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Colorado considers ending switchblade knife ban

James Anderson
Associated Press

Denver — The switchblade knives wielded six decades ago by the fictional Jets and Sharks street gangs in the legendary Broadway musical “West Side Story” and in Hollywood films spooked lawmakers across the U.S. and helped usher in state bans.

But 54 years after Colorado enacted its prohibition of the folding knives with blades that pop from their handles with the push of a button, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is trying to repeal it.

They are citing arguments from knife rights activists and others who say switchblades have become everyday work tools that also can save lives because they can be opened with one hand instead of two.

West Side Story “kind of released this sense that switchblades were what was bringing in Sharks and Jets, and that we would prevent gang activity if we outlawed these,” said bill co-sponsor state Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican who argues that Colorado’s law is outdated and widely ignored.

Hill and a Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Steve Lebsock, say it’s time for lawmakers to get rid of an archaic statute because switchblades are useful and can be bought online easily anyway by people who want them. The bill would also legalize gravity knives with blades that can be flung open from their concealing handle, also with one hand.

At least 11 states have repealed switchblade bans in recent years but 14 states, including Michigan, still have them, and the American Knife & Tool Institute that represents knife manufacturers and users is lobbying on behalf of another repeal effort for Ohio.

“These have gone from being a weapon of choice by gangs to being an everyday tool,” said institute spokeswoman Liesl Sheehan, whose group helped draft the Colorado bill.

Knife rights activists say the bans in Colorado and those still in place elsewhere violate Second Amendment rights of users because switchblades are normally possessed by law-abiding citizens for legitimate uses.

In 2015, firearms were used in 72 percent of the homicides in the U.S. while knives or other cutting instruments were used in 12 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI. In Colorado that same year, firearms were used in 115 murders.

Colorado’s law enforcement community is divided over whether the ban should be repealed, with the County Sheriffs of Colorado association supporting it and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police declining to take a position.