Legal Aid Calls on National Retailers to Support Gravity Knife Repeal

The Legal Aid Society urged some of the nation’s largest retailers today to support New York State legislation (S4863) which would repeal the State’s broken and antiquated gravity knife statute. These companies include Ace Hardware, Amazon, Autozone, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and Paragon Sports – companies that all market and sell gravity knives to New Yorkers as lawful work tools.

New Yorkers use these knives on the job as electricians, stagehands, and construction laborers to earn a living, but over the last decade, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and local District Attorneys have arrested and prosecuted tens of thousands of low-income and working class individuals for simply possessing these knives.

According to a recent review of Legal Aid’s gravity knife caseload, 85% of those people arrested for gravity knife possession in 2018 were Black or Latino. Legal Aid also estimates that 3,500 New Yorkers were prosecuted for gravity knife possession in 2018 alone.

Gravity knife repeal legislation passed the New York State Legislature unanimously this year and was transmitted yesterday to New York State Governor Cuomo’s office for action. The Governor has ten days to decide whether to veto or to enact this legislation into law.

The letter states:

As you are probably aware, in the past decade tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been arrested for possessing gravity knives—folding knives that are designed, marketed and sold as lawful work tools, but qualify as illegal gravity knives if a police officer can force them open with the flick of a wrist. Many of these individuals purchase knives at your stores and use them in their jobs as electricians, stagehands, and construction laborers to earn a living.

But if a police officer stops one of our clients carrying a folding knife to work and can force the knife open with the flick of a wrist, our client faces criminal prosecution. And if that person has ever been convicted of a crime previously, even if the crime was a minor misdemeanor or was committed decades ago, they face up to seven years in prison. We have had clients sentenced to years in prison for possessing folding knives that currently sell at your stores.

Our clients – your customers – use knives lawfully each day at their jobs. They need your support. We call on your companies to declare their support for repealing this broken and punitive statute.