Top NYC officials split on gravity knife bill

Gravity knives. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost.

Gravity knives. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost.

By David Brand

Two of New York City’s top citywide elected officials are split on the subject of gravity knives.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he opposes a piece of legislation that would amend the state penal code to decriminalize gravity knives — defined as any knife where the blade folds and locks into the handle, and can be opened with the use of one hand. City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, favors the bill.

People of color are disproportionately charged with possession of a gravity knife, though the knives are common tools carried by chefs, carpenters and other laborers. The rule was initially implemented in the 1950s when lawmakers were concerned with switchblade-wielding street gangs, and didn’t consider the impact on workers carrying folding box-cutters to their warehouse jobs.

"Gravity knives play no role in making our city safer,” said de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras. “We’re sympathetic to people who use these knives for work, but they present a clear danger in our city and we must find an alternative. We do not support this legislation.”

The bill to decriminalize gravity knives has passed the State Senate and Assembly for a third time earlier this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed the other two iterations.

This time around, four of the city’s district attorneys say they will not oppose the bill and Queens Acting District Attorney John Ryan told the Eagle he believes “some change in the law is in order.” A state judge ruled in March that the “wrist-flick” test used by police to determine if a knife can be opened with one hand is too vague.

Stringer said the bill to decriminalize gravity knives “is about fairness.”

“It’s about right over wrong. Our current enforcement of the gravity knife statute does little to protect public safety but does inflict enormous harm on New Yorkers — with a disproportionate impact on people of color,” Stringer said. “This has to stop, plain and simple. I urge Albany to decriminalize gravity knife possession this year once and for all.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the other citywide elected official, did not respond to a request for comment as of press time Friday.

State Attorney General Letitia James, who served as New York City’s public advocate until Jan. 1, has also called on the state to end the “arbitrary and capricious” gravity knife law, the Eagle first reported on Wednesday

“I believe it’s high time that gravity knives be removed from the penal code,” James said at a hearing in Albany on Tuesday.