Legaliz(ing) it

With the general direction of American politics trending towards more government control of ever-smaller areas of life, and with the citizenry’s ever-greater detachment from the exercise of said governance, it is rare and refreshing fruit when every now and then the people manage to strike a blow for some small freedom. I know, because I’ve just had the pleasure of experiencing it up-close.

America’s laws governing the possession and use of folding knives whose blades open with spring assistance (called automatic knives or “switchblades”) are an archaic jumble of  ignorance and illogic. Beginning with the Federal Switchblade Act of 1958 and continuing through a labyrinth of various state laws, they have their origin in political (and quite possibly racist) hype over street gangs and owe their continued existence to politicians’ taking advantage of popular docility and poor critical thinking skills to score easy political points. I suspect too that anti-2nd Amendment politicians also figure that denying the people the right to own or carry a three-inch folding knife that opens with a spring (though it’s perfectly legal to own and carry a foot-long kitchen knife that could take your head off) will also redound, over time, to cultural acceptance of ever-stricter gun laws.

My state of New Hampshire, allegedly the place where we must live free or else die, has long banned the purchase, sale, and carrying of automatic knives. But not anymore. Democratic Governor John Lynch, who got it wrong when he reneged on his campaign promise and brought same-sex marriage to the Granite State, got it right in signing a bill–passed unanimously by both legislative houses–that lifts those bans, while specifiying penalties for criminal use of bladed weapons.

This is a blow for common sense, first of all. Many laws and regulations admit of reasonable arguments on either side, but there is simply no rational defense for switchblade laws — none.

And it is also a wonderful example of representative politics at work. NH state rep Jen Coffey, no professional politician (New Hampshire’s legislators receive a token $100 annual salary) but a hard-working EMT, identified the bad law and organized a grass-roots effort to change it. She had help from state and national advocacy groups, true — pro-knife and pro-gun groups, hunting and wildlife organizations — but she also brought to bear the voices of thousands of citizens, who told their leaders what they wanted their laws to look like, and got heard. This past winter I attended the hearing in the NH House, at which a committee of reps heard testimony from expert and average Joe alike. I was struck then by the ignorance of their questions — apparently this stupid law was on the books because no one in government understood it or thought about it — but also by the sincerity of their desire to listen to reason, and to the people whom they were charged to represent.

This was democracy in action, folks: local, honest, effective. Why can’t it always be this easy?



Todd M. Aglialoro is the acquisitions editor for Catholic Answers.

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