It depends on what your definition of ‘or’ is

Following a link from Sebastian on efforts to block importation of common knives I found this:

Our interpretation of 15 U.S.C. § 1241(b) and 19 CFR 12.95(a)(1) is supported by case law. In Demko v. United States, 44 Fed. Cl. 83, 88–89 (Fed. Cl. 1999), the Court of Federal Claims, in analyzing a regulation regarding the grandfathered sale of ‘‘street sweeper’’ shotguns, recited the following interpretations of the word ‘‘or’’ as used in statutes and regulations:

‘‘Generally the term ‘or’ functions grammatically as a coordinating conjunction and joins two separate parts of a sentence.’’ Ruben v. Secretary of DHHS, 22 Cl. Ct. 264, 266 (1991) (noting that ‘‘or’’ is generally ascribed disjunctive intent unless contrary to legislative intent). As a disjunctive, the word ‘‘or’’ connects two parts of a sentence, ‘‘but disconnect[ s] their meaning, the meaning in the second member excluding that in the first.’’ Id. (quoting G. Curme, A Grammar of the English Language, Syntax 166 (1986)); see Quindlen v. Prudential Ins. Co., 482 F.2d 876, 878 (5th Cir. 1973) (noting disjunctive results in alternatives, which must be treated separately). Nonetheless, courts have not adhered strictly to such rules of statutory construction. See Ruben, 22 Cl. Ct. at 266. For instance, ‘‘it is settled that ‘or’ may be read to mean ‘and’ when the context so indicates.’’Willis v. United States, 719 F.2d 608, 612 (2d Cir. 1983); see Ruben, 22 Cl. Ct. at 266 (quoting same); see also DeSylva v. Ballentine, 351 U.S. 570, 573, 100 L. Ed. 1415, 76 S. Ct. 974 (1956) (‘‘We start with the proposition that the word ‘or’ is often used as a careless substitute for the word ‘and’; that is, it is often used in phrases where ‘and’ would express the thought with greater clarity.’’);

Emphasis added.

They go on to conclude:

In New York Ruling Letter (‘‘NY’’) G83213, dated October 13, 2000, CBP determined that ’’a folding knife with a spring-loaded blade [which could] be easily opened by light pressure on a thumb knob located at the base of the blade, or by a flick of the wrist’’ was an ‘‘inertia-operated knife’’ that ‘‘is prohibited under the Switchblade Act and subject to seizure. See 19 C.F.R. §12.95 (a)(1).’’ In NY H81084, dated May 23, 2001, CBP determined that 18 models of knives ‘‘may be opened with a simple flick of the wrist, and therefore are prohibited as inertial operated knives.’’ In HQ 115725, dated July 22, 2002, CBP determined that a ‘‘dual-blade folding knife’’ in which the ‘‘non-serrated blade is spring-assisted [and] is opened fully by the action of the spring after the user has pushed the thumb-knob protruding from the base of the blade near the handle to approximately 45 degrees from the handle’’ ‘‘is clearly a switchblade as defined in § 12.95(a)(4) (Knives with a detachable blade that is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism and components thereof.)’’

Again, emphasis added.

So now it appears you can be prosecuted for possession of a switchblade knife if the spring holding the blade shut is broken. It’s the Olofson case applied to knives. And it appears they are pushing toward calling any knife you can open with one hand as a switchblade. And who does the testing to determine if whether the knife “may be opened with a simple flick of the wrist”? Will the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Knives, and Sharp Pointy Sticks have labs full of technicians with calibrated wrists such that you can send your knife in for periodic testing to make sure the retention spring hasn’t gotten too weak?

I have to wonder if a Second Amendment test case can’t be brought up on knives in one of the states in the 9th Circuit where incorporation has already been made (or in D.C.). What is the government going to say, “Sure, the Second Amendment guarantees you the right to carry a handgun to defend yourself but we can’t let people own something as dangerous as a knife in their own home! Think of the children!? Actually, they might. But it would be pretty funny seeing them laughed out of court when they do.

Update: I just figured out how to open my Spyderco Delica “with a simple flick of the wrist”. I think I can use the same method with nearly any folding knife. It’s easier and faster to open my Delica one-handed the way it was intended but still it appears that that if the criteria is “may be opened with a simple flick of the wrist” to define it as a “switchblade” and hence it’s outlawed then it’s game over man. We then will have to go to the courts to be able to carry a folding knife.


5 thoughts on “It depends on what your definition of ‘or’ is

  1. So…any knife which can be opened with one hand then becomes an “assault knife”? So, what about knives which require NO ACTION whatsoever to be ready for use? Are they then classified as NFA automatic knives as opposed to the semi-automatics which have to be manually readied for use? Remember, I’m just thinking of the children here.

    I guess all of that practice which has enabled me to open practically ANY well used lock blade knife with a one-handed flick is to blame for this.

  2. I gots me a problem here.

    My carry knife is a S&W HRT folder.

    It has 3 screws holding the two sides of the handle together with one screw passing through the pivot point of the blade.

    If that one screw is tight, I can’t flick it open with enertia. As it shifts to and from on my hip, the screws will eventually loosen and I can flick it open with enertia very easily.

    How does this get classified. It’s the same knife, just in a slightly different condition.

    Personally, I hope this passes. Maybe this will get people off the couch and start demanding some sanity from our government.

  3. How about those of us with Emerson folders with the little hook that catches the corner of your pocket? I bet they’d consider that an automatic knife, or an “Assault Knife” like Greg hinted at. I just pull the knife up and to the rear and it opens by itself. No springs, no buttons…just rotational force.


  4. The Ken Onion knives with the speed-safe system, by Kershaw, would certainly be a problem then.
    I’m guessing that they woulgn’t like the Ti-lite by Cold Steel (, which can be opened nicely as it is withdrawn from the pocket – AND it’s too long AND it’s scary looking….

    Odd, you can buy both here in the PRK. You’ll have problems carrying the Ti-lite though…


  5. Yeah; with some practice, virtually any folder can be opened with a flick of the wrist. As Gregory pointed out, those knives that don’t fold are even more dangerous, being ready to stab and slash innocent women and children (or cut vegetables) at all times. It’s like having a gun that’s always loaded and cocked, with no safety mechanism. This loophole in our legal system must be closed immediately. The worst part about it is that women, the elderly, and minorities are the hardest hit. This is shameful inaction on the part of our legislators.

    We have several knives here that are specifically designed to cut hide and flesh. They’re called “hunting knives” but we all know that with their permanently extended blades, plastic grips designed to thwart the collection of fingerprints, and to pass through metal detectors unnoticed, plus their uncanny ability to hold an unnecessarily sharp edge, they are especially attractive to criminals. The worst ones are those ceramic “kitchen” or “gourmet” knives that have no metal parts at all.

    No one needs a deadly killer terror assault knife anyway– you can buy pre-cut vegetables already. The only reason to buy whole vegetables is to have an excuse to own deadly terror killer assault knives and keep them around your children, just waiting for an excuse to kill someone. Enough is enough!

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