The switchblades may come out at the Capitol this year.
At least three bills — one in the House and two in the Senate — have been filed to eliminate the state’s nearly six-decade ban on carrying what are more properly called automatic knives.
The impetus for repeal comes from OK2A, a Second Amendment advocacy organization that has supported much of the gun-rights legislation enacted in recent years.
“It’s a combination of principle and a matter of common sense,” said OK2A President Tim Gillespie of Earlsboro. “If we’re letting people carry guns, it makes no sense not to let them carry switchblade knives.”
“We believe knives fall under the Second Amendment because it says ‘arms,’ ” said Gillespie. “I don’t understand why switchblades are thought to be so evil.”
Gillespie said a gun dealer was recently allowed to carry “30 or 40 guns” into the Capitol for a display, but not a pocketknife.
Tulsan Bill Patterson, owner of BP Outfitters, said “there are a lot worse things on the street now” than switchblades, and that to a certain extent they’ve been overtaken by newer designs of fixed blade and spring-assisted knives, all of which are legal to carry in Oklahoma.
“Most police officers will tell you they wouldn’t do anything if they caught somebody with an automatic knife,” said Patterson.
Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, and author of one of the repeal bills, said he has been assured by law enforcement officials that switchblades are not a significant threat.
“Knives have improved to the point that you can get even a fixed-blade knife out so much faster,” Jordan said.
Switchblades were banned throughout the country in the 1950s because of their association with gangs. Images such as James Dean and Corey Allen’s “knife game” in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and Vic Morrow’s knife-wielding punk in “Blackboard Jungle” both glamorized switchblades and galvanized public panic over them.
Oklahoma outlawed switchblades in 1958, and a 1954 Tulsa Tribune story indicates city ordinances required registration of “snap-type” knives, and prohibited stores from displaying “dangerous weapons capable of being concealed about a person.”
The story goes on to say the ordinances were routinely ignored.
The move to liberalize laws and local ordinances dealing with weapons other than firearms is being driven largely by gun-rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, that are running short of gun-related legislation to promote. Although more than a dozen gun bills are pending in the Legislature this session, most deal with relatively minor issues. The most controversial deal with guns in the Capitol and on college and K-12 campuses.
“The best way to have a safe society is to have a well-armed society,” said Gillespie. “I don’t mean in the manner of walking around like the Old West with your chest puffed out, but armed so that a person can defend themselves.”
It is legal to buy, sell and own automatic knives under Oklahoma law, but not to carry them. The state made spring-assisted knives, which are similar to switchblades, fully legal two years ago.
The Legislature passed a “pre-emption bill” last year giving state law priority over more restrictive local ordinances, but Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed it.
Patterson is one of the few area weapons dealers to regularly stock automatic knives. He says he has a steady demand for them, locally and through mail order, even though as tactical weapons, switchblades are somewhat obsolete.
Another dealer, who did not want to be named, said the “prohibition against (switchblades) is pretty useless.”
According to FBI statistics, about 14 percent of homicides are committed with “knives or cutting instruments.” Guns, by comparison, account for about two-thirds.
“We feel fairly confident about it,” he said.