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Bizarre Washington Supreme Court Decision

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Article first appeared at Ammoland.com

Ammoland – In a bizarre decision issued on the last day of 2015 in a case involving a paring knife, a sharply divided Washington state Supreme Court found that knives likely are arms and are protected by the U.S. Second Amendment as well as Washington State’s constitution, but the paring knife was not a protected arm.

Justice Charles K. Wiggins, writing for the 5-4 majority, characterized the knife in this case as a “utility tool” and as such, not afforded any constitutional protection.

The defendant was stopped for speeding and when asked if he had any weapons, he told the officer he had a knife in his pocket and claimed he carried it for self-defense. He was arrested, and then convicted, for violating Seattle’s municipal ordinance that makes it illegal to carry “any fixed-blade knife and any other knife having a blade more than 3 1/2 inches in length.” Thought not illegal under state law, there is no Knife Law Preemption in Washington…yet.

He tried to fight the charge by claiming the knife, described by the arresting officer as a “kitchen knife” and a “paring knife,” was a protected “arm.” Whether that was a particularly smart defense is certainly open to argument, but as the saying goes, bad cases make bad law, which this certainly did.

The salient part of the decision’s conclusion was, “we hold that the right to bear arms protects instruments that are designed as weapons traditionally or commonly used by law abiding citizens for the lawful purpose of self-defense. In considering whether a weapon is an arm, we look to the historical origins and use of that weapon, noting that a weapon does not need to be designed for military use to be traditionally or commonly used for self-defense. We will also consider the weapon’s purpose and intended function…The small knife found on Evans’s person is a utility tool, not a weapon…. Evans does not demonstrate that his paring knife is a constitutionally protected arm.”

The four dissenting Justices didn’t buy that argument. Justice Charles W. Johnson argued that any fixed-blade knife that was carried for self-defense should be a protected arm, regardless of its design. As he noted, knives have historically always been considered “militia arms.” He wrote, “I would hold that the [Seattle Municipal Code] as applied to Evans–a law-abiding citizen possessing a fixed-blade knife for self-defense–is presumptively unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.”

Of particular interest was a footnote by the majority, “In a different case under appropriate facts, the ordinance’s ‘broad prohibition’ on carrying arms for purposes of self-defense may well be constitutionally infirm.” Essentially, they conceded that some other knife, designed as, or historically considered, a weapon, for example, might well be afforded the protection of the Second Amendment.

Nobody should take this decision to mean that it’s okay to violate Seattle’s ordinance against fixed blade knives or knives more than 3 1/2 inches long because their knife was designed as a weapon rather than as a kitchen tool.

Click here to read the decision.

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