U.S. Customs Seeks to Prohibit Assisted Opening Knives


Assisted opening knives could be reclassified as illegal switchblades if a measure proposed by United States Customs and Border Protection (Customs) becomes law.

On May 21, Customs proposed a revision of what constitutes a switchblade (click here to read the proposal). This new interpretation would deem assisted opening knives, as well as those featuring one-hand operation, illegal per the U.S. Switchblade Act of 1958.

Specifically, Customs seeks “revocation of four ruling letters and revocation of treatment relating to the admissibility of certain knives with spring-assisted opening mechanisms.” Those four ruling letters do not classify assisted openers as switchblades.

The current federal definition of a switchblade is any knife that opens automatically using gravity, inertia or hand pressure to a button or device on the handle. Assisted openers and one-hand operation knives rely on studs, grooves or other devices attached to the blade to open. These blades must be manipulated by hand to open.

If enacted, the Customs proposal would effect the 35.6 million people who own one-hand operation knives, according to the American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI). Furthermore, Knife Rights indicates roughly 80 percent of all knives sold in the United States use one-hand operation. The knife industry as a whole employs 24,000 people and contributes an estimated $8 billion annually to the economy, according to Knife Rights.

Both knife advocacy groups are voicing opposition to the measure.

“The [Federal Switchblade] Act is very clear that a switchblade must have an activating button on the handle,” a post on Knife Rights's Web site states. “Without a button, it is not a switchblade and this has been upheld by numerous cases on many levels over the years. CBP's convoluted reasoning in their proposal to reach back beyond the law and to expand their regulatory purview by rationalizing ‘intent' as justification for this new interpretation is a stretch, at best, and illegitimate at worst.”

AKTI filed for an extension of the 30-day minimum public comment period required of Customs. That period ends June 21. AKTI is also drafting an official response to the proposal.


Comments regarding the Customs proposal can be sent to the following address:

19  CFR  Part 177
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Office of International Trade, Regulations and Rulings
Attention: Intellectual Property and Restricted Merchandise Branch
Mint Annex,   799 Ninth St. N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20229

Comments will be accepted only through traditional mail until June 21, unless the extension filed by AKTI is approved. Click here for a sample letter from Knife Rights.


This is not the first time Customs sought to restrict assisted opening knives. In 2000, Customs seized 80,000 Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) knives. Over a 16-day period, CRKT lost roughly $1 million in sales due to the seizure, according to AKTI. Customs eventually released the knives back to CRKT.


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