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After years of failed attempts, Virginia is legalizing switchblades

Switchblades and other automatic knives will now be legal in Virginia.
Switchblades and other automatic knives will now be legal in Virginia.(Virginia Mercury)
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 8:15 AM EDT
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Virginia’s last two governors vetoed efforts to soften the state’s longstanding ban on switchblades.

But the easy-to-open knives will soon be legal after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a switchblade bill that passed the politically divided General Assembly with overwhelming support.

Widely outlawed in the 1950s due to the perception they were the preferred weapon of street gangs and juvenile delinquents, proponents have rebranded switchblades as “automatic knives.” They argue the knives have many common uses, especially for tradesmen and first responders who may need to cut something with only one hand free, and little connection to crime.

The bill that got near-unanimous support from state lawmakers simply removes switchblades from a list of weapons Virginians are banned from possessing or selling. While presenting the bill to colleagues, Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, said switchblades have no business being lumped in with all the other dangerous-sounding but obscure weapons the state has seen fit to ban.

“A switchblade, in my opinion, doesn’t belong on the same list with ballistic knives, throwing stars or ‘oriental darts,’” Pillion said in a Senate committee hearing. “They are not projectile weapons and are not much different than a folding pocket knife.”

It’s not clear how strictly the anti-switchblade law has been enforced, but violations were classified as the lightest type of misdemeanor offense, punishable only by a fine of up to $250.

Pillion told his colleagues Virginia was one of just six states to still ban the knives. Pillion also pitched his proposal as a “jobs bill,” saying he was bringing it on behalf of a growing knife and sword distributor in Southwest Virginia.

In an interview, Alex Martin, part of the family that runs Marion-based Blue Ridge Knives, said the ban ending July 1 means the company will now be able to supply automatic knives to dealers across the country.

“It’s good for the knife industry,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of states now that have legalized automatics and I just want to congratulate Mr. Glenn Youngkin for signing the bill for us.”

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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