Problematic Knife Transport Bill Reported Out of Senate Commerce Committee

The Senate Commerce Committee today reported problematic S.542 the Interstate Transport Act of 2019, out of committee. Sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) with primary co-sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), S.1092 attempts to protect knife owners traveling interstate with knives. This bill is a weaker and problematic version of Knife Rights’ Knife Owners’ Protection Act (KOPA – H.R. 88). S.542 would theoretically provide safe harbor to someone traveling with knives where it is lawful for the knives to be possessed at both the points of origin and destination, so long as the knives are secured and inaccessible during the intervening travel.

While the sponsor amended S.542 to accommodate a number of very serious technical issues raised by Knife Rights in the original version of the bill, unfortunately S.1092 would still leave knife owners at peril when they need its protections the most. In those states where they are most at risk, such as New York and New Jersey, for example, it lacks critically important provisions to ensure their protection.

S.542 does not include a right of action which would provide for persons unlawfully detained for transporting their knives properly secured in compliance with the act to seek financial compensation from a jurisdiction that ignores the intent of Congress to protect these travels. Without a strong right of action, there is no deterrent–biased and rogue jurisdictions would have no incentive to follow the law.

Acting with impunity, without fear of any meaningful recourse from their law-abiding victims, these rogue jurisdictions will further persecute citizens who attempt to defend themselves from illegal, and unjust or misguided enforcement actions. A robust right of action holds jurisdictions financially accountable for the victim’s losses if they willfully ignore the law. A strong right of action causes jurisdictions to consider these adverse repercussions before they arrest or prosecute an individual that is protected under the act.

Without a strong right of action, those violated are unable to seek redress for their denial of rights, absent a win in court. That opens the door to abuse under color of the law, particularly for those without the resources to afford a strong defense. Under such circumstances defendants can be forced to accept ruinous plea deals and the like. Without this explicit right of action, local jurisdictions face no penalty for abusing defendants, costing them significant sums and severe psychological stress and then dismissing the case at the last moment.

The unfortunate reality is that were this bill to become law, it would actually put many knife owners at greater risk of prosecution, financial jeopardy or ruin and loss of civil rights because they would believe themselves protected, when they were actually not. This is particularly the case in states and cities with very restrictive knife laws where they are currently wary of breaking the law. It would provide knife owners an unjustified false sense of security that could trap the unwary.

S.542 also does not include repeal of the Federal Switchblade Act (FSA). The FSA is a failed law dating from 1958 that adversely impacts interstate trade and shipping of automatic knives. These knives are legal to own in 45 states, the majority with no or minimal restrictions, 33 allowing everyday carry. Keeping the FSA on the books does nothing but cost jobs, revenue and lessens consumer choice. Knife Rights has been responsible for repealing 16 state bans and restrictions on switchblade knives in the last 9 years. It is well past time for the FSA to go away.

Doug Ritter, Chairman of Knife Rights, noted: “While I am glad that much needed knife issues are getting attention in the Senate, S.542 is not legislation that will truly protect knife owners. A bill with a strong right of action will provide actual and vital protection and relief that knife owners, retailers, and manufacturers need. We have worked with Senator Enzi and others to strengthen the Interstate Transportation Act, but unfortunately, they did not make the changes needed for Knife Rights to support this bill. We will continue to work for passage of the Knife Owners’ Protection Act which will provide knife owners the real protection they deserve.”