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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: November 23, 2021 04:50 PM
From: Senator Sharif Street
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending the Criminalization of Automatic Knife Possession
In the near future, I intend to introduce legislation that amends Title 18 (Crimes Code) to eliminate the criminalization of automatic knives in Pennsylvania.

Currently Pennsylvanians are prohibited from repairing, selling, dealing, using, or possessing an “offensive weapon” as defined in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. “Offensive weapon” is defined to include a wide range of inherently dangerous weapons such as bombs, grenades, and machine guns. However, it also includes automatic knives which feature one-handed push-button operations. These knives are commonly used by and serve a valuable purpose for outdoor enthusiasts like hunters, boaters, and hikers, and tradespeople like contractors, landscapers, and mechanics. Simply put, many Pennsylvanians are at risk of being swept up in the criminal justice system merely by possessing this tool that has many everyday practical purposes.
This is especially true for young Black men who are more likely to be stopped by police. In 2011, a study conducted by the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association found troopers were two to three times more likely to search Black or Latino drivers than White drivers even though they were far less likely to find contraband on Black and Latino drivers compared to White drivers. This is consistent with national reports by the Stanford Open Policing Project of 100 million traffic stops across the United States that showed black drivers are about 20 percent more likely to be stopped than White drivers relative to their share of the residential population. The mere possession of one of these knives when a young Black man is stopped by police is enough to get him a criminal charge.

Under my legislation, Pennsylvania’s prohibited offensive weapons statute would be amended to categorize these automatic knives as “dangerous weapons” as opposed to “offensive weapons.” Importantly this change will criminalize automatic knives only when carried with the intent to commit an offense graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree or higher as defined under the Crimes Code. This change will spare law-abiding Pennsylvanians from the outdated restrictions and punitive consequences that currently exist for possessing an automatic knife.
Recently, twenty-three states have repealed or revised laws regarding the sale and possession of automatic knives. Pennsylvania is among just seven states that still criminalize the mere possession of an automatic knife. It is past time for Pennsylvania to end this antiquated restriction and help protect Pennsylvanians from being impacted by an overzealous and overly punitive criminal justice system.

Please join me in co-sponsoring in this important legislation. If you have any questions, please reach out to my Policy Director, Micah Mahjoubian, at micah@pasenate.com.

Introduced as SB1013