TOPEKA — With little discussion and no dissent, a bill to legalize switchblade knives in Kansas passed the Senate on Wednesday and is expected to move to final approval in a House vote Thursday.
The bill takes switchblades and stilettos off the state’s list of banned weapons. Sharpened throwing stars were also being considered for legalization but removed at the last minute by a House-Senate conference committee.
There could be some opposition when the final bill comes before the House.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita and a former city prosecutor, said switchblade knives were banned decades ago because of their popularity as weapons of choice with gangs and street criminals.
“Switchblades have been illegal my entire life, and for good reason,” Ward said. “The potential for any good they can do is far outweighed by the potential for harm.”
A federal law passed in 1958 prohibits manufacturing, selling or possessing switchblades in interstate commerce, and bans the knives from federal and tribal facilities and lands.
Supporters of legalizing switchblades say they can be useful for emergency workers, farmers and others who might need to open a knife with one hand while holding something with the other.
“It (the word switchblade) sounds dangerous and negative,” said Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays. “However, living in America, I still believe that a law-abiding citizen has many rights. … There are purposes for them that don’t have to be for crime.”
Switchblades and stilettos would continue to be banned at schools, jails and juvenile corrections facilities.
But the bill prohibits cities and counties from passing any restrictions on “the transportation, possession, carrying, sale, transfer, purchase, gift, devise, licensing, registration or use of a knife or knife making components.”
It’s the second time in three years that the Legislature has moved to ease restrictions on knives that can be opened one-handed.
In 2010, the Legislature passed a law clarifying that it was legal to own a knife that could be opened by a thumb stud attached to the blade.
When that measure was debated, proponents carefully detailed the differences between switchblades and the thumb-operated knives, which are commonly used by workers, hunters and emergency personnel.
Switchblade knives have a spring-loaded blade that opens rapidly with the pressing of a button.
Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, who carried the bill on the Senate floor, said proponents of the bill testified in committee hearings that switchblades are “readily available in Wichita from stores,” but that two men were arrested for carrying them at the Sedgwick County Courthouse.
He said committee members also had a hard time defining what a stiletto is because the company that manufactured knives under that name has long since gone out of business and the word stiletto is also used to describe a type of heel on women’s shoes.
The common definition of a stiletto is a knife with a pointed, spike-like blade designed for stabbing.
Stilettos can have a fixed blade, or a spring-loaded blade inside the handle that shoots out with a button push.