This post is not directed at those knife aficionados on the forum who live outside of the United States, as the laws regarding balisongs and automatic knives vary greatly from country to country. I am sure that some will take this post as a personal affront, be offended, or get angry with me, but so be it. This message needs to be posted here, as people on the forum continue to exhibit behavior that needs to be addressed. If you are a member of the forum and are not law enforcement or military I would suggest that you not post photos or otherwise discuss your illegally owned Spyderco balisong or automatic knives, discuss how to circumvent the law and obtain a Spyderco automatic or balisong, or otherwise discuss breaking the law, Many people seem to be under the mistaken belief that, as their state law does not prohibit the possession of an automatic or balisong knife, they can legally possess a Spyderco auto or balisong. This is incorrect. By way of explanation, let us discuss the applicable federal statute and some recent history.
Here is the applicable statute (source—United States Code):
“United States Code
TITLE 15 - COMMERCE AND TRADE
CHAPTER 29 - MANUFACTURE, TRANSPORTATION, OR DISTRIBUTION OF SWITCHBLADE KNIVES
Section 1241. Definitions
As used in this chapter -
(a) The term ''interstate commerce'' means commerce between any State, Territory, possession of the United States, or the District of Columbia, and any place outside thereof.
(b) The term ''switchblade knife'' means any knife having a blade which opens automatically -
(1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or
(2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.
Section 1242. Introduction, manufacture for introduction, transportation or distribution in interstate commerce; penalty
Whoever knowingly introduces, or manufactures for introduction, into interstate commerce, or transports or distributes in interstate commerce, any switchblade knife, shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Section 1243. Manufacture, sale, or possession within specific jurisdictions; penalty
Whoever, within any Territory or possession of the United States, within Indian country (as defined in section 1151 of title 18), or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States (as defined in section 7 of title 18), manufactures, sells, or possesses any switchblade knife, shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Section 1244. Exceptions
Sections 1242 and 1243 of this title shall not apply to -
(1) any common carrier or contract carrier, with respect to any switchblade knife shipped, transported, or delivered for shipment in interstate commerce in the ordinary course of business;
(2) the manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution, possession, or introduction into interstate commerce, of switchblade knives pursuant to contract with the Armed Forces;
(3) the Armed Forces or any member or employee thereof acting in the performance of his duty; or
(4) the possession, and transportation upon his person, of any switchblade knife with a blade three inches or less in length by any individual who has only one arm.”
Case law (judicial interpretation) and legislative action have expanded the “military” exemption to law enforcement (and usually fire/rescue) in the performance of their duties. Those who have been here awhile or who have closely followed Spyderco understand that Spyderco has had some issues with its balisongs (source American Law Newswire):
“United States Attorney Scott N. Schools announced that Spyderco, Inc., a Colorado corporation, pleaded guilty and was sentenced today to mailing butterfly knives, which are nonmailable, to pay a $75,000 criminal fine, a $125 special assessment, and to forfeit all such knives seized by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement from its corporate offices in Golden, Colorado (estimated to be valued at over $400,000). The guilty plea and sentence is the result of an investigation by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE").
In pleading guilty, Spyderco admitted that from June 2005 through January 2007, it had mailed butterfly knives, after importing the knife components from Taipei, Taiwan, through the Port of San Francisco and the Port of Oakland, to Golden, Colorado. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had issued a ruling to Spyderco holding that these knives fit the definition of "switchblade knives" as an imported knife "with a blade which opens automatically by operation of inertia, gravity, or both" and were therefore not allowed into the United States pursuant to the Switchblade Knife Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1241-1245, and were further not to be mailed in the United States.
Spyderco agreed to issue a Notice of Recall on its internet site for these butterfly knives and to mail this recall notice to reasonably identifiable customers. Spyderco also agreed not to import, transport, distribute, manufacture, sell, introduce, or attempt to introduce into interstate commerce knives defined as switchblades under the Switchblade Knife Act, in violation of the law.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne D. Brazil following the corporate guilty plea to one violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1716(j)(1), a class A misdemeanor.
Maureen Bessette is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case with the assistance of Cynthia Daniel. The prosecution is the result of a one year investigation by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
It is my understanding that the Newswire did not get all of the facts completely correct, but the gist of the matter is that Spyderco took a financial hit and had to change the way in which it was doing business in regard to balisong knives. What all of the above means to all the “knife people” on this forum is that Spyderco is complying with rulings and opinions handed down in the 10th Circuit, District of Colorado. As the District of Colorado is treating balisongs as automatic knives (switchblades), it is illegal for Spyderco to introduce into interstate commerce (i.e. to sell or ship such items outside of the state of Colorado) balisongs and automatic knives unless such knives are being sold to a distributer or dealer which has agreed to sell such items only to law enforcement or the military, or Spyderco sells the knives directly to the military or law enforcement officers. Spyderco distributors have signed agreements with Spyderco regarding this practice. If Spyderco discovers some distributor/dealer is not honoring their agreement, Spyderco will discontinue doing business with said dealer.
Spyderco is doing all that it can to remain on the “good side” of this “bad issue.” Do I like what has happened? No. Do I think that automatic knives and balisongs are going to cause any real problems out in society? No. Do I make federal law? No, but I do enforce it. This brings me to my final point in this monster-length post.
For those who have obtained the Spyderco balisongs or automatic knives and who are not law enforcement/emergency response or military, you are illegally in possession of such knives. Now, as in the peer-to-peer music and file sharing realm, where sometimes a person who had just downloaded a few songs was prosecuted, you are putting yourself at risk by posting about your illegality on a public forum. You can be sure that Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement is watching to make sure that Spyderco honors its agreements. If ICE or another federal agency decides to proceed with a criminal investigation, it would take merely a couple of subpoenas to get your IP and email addresses from Spyderco, and then your name and other identifying information from your email or Internet service provider. Some people may be charged “as an example” or sample group to show the “extent of the problem.” Do I know if this is being planned? No, and if I did I sure would not disclose it. Could this happen? Yes, I have seen similar tactics used in other investigations. Please note that, if you can’t legally possess a Spyderco balisong or automatic knife and are crowing about your ownership of such a knife on a public forum, all you are doing is putting Spyderco in the cross-hairs of another potential federal investigation and are possibly inviting yourself along for the ride. In addition, you put every federal law enforcement agent on the forum who has jurisdiction in regard to U.S. Code Title 15, Chapter 29, Section 1241 in an awkward position. Does such an officer report you to ICE, initiate his or her own investigation, or what? As for me, I will get a few of the restricted items as I am federal law enforcement. I don’t plan to be in this section of the forum much. I do hope that everyone plays nice over here. I would hate to see more bad stuff go out toward Golden for no good reason. For the record, if you have a Spyderco balisong or automatic knife and bought it in violation of the law I encourage you to dispose of it properly. Now, as Johnny Storm would say “Flame On” for I am sure to be blasted for this one.