The Freddie Gray Knife: Illegal or Legal?

The ambiguity over the Freddie Gray knife reveals a national problem.

Is it legal to carry a knife in your state or your city?

I have found it really hard to get a sure answer to that question. Every kid (especially every boy; sorry gender egalitarians) wants to own a good knife. Many of the favorite ones are folding knives that might have a blade that easily opens with only using one hand. (I’ve always preferred a fixed blade myself, despite the extra length involved in carrying one.)

But when a kid owns such a knife his parents have to wonder if carrying such a tool in his pocket is a passport to get arrested.

I have found it almost impossible to get a firm answer to that question. And now we see the same ambiguity in Baltimore.

[See also, “How the Freddie Gray Family Showed Real Character.”]

Consider what Jacob Sullum writes about the Freddie Gray knife at the blog: “Dropped Charges Reflect Doubts About Legality of Freddie Gray’s Knife.”

Of the criminal charges proposed by Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore, in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, three are notably missing from the indictments approved by a grand jury today. The Washington Post reports that “charges of false imprisonment against three of the officers are no longer part of the case.” That change presumably reflects the dispute over whether the knife Gray was carrying, which was the official justification for his arrest, qualified as an illegal switchblade.


As I have said before, the fuzziness that helps the officers’ defense highlights the arbitrariness and unfairness of this ordinance. They may have honestly believed they were enforcing this law, but that does not make the law any less stupid or unjust. If a law is so vague that police and prosecutors disagree about what it means, it is absurd to expect that the average person will know when he is violating it.

I am not sure how the court case will go for the police officers, but the law was obviously problematic. In the first place, the Second Amendment covers knives. But, beyond that issue, ambiguous laws are always dangerous to the people.

How about your state or city? Have you ever tried to determine if your or your son’s or daughter’s knife will give the police cause to make an arrest?