Paring Knife Isn't Protected by Second Amendment

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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.

That's Not a ‘Knife!'

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.

Traditional Use Limitation

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.” 

Focus on Self-Defense

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 lrogers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

For More Information 

Full text at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/City_of_Seattle_v_Evans_No_906084_2015_BL_435678_Wash_Dec_31_2015.

SECOND AMENDMENT SCORECARD 

• ‘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