Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ruling of the Week 2015.18: Switchblades Redux

I covered the Switchblade Act already this year, but it is back for a second look. This time in HQ 263979 (May 29, 2015). This is an instance where the importer got a surprise, and it is not the good kind.

United Cutlery asked Customs and Border Protection for the classification of a style of "folding" knife it intended to import. The knife consisted of a black metal grip and a double-edged blade that tapers to a point. The blade retracts into the grip and is released via a button that slides in a linear track along one side of the grip. SO, the knife does not "fold" at all. Pushing the button forward deploys the blade. The blade is under pressure from an internal spring and there are two detents in the track. The button drops into the detents with the blade extended either 1/16th or 5/16th of an inch. A minimal amount of force applied to the button will bypass both detents causing the blade to spring forward fully and lock in place.

The functioning of this system is important because of the way to Switchblade Act works. If the knife contains a spring and detent mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure and that requires exertion applied to the blade to overcome the bias toward closure, it is not a prohibited switchblade.

In this case, the spring creates a bias toward extending the blade. Under the Switchblade Act, that is prohibited merchandise. So the tariff classification is "doesn't matter dot inadmissible dot sorry."

Click the link above for the ruling; it has lots of good pictures. I scoured the United Cutlery website and did not see this knife. Maybe they did not yet start importing. Getting a ruling before committing to import, is the best practice, after all.


Anonymous said...

Switchblades...absolutely prohibited to import. Guns, ok with permit. What's wrong with this picture?

Larry said...

Funny you should ask. While I was drafting this post, I was wondering whether knives of any kind are protected by the Second Amendment and whether this law is constitutional. The Switchblade Act, 15 USC 1241-1245 became law in 1958. I see no cases challenging its constitutionality. It turns out there is legal scholarly work on this topic. You can find a brief discussion and a link to a law review article here:

There is also a "knife rights" organization.

I looks like there is a non-frivolous argument that the Second Amendment applies. That does not mean that a ban on importation is unconstitutional. Assault weapons have been banned. Maybe the switchblade is the assault weapon of the knife trade.

Anonymous said...

Law review article [] even discusses the Congressional legislative amendment in response to Customs' attempt to reinterpret the scope of covered knives.

Personally, I am more worried about the guns that cross the border illegally (import and export) than a quick-to-draw knife. I think Customs would agree.