This week I have been looking into “Knife Rights”. It is a subject which is not as cut and dry as one might assume. There is actually great variation in the distribution of weapons into the categories of “legal” and “illegal”. Countries decide for themselves where to draw their lines for the possession, transportation, manufacture and use of weapons within their borders. Many countries also have laws and ordinances which regulate weapons within regional areas; being controlled by provincial/state or local government. A good number of countries also have a “Supremacy Clause” which establishes that the laws and constitution of the federal government take precedence over those of provincial/state and local legislation.
The Netherlands is well-known, within legislative circles of the world, for its unique legislative constructions of rules, regulations and laws. Not surprisingly, the Dutch weapons and ammunitions law is particularly criticized on the Internet for being complex, vague and generally incomprehensible all at the same time. Part of this criticism is due to people from other countries using their own law as their standard; as a norm from which to interpret, understand and judge laws from other countries. What needs to be remembered is that the laws of each country are a result of the accumulated shared history of the society which has created them. What is interesting about the Dutch weapons law is that the Dutch themselves also find it to be complex, vague and generally incomprehensible; and yet, the Dutch population does not seem particularly disturbed by this. When there is a discussion about weapon control from the populace, it tends to be transitory; asking for stricter controls and having been triggered by a rare incident of insane violence. There does not seem to be a core discussion concerning the “Right to Bear Arms”, nor a debate about the interpretation of the weapons law. The Dutch do not appear to feel a “Right” to the possession of weapons. More importantly, they do not appear to feel that they have the inalienable right to physically defend themselves with weapons.
Wikipedia has a listing of many countries in Europe, with a synopsis of each country’s basic stance expressed in their weapons regulations. The listing for The Netherlands states, “As of 2011 in The Netherlands a new law prohibits ownership or possession of the following knives, whether kept at home or not: Stilettos, switchblades, folding knives with more than one cutting edge, throwing knives, folding knives with an overall length of more than 28 cm when open, butterfly (balisong) or gravity knives, disguised knives (belt knife, sword cane, etc…) and push daggers. Also, it is illegal to carry a fixed blade with more than one cutting edge, though such a knife may be kept at home for collection purposes. In addition to national laws, each Dutch city and urban district has the right to prohibit carrying of any knife that can potentially be used as a weapon in certain “no-go” areas. Normally, a “no-go” area includes all built-up urban areas including bars, cafés, concerts and public gathering places or events. In public, a knife must be transported in such a manner so that it is not directly useable by the owner, such as storing the knife in a locked case for carrying in a backpack, or placing the locked-up knife in a storage area of a vehicle separate from the passenger compartment.” These restrictions make it evident that the Dutch do not feel the need (or the right) to use a knife for self-defense. Any violent attack from which a person would need to defend himself, would require immediate action taken for survival. A knife in a case, in the back of a car would be pointless. What is left unclear is the motivation and reasoning behind the government’s choices concerning which knives were deemed worthy of the “legal” category and which worthy of the “illegal” category. This information, which is lacking on the government site, would require extensive time and effort to track down. And, even then, there would be no guarantee of receiving a satisfactory and comprehensible answer. This is not a topic of current interest at the moment in The Netherlands. People do not normally bring the subject up in conversations. There does not seem to be any heated debate occurring between factions; no real immediate need to have the details of the weapons law on the nightly news.
In America, on the other hand, weapons laws “are” a daily topic in: households, communities, state and federal legislatures, and they are heatedly debated in newspapers, magazines, radio programs, television shows, and on the Internet.
The average American knows a whole lot more about their “Right to Bear Arms” than their Dutch counterparts. The reason for all the attention has to do with the regulations for weapons. As far as I know, The Netherlands does not have in its constitution the “inalienable right” to bear arms. In America, this right is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the constitution); and as such, guarded by the Supreme Court’s interpretation and judgements to protect these given rights. For many Americans, this is about basic human rights rather than any mere regulatory or prohibitive statute. Also, for many Americans, this is about interpreting constitutional rights in modern times. In that sense, it goes to the very core of the stability of the United States governmental system. The United States has always bickered amongst itself in regard to setting words onto official paper. Getting the Constitution agreed upon was a difficult task. The Amendments to the Constitution were meant to secure points of interest which the legislators felt strongly enough about, to hamper the process of developing a successful Constitution. “Proposed following the often bitter 1787-1788 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments added to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in several earlier documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights 1689, along with earlier documents such as the Magna Carta (1215).” – Wikipedia
The Bill of Rights has its own history of proposed composition. Eventually Congress would approve twelve selected articles to be amendments. Each article was composed of a one-sentence paragraph. These were sent to the States for ratification. Of those twelve, ten were ratified. One of the unratified articles became an amendment in 1992 after ratification and the other is still pending. Until the 1860s these amendments applied only to the Federal Government. It was only with the ratification of the fourteenth amendment that States were also bound to adherence to the Bill of Rights. The first ten ratified amendments are considered to be the most fundamental rights which America’s hold very dear; both personally and judicially. These rights have signature names which sum up their basic content (as given by the National Center for Constitutional Studies):
1. Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press
2. The Right to Bear Arms
3. The Housing of Soldiers
4. Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
5. Protection of Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property
6. Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases
7. Rights in Civil Cases
8. Excessive Bail, Fines, and Punishment Forbidden
9. Other Rights Kept by the People
10. Un-delegated Powers Kept by the States and the People
The Second Amendment is the “Right to Bear Arms”: “A Well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This one sentence is what all the debate is about and the Supreme Court’s official interpretation of this sentence (through its court rulings) is meant to be the commanding light for all laws regarding the Right to Bear Arms: for all related forms of laws, rules, regulations made within the United States of America. This power of Supreme Court decisions is called, a Preemptive Power: “A doctrine based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that holds that certain matters are of such a national, as opposed to local, character that federal laws preempt or take precedence over state laws. As such, a state may not pass a law inconsistent with the federal law.” This is an important difference when comparing Dutch weapons law to American. In the Dutch system, both provincial and local governments are allowed to implement rules and regulations at their choosing, which are not in accord with the federal law. In America, because the Right to Bear Arms is protected in the Bill of Rights, all weapon laws must be in accord with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. All States have State Constitutions and these must also be in accord with Supreme Court rulings. All local government ordinances must be in accord with the State Constitution.
A person might be forgiven for thinking that the Second Amendment is only about firearms. Indeed, most discussions about this amendment do center around gun control. The American Rifle Association has lobbied strongly to influence the minds, hearts, and pockets of American politicians. Their advertisement campaigns flow freely to the attention of the American citizens, encouraging them to vote for the politicians who support the NRAs position on gun control. The association, Knife Rights, emerged at a much later date than the NRA and has some catching up to do in its knife-education of citizens and politicians alike. As a result, many of the impressions Americans have of knives have actually been formed by Hollywood movies rather than by unbiased information. This has led to many illogical knife laws, which are not consistent with the rulings of the Supreme Court nor with the actual level of danger of particular knives which are more heavily regulated than others. In 2013, the scholars: David Kopel, Clayton Cramer, and Joseph Edward Olson took “Knives and the Second Amendment” as the topic of their 37 page research paper. Their abstract reads, “This article is the first scholarly analysis of knives and the Second Amendment. Knives are clearly among the “arms” which are protected by the Second Amendment. Under the Supreme Court’s standard in ‘District of Columbia v. Heller’, knives are Second Amendment “arms” because they are “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes”, including self-defense. Bans of knives which open in a convenient way (bans on switchblades, gravity knives, and butterfly knives) are unconstitutional. Likewise unconstitutional bans on folding knives which, after being opened, have a safety lock to prevent inadvertent closure. Prohibitions on the carrying of knives in general, or of particular knives, are unconstitutional. There is no knife which is more dangerous than a modern handgun; to the contrary, knives are much less dangerous. Therefore, restrictions on the carrying of handguns set the upper limit for restrictions on knife carrying.”
When comparing Dutch law concerning the regulation of weapons; the same comment could be applied. Guns are allowed in The Netherlands, after a permit for possession and use has been approved. Whereas, knives listed in Category I are fully banned and knives in Category IV are allowed to be possessed, but are restricted in transportation, carry and use. The strict banning of any weapons which is known to be less dangerous than a firearm is not logical under this paradigm. Firearms should set the “upper limit” of restrictions in The Netherlands to make the law sensible. The knives in Category I are pretty much the same knives which are being unconstitutionally banned and restricted in America. These knives tend to be: switchblades, one-hand openers, folding knives, automatic & gravity knives, knives with locking mechanism, and butterfly knives (balisong). Understanding how the mis-informed impressions of these knives have unduly influenced lawmakers, may be the first step toward ever getting reasonable regulatory laws in both America and in The Netherlands.
This brings us back to the fundamental perspective of knives as weapons. Both the Netherlands and America have knives regulated because of their potential for causing injury during violent confrontations. That means that the knives (any knife and all knives) are meant to be regulated in relation to their degree of danger and harm. Whereas all firearms are only used as weapons, all knives are per definition both tools and weapons. The difference between the two functions is dependent upon the intentions of the user. Intentions are more difficult to determine, control, and prosecute than possession of knives; and even then, almost everyone possesses a number of knives. Kopel-Cramer-Olson tell us, “Only about half of U.S. households possess a firearm, and many of those households have only one or two firearms. In contrast, almost every household possesses at least several knives, not even counting the table knives.” Lawmakers have tried to identify types of knives which they believe are only associated with violence and criminality. The main focus in banning is, then, concerned with these. Historically, this type of knife discrimination in America began back in the period of 1837-1840; their first era of Knife Control. The popularity and stories surrounding the Bowie Knife and the Arkansas Toothpick were the instigating circumstances for this new movement toward knife legislation. The Bowie Knife, particularly, captured the imagination of America and the knife proliferated, being highly associated with the violence of the westward expansion. Our authors provide us with cursory information though the words of Jim Bowie’s brother Renzin, “The length of the knife was nine and a quarter inches, its width one and a half inches, single-edged, and blade not curved.” We are told that Renzin claimed it was designed for bear hunting. Many things would, in time, be called a Bowie knife. Even with a few generally noted shared characteristics; identifying a Bowie knife comes down to one sharpened edge, a thick spine and maybe a clipped-point. The Arkansas Toothpick was a whole other knife with: a long triangular blade, sharpened on both ends. Both knives were used as tools; but, the Arkansas Toothpick had been designed for fighting. For those not born and bred in Texarkana, it needs to be said that Texas and Arkansas share a common border. Both these states would supply the first cases to test the Second Amendment concerning the “Right to Bear Knives”. Yet, each would render decisions stemming from different perspectives. Arkansas wanted both the Bowie Knife and the Arkansas Toothpick banned. Their claim was based on the premise that neither the Bowie nor the Toothpick fell under the rights of individuals to bear arms because neither were suitable for use in a militia. The reasoning being that they were not suitable for “civilized warfare”; being only used by “assassins” and “ruffians”. This was far from the truth as historians tell today. However, it was the “impression” which people had acquired of these knives, and as such, the State won its case with the argument that these were merely knives used for “private” defense rather than for “common”.
The Texas Supreme Court of 1859 ruled, “The right to carry a bowie-knife for lawful defense is secured and must be admitted.” At the same time, the punishment for manslaughter with a Bowie Knife was increased, stating, “It is an exceeding[ly] destructive weapon. It is difficult to defend against it, by any degree of bravery, or any amount of skill. The gun or pistol may miss its aim, and when discharged, its dangerous character is lost, or diminished at least. The sword may be parried. With these weapons men fight for the sake of combat, to satisfy the laws of honor, not necessarily with the intention to kill, or with a certainty of killing, when the intention exists. The bowie-knife differs from these in its device and design; it is the instrument of almost certain death.” The reality of the time was that the Bowie was a very large knife which made large and deep wounds compared to a penknife or a dagger. The bullets used in this black-powder era were low velocity projectiles; not nearly as lethal as the ammunition of today. With this statement, we understand that the Texas Supreme Court held the Right to Bear Knives as a genuine “right” and allowed possession of the Bowie Knife. The court also made it clear that it was quite aware of the potential of abuse of the knife and that the knife was by nature a more dangerous weapon than the firearms of the day; which is the reverse situation of our modern-day situation where all guns are more dangerous than the Bowie Knife. The Texas Supreme Court took in the extenuating circumstances of poverty when weighing the salient factors of the constitutionality of the Bowie Knife. Weapons laws in America must always find a reasonable balance between assuring public safety and safe guarding the public’s right to self-defense. Addressing this right to self-defense, the court stated, “A bowie-knife or dagger, as defined in the code, is an ordinary weapon, one of the cheapest character, accessible even to the poorest citizen. A common butcher-knife, which costs not more than half a dollar, comes within the description given of a bowie-knife or dagger, being very frequently worn on the person. To prohibit such a weapon, is substantially to take away the right of bearing arms, from him who has not money enough to buy a gun or a pistol”.
In the ensuing years, America’s legislatures would move ever more toward regulation of knives in an effort to still the public’s angst of knife confrontations. From the 1950s onward, Hollywood movies would have great impact on the mind of the public. These movies portrayed: switchblades, butterfly knives, gravity knives, automatic knives, knives which lock into place, and knives which could be opened with one hand as being weapons for criminals used for violence alone. This Hollywood “bias” of folding knives being by nature “criminal weapons” is not backed up by research. In fact, the all of these knives are primarily used as tools of some sort. The “bias” against locking knives has to do with the misconception that non-locking knives are safer and less likely to be used for violence. Locking mechanisms were invented to protect the hand of the user while in use. A non-locking folding knife can accidentally close with pressure. The butterfly knife, is a folding knife which is banned in The Netherlands and (unconstitutionally) banned in many American states, it is considered to be one of the safest folding knife designs in existence because it is secured manually. Both types are banned basically because of the assertion of criminal association rather than a realistic evaluation of potential danger to the public.
To find out the actual criminal use of knives, we can look to The FBI for an “unbiased” assessment. Using the statistics of U.S. murders during 2010, we see that knives comprised 13.1%, firearms 67.5%, blunt objects 4.2%, 15.2% other. Of the 13% knife category, all types are included: steak knives, butcher knives, linoleum knives,etc. It also includes all cutting instruments: screwdrivers, straight razors, etc. When considering robberies, the FBI notes that firearms were used in 47.9 crimes per 100,000 people. For non-knife weapons or cutting instruments other than knives there were 9.1 crimes per 100,000 people. Knives, themselves, were at the very bottom of the list of weapons used in robberies. The FBI concluded:
1. Modern gunshots are more lethal than knife wounds
2. Knives are less regulated than firearms: no mandatory background checks, no prohibitions on interstate sales (except for switchblades), no serial number requirements
3. Knives are used less in crimes than guns
4. Public safety regulations for knives are less justified than those for guns.
To be clear, the FBI is not interested in defending the public’s Right to Bear Arms. They would prefer no one had arms. It would make their job a whole lot easier if all weapons were illegal. Then, only criminals would have weapons. Yet, their own findings reveal that knives are much less of a threat to public safety than guns. This is interesting because many State and local governments give guns more protection than knives. As mentioned earlier, the Federal Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear knives is a constitutional right. It also established that since guns are more dangerous than knives, they form the ceiling of protection; meaning that the right to bear knives is to be more protected and have fewer restrictions that guns. Time and again State Supreme Courts are confronted with cases where local ordinances are in violation of State Constitutions. And the Federal Supreme Court makes decisions upon the constitutionality of State Constitutions and the laws and ordinances they produce. Our authors present four cases which illuminate different types of violations of the Second Amendment. I shall not go into the details of the specific cases nor their juridical histories. Instead I shall only give a very brief mention of the types of conflict involved in their unconstitutionally.
Seattle, Washington had put a number of ordinances in place which restricted the transportation/carry of knives in accordance of their use. This meant that legally carrying a knife for one purpose involved one protocol, and carrying the same knife for another use required a different carry protocol. So, when Leslie Riggins set out to go fishing, he carried his knife in a sheath, at his side. During transit he decided to cancel the fishing trip and went to help his brother with roofing instead. At the end the day, going home, he carried his knife in the same manner he had in the morning when he intended to go fishing. He was arrested for carrying an “unconcealed” knife, which was not the protocol for carrying a knife after roofing. The criminal court found him guilty as charged. The appellate court accepted Riggins’ explanation of the day and found that he had no dangerous or criminal intent when he changed his plans and went roofing instead of fishing. The importance of the appellate court decision was about more than Riggins’ intentions, though. It was about State Constitutions being preemptive over local government ordinances. “Washington has a strong state constitutional guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms, and state appellate courts have often enforced this provision conscientiously, when the case involved a firearm. Yet the intermediate appellate court brushed off Riggins’ constitutional claim, gave the ordinance “every presumption of constitutionality” and upheld the Seattle ordinance under a mere “reasonable and substantial” test.” Riggins’ test involved only the State Constitution, “The Riggins approach is contrary to the approach that the U.S. Supreme Court would later outline for Second Amendment cases.”
California laws have the problem of being confusing to the public due to their inconsistent nature; which, in effect creates unwitting criminals out of ordinary citizens. The inconsistencies in California regard the types of knives and the types of locations, rather that they types of activities of intended use which caused problems in Seattle.
1. College Campus: Allows fixed blades no longer than 2.5 inches and all folding knives are unrestricted.
2. Primary & Secondary Schools: Same regulation for fixed blades, all folding knives with a blade lock are prohibited.
3. Government Buildings: Allows fixed blades up to 4 inches and folding knives “only” if the blade locks open
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the Heller case that special restrictions for “sensitive” places are acceptable. However, the Californian laws are irrational. The law for Public Places (non-sensitive) says that all knifes are allowed to be carried in the open. Concealed carry is allowed for almost all folding knives; with a special regulation on the carry of switchblades longer than 2 inches. To make matters more difficult, California has no preemption for their knife laws. Large cities are allowed more restrictive ordinances. Los Angeles disallows open carry for blades of 3 inches or longer. Oakland has this restriction as well, and has a ban on all switchblades. San Francisco prohibits loitering with a concealed knife of any length. Californians are usually unaware of the inconsistency of their knife laws from place to place.
The District of Columbia’s weapons regulations are so restrictive as to make them meaningless. DC is well-known for having unusual and extreme gun laws. Evidently, their legislators are working on forcibly removing some laws, while many others are still being contested. Their knife laws are equally severe (yet less contested). All weapons capable of being dangerous or deadly and concealed, must be licensed. Weapons are prohibited in Public Places. There is a penalty for carrying a weapon anywhere other than the person’s private home, place of business, or land property. For knives, this means, “The fact that the knife is concealable makes open carrying a crime.” And, the punishment for carrying a knife in the home is $1,000 or one year prison or both. “In other words, carrying a carving knife (or even a paring knife) to the dining room table in the District of Columbia appears to be a criminal offense.” Our authors post-script this information by mentioning that actual prosecution of home carry of knives is unusual. Law enforcement does not go looking for these violations. However, people have been prosecuted using these carry laws. “In Heller, the Supreme Court struck down a similar D.C. ban on the carrying of guns, which even prohibited a person who had a lawfully-registered rifle in the home from carrying the gun from the bedroom into the kitchen, in order to clean it.”
New York, New York has been subject to great criticism for their subjective use of weapon laws and undue force of power in their procedures. John Irizarry was detained, searched and arrested because a policeman thought he recognized a gravity knife sticking out of his pocket. The knife was, in fact, a “Husky Sure-Grip Folding Knife” from Home Depot; which is both a legal knife and a tool. During the original search, a pistol was also found. The Federal court ruled that the search and seizure which discovered the pistol were illegal and the charges for the gun were dropped because a knife from Home Depot should not have led to a further detainment or search. The court stated, “The widespread and lawful presence of an item in society undercuts the reasonableness of an officer’s belief that it represents contraband.” This court decision triggered a response from the NYC government. The District Attorney threatened Home Depot and a few other sporting goods stores with prosecution if they continued to sell what the D.A. Considered to be “illegal knives”. Many of the retailers did not have the financial resources to fund a lengthy court case against the D.A.s eventual prosecution. So, they removed the knives which the D.A objected to and settled out of court giving $1.9 million to a “public education campaign” and the anti-knife propaganda from the D.A.s office. The effect of these events was that they made “common knives” used in construction and home repairs de facto illegal. Also, the D.A.s office had its own idea about what a gravity knife was and began to prosecute everything which fit their new definition.
The subjective nature of these prosecutions can be shown by comparing two cases. The first case was of John Copeland, a prominent painter. He had been arrested for the possession of a 3 inch Benchmade knife. The charges were dropped when Copeland’s lawyer pointed out that Copeland was a serious artist and used the knife to cut canvas. The second case was of Clayton Baltzer from Summit Pennsylvania; on a field-trip with his fine arts class from the Baptist Bible College & Seminary. They were in NYC to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A plainclothes policeman detained Baltzer on the subway when he noticed the knife clip in his pocket. Baltser was convicted, fine $125, and given 2 days of community service as punishment.
In all of the above examples, it becomes apparent that legislators and prosecutors alike have differing conceptions about knives. It is not that there is a lacking of reputable information concerning knives. There are definitely “knife experts” who are in relative agreement concerning the attributes of knives. However, forcing lawmakers and prosecutors to accept and refer to the knowledge of these experts appears to be more difficult than taking cases to the State and Federal Supreme Courts. The greatest need for education is concerning knife types. Laws are passed which make discriminations between knives with different anatomy and physiology. Wiktionary.com gives three basic definitions of “knife” as a: utensil/tool, weapon, blade-like part of a tool (machine). Only the first two pertain to this topic. Let me quote:
1. A utensil or a tool designed for cutting, consisting of a flat piece of hard material, usually steel or other metal (blade), usually sharpened on one edge, attached to a handle. The blade may be pointed for piercing.
2. A weapon designed with the aforementioned specifications intended for slashing and/or stabbing and too short to be called a sword.
Note that in these definitions, the physical descriptions are the same. The defining distinction between a tool and a weapon is its intended use and the circumstances in which they are used. Neither of these two things can be determined before the knife has been used. Rather than restricting the use of the knives in their weapons laws, lawmakers attempt to restrict predetermined types of knives. This is something which seems to be quite particular to knife regulations. The Oregon Supreme Court of 1984 took into consideration that knives are more than just weapons or tools and they also have historical significance for many societies. “It is clear, then, that knives have played an important role in American life, both as tools and as weapons. The folding pocketknife, in particular, since the early 18th century has been commonly carried by men in America and used primarily for work, but also for fighting.”
Penknives had been essential for students and those with writing skills back in the 18th century; used mostly for cutting quills and sharpening pencils. Pocket-knives are also essential tools for many types of outdoor sports and are utility knifes used in many skilled professions. A Swiss Army Knife a perfect example of the multi-functionality of knives because the functions are so easy to identify. Our authors have been telling the readers that lawmakers base their regulations and restrictions upon their assessment of the knives; are they tools or are they weapons? But we know that courts have established that it is the user who determines the use and that even box-cutters can be lethal when used with the intent to kill. “If the Second Amendment protects knives, it is not because knives are frequently used by electricians and roofers. The Second Amendment does not protect voltage meters or nails. The Second Amendment protects arms.” The unconstitutionality of dividing knives into categories and restricting one and not the other is at the core of the knife laws being implemented in America. These laws are based on an attempt to secure public safety. Yet, the Bill of Rights must legally be upheld. Any laws put into place must be in accord with the Constitution. There is no objection to striving for safety; but, it is an unconstitutional law if this is accomplished at the expense of the right to bear weapons; as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
Our authors concluding statements sum up the situation pertaining to America. “Knives are among the “arms” protected by the Second Amendment. They easily fit with the Supreme Court’s Heller definition of protected arms, being usable for self-defense, and typically owned by law-abiding citizens for legitimate purposes. Statutes which ban or impose special restrictions based on how a knife opens, or on whether an opened knife can be locked upon, cannot pass any form of heightened scrutiny. There is no rational basis for laws about carrying of knives to be more restrictive than for the carrying of handguns. Knives are among the arms which Americans have a right to “bear”.”
The well-documented and well-publicized debate of American’s right to bear arms makes obtaining reputable information about knives and the Second Amendment an easy task for any moderately skilled lay-person. The information about knives and knife types is directly applicable to the evaluation of Dutch laws which regulate the rights of Dutch citizens to keep and bear arms. Detailed information about Dutch weapons laws are, however, more difficult to acquire for inspection. That is not to say it is impossible to acquire; just that it is not as readily available as the information concerning America’s laws, and what is available is quite cursory; leaving many questions unanswered. What “can” easily be compared between the two countries is the general classifications of knife restrictions. The Netherlands appears to have the same “unfounded” prejudice toward: folding knives, stilettos, gravity knives, butterfly knives, blade length, and blade shape. They do offer the potential possibility for application of exemption for knives which are: unusable, antique, a part of a collection or wall decoration, professional tools, for training and sport use, tools for public service, and testing of products. What is also immediately apparent is that Dutch weapons laws are based on guaranteeing public protection and give no regard to a Dutch citizen’s right to use a weapon in self-defense. Obviously, if one is barred from owning and or carrying a weapon, then the use of a weapon in self-defense would, by definition, be illegal. Dutch law requires that in transportation per auto, the weapon be not accessible from the passenger area. When allowed to carry a weapon, it must be wrapped and packed in such a way that it is impossible to gain easy access. These regulations fairly well rule out any intended use of weapons for self-defense outside the home. Violent attacks tend to be fast, chaotic, and leave no time for unpacking and unlocking to obtain access to a weapon.
America and The Netherlands both want to protect their citizens; of that I am convinced. Each country has lived its own unique history; creating their Constitutions at different periods in time and under different circumstances. There is no doubt in my mind that laws are social artifacts which come about through social dynamics of the peoples within a country. As such, they can tell something about the perspectives of those societies as a whole and give clues as to how they have developed. The fact that the Second Amendment is a highly discussed issue within America, tells me that the present population of that country is divided in perspective; it tells me that there is a dynamic balance between visions which cannot remain forever unchanged. The structure of the American judicial system is such that it allows for change through the interpretation of its Constitution. The Supreme Court Judges have life-time appointments. The effect of that is stability and gradual change. When the “zeitgeist” of America reaches a zenith of any particular interpretation of the Constitution, then this will be reflected in a majority vote from the Supreme Court judges. It is a game of endurance which guides their process.
The Netherlands appears to stand out to the world on issues other than weapons control. There may be an occasional referral to Dutch gun control laws. But, it is not an issue which appears to gather much attention; neither here nor abroad. Frankly, I don’t sense any particular urgency from my fellow Dutch citizens to examine nor to change how the weapons are regulated in The Netherlands. There is a certain amount of gun and knife violence in this country. When someone is shot or stabbed the incident becomes a topic of conversation. However, my experience is that the solutions are sought mostly in correcting the social environment which created the event rather than the weapons law. Discussions of self-defense have primarily come to my ears from the concerns of martial arts groups. Martial artists want to know under which circumstances they are allowed to defend themselves with their skills. These skills are usually hand-combat skills rather than weapons skills. The concern martial artists have about Dutch weapons laws is about where they can legally practice with weapons and how must they transport those weapons under the law. These are discussions of continual repetition; because the law is not clear to those who wish to honor it. Criminals do not care about understanding the law; they are not interested in following it. It is the well-intended, law-abiding citizen who wants clarity in order to obey the law. Unfortunately, the discussions of martial artists do not seem to reach the ears of the designated persons who make the Dutch weapons law. Even more unfortunate, is that while Dutch martial artists want to understand and obey the law, they are also hesitant to call attention to their own weapons use. What is allowed by default might be revoked by a Civil Servant; in that saying “no” is the easiest response to be given by a bureaucrat. This, too, is a cultural phenomenon developed by Dutch culture. And, evidently, the government chooses to tolerate a great deal of the “silent civil dissidence” of its citizens as well. Both sides “look through their fingers” at the other. They see, and ignore in silence. It is the Dutch way to keep the peace.