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Inception date: No inception date

Import ban

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published a 'Proposed Revocation of Ruling Letters and Revocation of Treatment Relating to the Admissibility of Certain Knives with Spring-Assisted Opening Mechanisms' in Customs Bulletin and Decisions Vol. 43, No. 21 (May 22, 2009) that would block the importation of certain knives. The proposal would expand the definition of 'switchblade' knives for purposes of importation, and hence ban those knives, but would not similarly expand the definition of such knives when they are domestically produced. Public protests over the measure led Congress to enact legislation reversing the CBP decision.
The terms of the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 (15 U.S.C. §1241-1245) appear prima facie to be consistent with the principle of national treatment, insofar as the law prohibits not only the importation but also the introduction, manufacture, transportation, or distribution of any switchblade knife.'1' It defines the term 'switchblade knife' to mean 'any knife having a blade which opens automatically (1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or (2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.'
The interpretations that CBP and its predecessor agencies have given to this definition govern the application of the law with respect to imports, but not the domestic stream of commerce. To the extent that CBP interprets the law more strictly, it may impose stricter standards on imports than on domestic goods.
The above-cited proposed revocation would reverse four letters previously issued during 2005-2008'2' that found certain knives to be admissible under U.S. law. CBP stated that -
Based on our recent review and reconsideration of 'these letters', and reexamination of several of the knives therein at issue, we have determined that the admissibility determination in the aforementioned rulings is incorrect. It is now CBP's position that knives incorporating spring- and release-assisted opening mechanisms are prohibited from entry into the United States pursuant to the Switchblade Knife Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1241-1245.
That review was based upon 'the intrinsic health and public safety concerns underlying the statute and regulations' that, according to CBP, made it 'necessary to reassess our position regarding knives with spring-assisted opening mechanisms.' CBP found that the definition in law 'captures and proscribes, in addition to 'traditional' switchblades, the importation of knives with spring-assisted opening mechanisms, often equipped with thumb studs or protrusions affixed to the base of the blade.' It then issued letters on April 30, 2009 revoking the four earlier determinations regarding the admissibility of the knives in question, and published the proposed revocation the following month. CBP requested that any comments on the new interpretation be submitted by June 21, 2009.
This initiative has been the subject of a campaign seeking to persuade or compel CBP to reconsider its position (i.e., return to the earlier, more permissive interpretation). That campaign is based not on concerns over trade policy, but instead a worry that the precedent with respect to imports will then lead to tighter restriction on domestic manufacturers and knife owners. According to one press account, 'Customs officials argue the rule deals only with imported merchandise, and does not affect knives already in the country or that are manufactured domestically.'
The American Knife and Tool Institute organized a letter-writing campaign, urging knife owners to write their members of Congress in opposition to the proposal. The appeal was based on the potential criminalization of the devices and the consequences for domestic manufacturers and owners. 'If the proposed revocation goes into effect,' the group wrote in a model letter for knife owners to use, 'businesses will close, jobs will be lost and millions of law-abiding Americans will be put in jeopardy for carrying their knives across state lines or arrested for mere possession of such banned items.'
That campaign led some members of Congress to take up the cause. Representative Bob Latta, Republican of Ohio, sent a letter on June 22, 2009 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking the department to reconsider the proposed regulation. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 80 members of the House of Representatives. Representative Latta also tried, but failed, on June 25, 2008 to win approval for an amendment that would require CBP to reverse its position. That effort was rejected by the House Rules Committee on procedural grounds.

TheFiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (H.R.2892) includes language that reverses the CBP proposed redefinition of switchblades and clarifies the Federal Switchblade Act of 1958. Senators John Cornyn (Republican-Texas), Mark Pryor (Democrat-Arkansas), and Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah) cosponsored the amendment that reversed the CBP's proposed rule. Now incorporated as section 562 of the appropriations bill, their amendment reads as follows:

EC. 562. Section 4 of the Act entitled ''An Act to prohibit the introduction, or manufacture for introduction, into interstate commerce of switchblade knives, and for other purposes'' (commonly known as the Federal Switchblade Act) (15 U.S.C. 1244) is amended-
(1) by striking ''or'' at the end of paragraph (3);
(2) by striking the period at the end of paragraph (4) and inserting ''; or'' and
(3) by adding at the end the following:
''(5) a knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife.''.
EC. 562. Section 4 of the Act entitled ''An Act to prohibit the introduction, or manufacture for introduction, into interstate commerce of switchblade knives, and for other purposes'' (commonly known as the Federal Switchblade Act) (15 U.S.C. 1244) is amended-
President Obama signed H.R.2892 into law on October 28, 2009. It is now Public Law 111-83.


'1' The law also provides for certain exemptions, including members of the armed forces and 'the possession, and transportation upon his person, of any switchblade knife with a blade three inches or less in length by any individual who has only one arm.'

'2' One of these Headquarters Ruling Letters (HQ 116315 of March 1, 2005) identified Taiwan as the country of origin of the knife in question. None of the other three letters (HQ W116730 of November 7, 2006; HQ H016666 of December 12, 2007; and HQ H032255 of August 12, 2008) identified specific countries.





429 Other fabricated metal products
8211 Knives with cutting blades, serrated or not (including pruning knives), other than knives of heading 82.08, and blades therefor.
821110 Sets of assorted articles
821191 Table knives having fixed blades
821192 Other knives having fixed blades
821193 Knives having other than fixed blades
821194 Blades

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