Federal appeals court reinstates lawsuit challenging New York law banning flip-open knives

A lawsuit challenging the city's aggressive enforcement of a ban on pocket knives that pop open with a flip of the wrist was reinstated on Tuesday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said an artist, an art dealer and a retail store that sells common folding knives had shown they have standing to challenge the city's enforcement of a state law created in the 1950s. Two organizations supporting the ability of people to carry knives and tools did not, a three-judge appeals panel concluded.

The decision, written by Circuit Judge Reena Raggi, noted that artist John Copeland and art dealer Pedro Perez were charged by police officers in 2010 with misdemeanor criminal possession of a weapon, a law designed to ban switchblades and gravity knives, which spring open automatically when snapped forward by the wrist. The charges eventually were dismissed.

The lawsuit argued the law is unconstitutionally vague because the city has applied it to any folding knife, even those not designed to spring open easily. It said Copeland and Perez need the knives in their work.

Retailer Native Leather, which operates a Manhattan store, joined the lawsuit after the city reached a deal with various retailers that paid nearly $1.9 million in fines and agreed to stop selling knives that might violate the law. Native Leather, one of the retailers involved in the agreement, designated an employee to test its knives to ensure they cannot be flicked open, the appeals court noted.

"At the same time, it professes concern that its program cannot assure that 'some other person' will not be able to flick open one of its knives despite its own employee's inability to do so," the 2nd Circuit said. "Thus, it complains that, while it wishes to sell a wide assortment of common folding knives, it does not do so."

In ruling, the appeals panel did not address the lawsuit's merits. It disallowed two organizations that support the ability of people to carry knives and tools from remaining plaintiffs.

One organization, Knife Rights, praised the ruling in a release. Its chairman, Doug Ritter, said a lower-court ruling tossing out the lawsuit was "absurd" and it was time to show how the city was using a state law "to potentially demonize all folding knives."

The organization said there had been more than 60,000 prosecutions involving the knife law in the last decade.

A spokesman for city lawyers said the city was reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said prosecutors were pleased the appeals court left some of the lower-court ruling intact

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Daniel Schmutter, said they were "very pleased" the lawsuit was reinstated.