NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Criminals Switch To Knives?

March 31, 2000

Sales of switchblade knives, which automatically open at the touch of a button, are booming, industry experts say. Switchblades are illegal to carry in 37 states and most states ban their sale unless they are manufactured in that state. Also, U.S. customs law prohibits their import.

But U.S. sales are soaring for such manufacturers as SKM of Maniago, Italy. The company's sales to the U.S. have roughly doubled each year to 10,000 in 1999 since its Internet site opened in 1996. And while the U.S. crime rate is falling, the use of knives in murders is rising slightly as a percentage of overall killings.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation figures show that knives were used in 13.3 percent of the nation's 14,088 murders in 1998, compared with 12.7 percent of 22,084 killings in 1994.
  • "...[W]hen they're closed they're easier to conceal than a handgun -- even in the palm of someone's hand," says John Barthuly, deputy policy chief in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Michele Beltrame of SKM says he sees little practical use in switchblades. However, the U.S. Coast Guard issues switchblades instead of fixed knives to water-rescue teams.

Beltrame dismisses the notion that his customers are criminals. "We sell a lot of knives in the U.S., but handguns are so plentiful and cheap there that most criminals would probably buy them instead of knives."

In fact, using that reasoning in part, some knife industry leaders are discussing the possibility of pushing for repeal of the ban on switchblades in some states. One reasons, "You can't have an accidental discharge with a knife, and kill someone in the next room."

Source: Robert Johnson, "Sales of Switchblades in U.S. Get a Boost From Internet," Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2000.


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