A 2007 decision by the three-judge panel of the Texas 4th Appellate District effectively put every folding knife owned by Texans and Texas visitors in the “illegal” category. The judgment in Thomas v. State 2007 WL 4403585 (Tex. App. San Antonio) convinced the American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI) that the court’s blatant misapplication of the current Texas switchblade statute could jeopardize the vast majority of Texas knife owners.
The 2007 Texas appellate decision in the Thomas case effectively puts assisted-openers, one-hand-openers and virtually all folding knives in jeopardy in the 4th appellate district and ultimately the entire state. The three-judge appellate panel ignored the very clear “button-on-the-handle” language of the current statute and focused instead on a thumb stud on the blade of a knife owned by the defendant, as well as the concept of centrifugal force.
Texas Largest U.S. Hunting and Fishing Market
Throughout its 11-year history, AKTI has supported penalties for knife use in the commission of a crime. However, it opposes criminalizing everyday knife carry and ownership and blind-siding millions of responsible knife owners with arbitrary and vague statutes and definitions. “Texas can’t continue to market the state as a hunting and fishing destination, the largest in the country, then try to reserve the right to make those people criminals for carrying a hunting or fishing knife,” David Kowalski said. The AKTI Communications Coordinator added that, “there are hundreds of models of folding knives used by sportsmen who have been made de-facto criminals by the appellate court ruling.” AKTI estimates there are 10.75 million sporting knife owners and users in Texas, including key groups such as hunters and fishers, of which a significant percentage come from out of state. Texas currently ranks #1 (with $6.228 billion in revenue) on the U.S. FWS 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
Sales of sporting knives in Texas are estimated at between $77.07 and $117.93 million annually. Of these sales, 80 percent are estimated to be hundreds of models of assisted-openers and one-hand openers. These knives are commonly used by emergency personnel, construction workers, sportsmen and sportswomen pursuing a wide range of recreational activities, and virtually everyone who gardens in the state. (See our PDF document Texas Knife Facts)
While current Texas knife law provides an exemption for hunting and fishing knives, the owner has to prove their knife is “commonly used” for the hunting or fishing activity. If a judge decides that only straight knives can be used to dress game or fillet a fish and if you use a folding knife for either activity, you are using an “illegal” knife.
AKTI Lobbyist Optimistic
“I believe Texas lawmakers are ready to look at their definition of ‘illegal’ knife,'” Mark Seale told the AKTI Board. The current Texas statute bans several categories of knives that either cannot be defined or have highly ambiguous and arbitrary definitions.
Seale has been asked by the AKTI Board to present “intent” language in a proposed new law. The neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming, for example, have recognized that when millions of state residents regularly carry knives, to force them to prove they have them for lawful reasons is a huge obstacle. As anyone who has been charged with a crime can tell you, it costs thousands of dollars to prove your innocence. To put the burden of proof of intent on the knife owner effectively makes them guilty until they can prove they are innocent. Prosecutors, of course, typically do not want an intent defense in a statute because it makes their jobs harder.
Lobbyist Seale has already had preliminary discussions with staffers of key lawmakers (as we go to press in early November, 2008). He indicated that while “intent” language as proposed by AKTI may not be properly inserted in the main body of the Texas definition of illegal knives, discussions with key law enforcement groups might open the door to add owner “intent” to one of several “exemption” clauses in the statute.
Bill To Protect Folding Knives
AKTI Board members stressed that the key provision of the statute that must be presented to lawmakers was a clarification of the switchblade definition, in particular section 11(B). AKTI’s proposed change to 11 (B) is a reiteration of its switchblade definition adopted on August 31, 2005, by a vote of the AKTI Executive Committee and published in “AKTI Approved Knife Definitions.” It mirrors the California exemption language that AKTI achieved in 2000 in their 653k statute.
Read the AKTI Introduced Bills (PDF).