PLLC, Seattle, Wash., argued on behalf of Evans. Richard E. Greene, of the Seattle City Attorney's Office, argued for the city.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at email@example.com
• ‘Dirk' knife—Protected in Connecticut, but not California
• Taser—Protected in Michigan, but not Massachusetts
• Billy club—Protected in Oregon and Connecticut
• Nunchaku—Not protected in Arizona; Second Circuit directed to revisit ruling upholding New York's ban
• Switchblade—Protected in Oregon, but not Indiana
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)