The knife laws in Michigan have drastically changed when relating to automatic knives and switch blades. For many years, you could not possess a switch blade or any knife under spring pressure, however it was legal to have a "spring assisted" knife.

There are many misconceptions on blade length, possession and concealment. It makes me think of the movie Crocodile Dundee.

Sue Charlton: Mick, give him your wallet.

Mick Dundee: What for?

Sue Charlton: He's got a knife.

Mick Dundee: That's not a knife. (proceeds to take it out from his back) That's a knife.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner", I discuss the laws relating to the carrying and possessing of knives and stabbing instruments.

HISTORY

The first switchblades (or automatic blades) were made by European smiths in the mid-18th century which were used as folding spike bayonets on flintlock and coach guns. By the mid-19th century, the first actual examples of switchblade knives were created.

During the 19th century, switchblade production became more widespread. French, Spanish and American craftsmen all started competing with their own custom designs and models.

In the 1950's, crime was increasing in the larger cities. The popular American daily newspaper, Women's Home Companion, came out with an article titled "The Toy That Kills." They related the knives as being the choice weapon used by teenage gangsters.

The scare was further escalated with movies about juvenile delinquents as in Rebel Without A Cause, High School Confidential and West Side Story. This led to New York being the first state to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of switchblades in March 1954.

In August 1958, the U.S. passed The Federal Switchblade Act that defined what a switchblade was, which also provided certain restrictions for possession and ownership.

In 2009, an amendment to The Federal Switchblade Act was made that excluded "spring assisted" knives from the ban and gave the ability to the states to regulate switchblades.

Public Act 96 of 2017 eliminated the prohibition of "pocket knife opened with mechanical device," and allows the sale and possession of automatic knives.

SWITCHBLADE VS SPRING ASSISTED

First, lets distinguish the difference between a switchblade and "spring assisted."

-- Switchblade is a type of knife with a folding or sliding blade contained in the handle which is opened automatically by a spring when a button, lever or switch on the handle or bolster is activated. I look at this as the blade is under spring pressure causing the pressure to release when the button is pressed.

-- Spring Assisted knives most commonly are found with holes or studs that by moving your thumb, you rotate the blade open. Once you move the blade past a certain point the spring takes over to finish opening the blade, hence "spring assist." No prior spring pressure.

TYPES OF SWITCHBLADES

-- Side-Opening switchblades resemble traditional manually-operated folding knives, but have a spring attached to the blade which is released when the activation button is pressed. These were similar to the lame comb knives you would by at the dollar store or used by Danny Zuko.

-- Out-the-front (OTF) switchblades are where the blade comes out directly from the front by sliding a button in the same direction. A double-action OTF knife also retracts the blade when moving the button in the opposite direction.

POSSESSION AND OWNERSHIP

With the recent law, you pretty much have the opportunity to own any knife. But carrying a knife is a little different. There is a difference between carrying openly or concealed.

(1) A person shall not carry a dagger, dirk, stiletto, a double-edged non folding stabbing instrument of any length, or any other dangerous weapon, except a hunting knife adapted and carried as such, concealed on or about his or her person, or whether concealed or otherwise in any vehicle operated or occupied by the person, except in his or her dwelling house, place of business or on other land possessed by the person.

So, basically you cannot carry a knife concealed unless it is a "jack" or folding knife. The hunting knife exception is limited to actual hunting by the words "adopted and carried as such."

When it comes to openly carrying a knife, there are few restrictions. Keep in mind that knives do not have a preemption clause like a firearm, meaning a local municipality could pass an ordinance with further restrictions. This is true for Detroit and Lansing.

THE 3 INCH MYTH

You have heard many times that you cannot possess a knife over 3 inches in length. That is not entirely correct.

"Any person who, with intent to use the same unlawfully against the person of another, goes armed with a pistol or other firearm or dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife having a blade over 3 inches in length, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of a felony..."

The law basically says "unlawful intent." So, if you don't plan on committing a crime with it, there is no length restriction. Always use common sense. Unless your at a knife show or renaissance fair, I wouldn't suggest carrying a ninja sword or machete around with you. Probably not a good optic and expect people to be calling 911 because they think you are a wacko.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.