Our View: Jumping the gun – again
Fiscal conservatives are always on the lookout for government putting its hands into the pockets of taxpayers. In a new twist to that worry, a federal agency is set to boldly reach into the pockets of millions of Americans and extracting their ... folding knives.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is considering changing the classification of many pocket knives imported into this country to include them in the definition of switchblades, spring-loaded knives that have been illegal in the U.S. for decades.
The knives under consideration are utilitarian pocket knives that have small springs and/or thumb studs on the blades that allow the user to open them with one hand. Some lack the spring, but have a blade design that makes opening easier once the blade is opened beyond a certain point. Workmen, anglers and hunters find one-handed opening an advantage when they need a knife on the job or in the field.
The proposed regulatory change came about, according to a WorldNetDaily news report, as a result of an inquiry by a San Francisco importer to be sure the knives it was planning to bring into the U.S. would still pass muster under a 2008 approval from Customs. In reviewing the documents, Customs officials decided the knives, carried in millions of pockets throughout the U.S., shouldn't have been approved and proposed the new ban.
At first glance this might not seem like much of a problem, but according to Doug Ritter of KnifeRights.org, the changes would essentially ban possession of knives people already own. "Customs is the only place where the switchblade is interpreted in various rulings. Whenever a federal, state, or local jurisdiction is looking at what a switchblade is, whenever there's a court case or whatever ... they will look to the feds," Ritter said in the WorldNetDaily report. So any jurisdiction that bans switchblades would now ban the assisted-opening knives as well because the Customs proposal lumps them all together under the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958. That could have repercussions beyond just what folks carry in their pockets.
Ritter worries that the rules could jeopardize firearms ownership. He's concerned that a group of hunters who cross state lines with their knives might be committing a federal felony that would bar them from buying or owning guns. Would the entire hunting party be guilty for a single violation? These are the kinds of things government often doesn't think about when it proposes new rules, but the law of unintended consequences cannot be repealed.
If these arguments don't sway you because you don't carry a pocket knife, consider the economic impacts. The proposed regulation could be interpreted to apply not only to assisted-opening knives, but nearly all pocket knives, according to Ritter. The American Knife and Tool Institute estimates there are 4,000 people employed in manufacturing pocket knives in the U.S. and as many as 20,000 employed in ancillary industries who would be affected by the ban. The institute notes the industry contributes $6 billion a year to the economy. Ritter estimates the total impact at double that, when one factors in the hundreds of custom knife makers and sales at gun and industry shows that aren't tracked by regular commerce indicators.
As with other regulatory changes, Customs is taking public comments on the new rules. And like other times when government wants to slip something by the voters, it's working on an accelerated schedule.
In a Customs Bulletin dated May 9, the agency announced its intention to change the rules and invited public comment. Public input on the proposal must be received by June 21 and comments must be in writing, no e-mails and no faxes. Sample letters and more information are available at www.kniferights.org Send. your letters to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of International Trade, Regulations and Rulings, Mint Annex, 799 9th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20229, Attn: Intellectual Property and Restricted Merchandise Branch.
In addition, interested readers should contact Rep. Wally Herger at 242 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515, and urge him to contact Customs and demand a longer comment period. Representative government works only when government listens to the people it works for.
Are Ritter and others who support his cause being paranoid about this? Perhaps, but history has shown that government is continually seeking to expand its reach, and where freedom and rights are concerned, one can't be too watchful.