After 54 years of "silliness," switchblades are again legal in Colorado, and knife rights activists are cheering.
"Today we celebrate a sharper future in Colorado," said Doug Ritter, chairman of Knife Rights - motto: "A Sharper Future" - at a press conference Wednesday at a knife factory in Golden.
Ritter, whose organization is dedicated to repealing bans on switchblades and other automatic knives, was on hand to thank state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, for sponsoring legislation that overturned Colorado's ban, in effect since 1963. The law passed by wide margins in the legislature and took effect Wednesday.
"All this started out with the silliness in the 1950s with gangs, with 'Rebel Without a Cause,' 'West Side Story,'" Ritter told Colorado Politics. "There was never any rational reason for the bans - people love these knives, they enjoy owning them."
During testimony before legislative committees, Hill and Lebsock argued that Colorado's ban on automatic knives - including gravity knives, which can be flung open - was archaic and wasn't enforced. Members of the military, plumbers, emergency personnel and mountain climbers, among others, need a knife they can open with one hand, witnesses said.
"This is a great event for our industry because a lot of our industry is steeped in ignorance," said Sal Glesser, who founded knife manufacturer Spyderco, Inc., 40 years ago. After the press conference, he led a tour of his factory, which manufactures automatic knives for military and emergency response purposes among its hundreds of models.
"It's a tool - people use them every day to prepare dinner without ever thinking of the fact that it's the same knife, whether it has a button or it opens this way or it opens a variety of ways," Glesser said.
"This was one of the rare instances where we had the state's sheriffs, the State Patrol and the ACLU all on the same page," said Hill, who highlighted the legislation when he declared his candidacy for Congress earlier this year.
Hill thanked retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Bloodgood, his constituent, for sparking the law by urging Hill to take a stab at repealing the longstanding ban.
Recalling that he'd put off introducing the legislation for years worried that law enforcement officials would object, Hill finally asked officers what they thought about ending the ban on switchblades. "'You mean, these are illegal?'" Hill said they'd ask - and then sometimes put their hand on their pocket. "It turns out, every single one of them was carrying," Hill said with a laugh. "Because we all know, as a tool, if you're tied up, if you've got a challenge, you need to be able to open that knife with one hand."
Lebsock emphasized that the repeal legislation was bipartisan and called it a civil liberties issue.
"This bill, to be honest with you, even though it's real and it's meaningful to a lot of people - it's also symbolic to the fight we have down at the state legislature every single day," he said.
Lebsock, a candidate for state treasurer in next year's election, then enumerated issues he maintained are similar.
"The government has no business in our bedrooms," he said. "The government has no business telling us who to date or to marry. The government has no business telling us what we can put inside our own bodies, what we can do with our bodies."
Ritter also handed plaques and Spyderco knives to Bloodgood, along with Independence Institute research director Dave Kopel and Steve Schreiner of the Colorado Firearms Coalition, thanking them for helping move the Colorado legislation along.
Colorado was the 17th state to repeal a knife ban since the Knife Rights group launched its nationwide campaign, Ritter said. Montana, Texas and Michigan are lifting similar bans later this year, leaving only a handful of states where the knives aren't legal.
The organization notes, however, that numerous municipalities in Colorado still have ordinances on the books that mirror the state ban - including Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Lakewood - and is urging cities to remove them before a court decision forces them to.