Why Are Gravity Knives Illegal?


Tens of thousands of black and Latino New Yorkers have been arrested over the past 60 years for possessing so-called gravity knives. These are small, easily accessible blades used by many people, from stagehands to steelworkers.

A gravity knife is defined by New York law as a knife that has a blade stored in the handle and can be opened with a single motion of the wrist. In contrast to switchblades, which have a spring that deploys the edge when the user presses a button, these knives require the user to manually open the blade.

Critics of the previous law pointed out that ordinary folding knives and tradespeople’s knives could be considered gravity knives if an officer could flick them open with centrifugal force, leading to some people being arrested for possessing tools they needed to do their jobs.

What’s A Gravity Knife?

Throughout this piece, “gravity knife” will refer to any knife that opens when subjected to gravity. The blade is typically held closed by a mechanism in the handle that must be disengaged in order to allow the blade to swing freely.

Any knife that opens “by operation of inertia, gravity, or both” is considered a gravity knife under federal law. Switchblades are the only category that gravity knives fit into legally. In my capacity as a knife enthusiast, rather than a legal professional, I must distinguish. To me, the term “switchblade” suggests a spring-loaded opening mechanism, and gravity knives do not have springs.

gravity knives

Origins Of Gravity Knives

The Luftwaffe pilots of WWII needed a knife that could be opened with one hand, stored easily, and had a sizable blade. A pilot could use such a knife to free themselves from a parachute if they became trapped.

Until then, the only practical knife options were either fixed blades (large, can be used with one hand) or slip joints or friction folders (compact carry, good size). Ball bearings weren’t used in knives, and the familiar locking mechanisms wouldn’t appear for another few decades.

The gravity knife was the answer. The user would pull out the blade by pointing it downward, activating a lever with their thumb, and letting gravity do the rest. The blade would remain open until the user manually unlocked it by pulling the lever.

Just turn the knife around and the blade will be sheathed. They were also among the safest knives available because the user’s fingers never came close to or crossed the path of the blade.

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Thanks to their deep military roots, gravity knives have come to represent war, a concept closely associated with weapons. Sometime later, however, Uncle Sam had something to say about it. Just as every time Uncle Sam has something to say about an instrument of war, people immediately began looking for loopholes. Such exemptions are how you might be able to legally carry a gravity knife.

The Mechanism Of Gravity Knives

There is a wide variety in the design and function of gravity knives. But they all share the feature that the blade can be opened without direct contact. In terms of sales, the Paragon Warlock gravity knife far and away dominates the competition.

gravity knife

Pinch the pivot together to open it, and the two handle scales will unfold into a clam shell. From that vantage point, the knife is free to slice through whatever is in its path. Putting the locks in the open position is as simple as releasing the handles.

Does The Law Permit The Use Of Gravity Knives?

As was mentioned before, the official legal definition of “gravity knife” consists of exactly seven words. Also, not seven firm and unambiguous words, but seven nebulous ones. Any knife with an automatic opening mechanism.

It happens “through the combined forces of inertia and gravity.”

Two words from physics class are used in this painfully vague definition. In other words, Science Maya should be called in for that!

She explained that gravity is a universal force that draws two massive objects together. It’s the planet’s gravity, not your effort, holding the knife in place.

However, inertia is the tendency of an object to continue moving in the same direction until acted upon by another force. You can use this to open a knife by flicking your wrist; the knife will then open on its own due to the momentum of the blade.

Since “gravity knife” is defined so broadly and generally, the law is rarely enforced consistently. However, not all knives that claim to be gravity knives actually are. Our support staff has had a lot of trouble dealing with this.

In addition to the legal gray area surrounding other “switchblades,” this is yet another layer of complexity. For more information, read our article on whether or not switchblades are legal in your state.

To cut a long story short, the status of gravity knives within the law is unclear. Get legal advice from a licensed attorney before purchasing any knife. Especially one that has the potential to be used as a gravity knife.

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gravity knife legality

Concentrated Possession Cases

There was a time when citizens whose jobs required them to carry utility knives were sometimes arrested. But that changed with this new law. Workers in related fields such as stagehands and electricians were also counted. The cops thought their knives were gravity knives.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) concluded that New York’s current law could lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement because the knife was defined by its function rather than its design.

One attorney with the New York City Legal Aid Society called the ambiguity surrounding the definition of such a knife “one of the most discriminatory policing practices in our state.” There have been 3,500 arrests for gravity knives in the past year. Minorities made up 85 percent of those detained.

The New York Police Department and many prosecutors, however, think that allowing people to legally carry such knives would be a bad idea. The knives are easily concealed and can cause fatal wounds when used swiftly. According to the NYPD, there have been 1,600 knife attacks in the city so far this year


Gravity knives are among the most intriguing knives because of their unusual design, historical significance, and scarcity. Do they pose an inherent risk? To the same extent as any other knife. Is it difficult to legally own one? Absolutely! But even so, do you think they’re cool? That is what we are of the firm belief that it is.

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  • Maria D Ramsey

    Hey Maria D Ramsey here, I am a journalist and author with a love for writing guides that help people improve their lives. I was born and raised in the United States, and my hobbies include cooking and reading novels.

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