Pennsylvania Court: Automatic Knives not Protected by Second Amendment

By Dean Weingarten

Judge Lillian Harris Ransom
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona – -(

A Pennsylvania Court has found that automatic knives are not protected arms under the Second Amendment. The case is not precedential, and is unlikely to be appealed. The finding was made on 9 March, 2017.

On July 29th, 2014, William Battle entered the Pike County Administrative Building for an appointment with a probation officer.  Battle had plead guilty to aggravated assault involving a firearm in 2009, when he was 18, for a crime committed eight months earlier, when he was 17.  He was convicted as an adult. Aggravated assault is a felony in Pennsylvania.  Under Pennsylvania law Battle may not legally possess firearms.

Battle emptied his pockets as preparation to passing through a metal detector. An automatic knife with a four inch blade was part of the contents. A deputy saw the knife and examined it. Battle was arrested for illegal possession of an offensive weapon. The jury trial took place in 2016, and Battle was found guilty of possession of a prohibited offensive weapon. Battle was 25 years old.

An appeal was filed shortly after the conviction, based solely on the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  The appeal did not reference Pennsylvania’s state Constitution. Pennsylvania has a strong right to bear arms provision in the State’s Constitution.  From

Pennsylvania: The right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the State shall not be questioned. Art. 1, § 21 (enacted 1790, art. IX, § 21).

The superior court that heard William Battle’s appeal found that switchblade knives are not protected by the Second Amendment, because they “serve no common lawful purpose”. Judge Lillian Harris Ransom wrote the memorandum.  From the memorandum:

Appellant was free to possess an instrument with a common lawful purpose and use that instrument for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Instead, Appellant possessed a switchblade. While it is conceivable that Appellant possessed a switchblade for self-defense, that is not the switchblade’s common purpose. Hitchon, 549 A.2d at 946; Ashford, 397 A.2d at 423. Accordingly, we reject Appellant’s constitutional claim; he is entitled to no relief. Judgment of sentence affirmed.

The decision makes no sense. Automatic knives are routinely carried and used for numerous common purposes, just as non-automatic knives are.   Knives are common arms.  Automatic knives are legal in most states. There are numerous legal reasons to own them, including self defense. The idea that they are “offensive” arms is an old myth created by a New York Congressman. Part of that mythology is the old play, West Side Story.

This memorandum is a non-precedential finding.  Knife law reform is being pursued in Pennsylvania, so this case might be used as a reason to pass the reform.  If Battle had an ordinary fixed blade knife in his pocket, he would not have broken any law.  He could have legally carried a sword, or a machete.

The appeal did not cite the Supreme Court ruling in Caetano, that said that all bearable arms fall under the Second Amendment. Caetano PER CURIAM decision (pdf):

The Court has held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570, 582 (2008), and that this “Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States,” McDonald v.Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 750 (2010).

The Caetano decision dealt with electronic stun guns, and held that they were in common use. There are likely more automatic knives in use than the 200,000 electronic stun guns cited in Caetano.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Knife laws are similar to gun laws in the fact that they effect the lawful owner, not the criminal. Why can’t the legislatures understand the concept that is illustrated here? There must be some mental short-circuit involved.

Jeffrey A Friedberg

I automatically vote “No” for the retention of ANY “judge.”


Go into Philly, Pittsburgh or any “hood”, round up the thugs and empty their pockets…. You will have treasure trove of “automatic knives” ! Is this ruling aimed at or going to have ANY effect on them… Absolutely NOT. Criminals do not adhere to laws, EVER. This law is aimed directly at the law abiding citizen, the citizen who in not going to use the knife to slit or stab someone. The law abiding citizen that is looking for that split second in which to save their own life OR possibly a familiy member. friend, or possibly even that of… Read more »


One can only wonder how provincial this judge’s views of gun ownership are?


“serve no common lawful purpose” where did this come from?
It’s not in the Constitution so this judge is treasonous by legislating from the bench which is illegal.
If somebody wants to make laws then get elected to a legislature.


Re provisions on the state constitution of Pennsylvania, it seems that the Penna.State Police, aka The Coal and Iron Cops have been questioning people’s right to arms for quite some time. I had a run in with them some years back, settled to my satisfaction, though I was unable to discover what they thought the problem was, re my purchase of a pistol, especially given that I had had for some years, and still have a Pennsylvania Concealed Cary Permit. That said, I find myself curious as to exactly what this automatic knife” is or might be.


Two forces at work here – Liberal flawed logic and Liberal provincialism.

chicken little

Racism/misogony is an ignorant response. Attack the flawed logic and gain the high ground!


Take a long look at that smiling buffoon. Does the term. “Affirmative Action” appointment come to mind? Probably graduated at the bottom of her class.


@hippybiket – attack the flawed logic, not the person and you will gain the high ground.

Jeffrey A Friedberg

Exactly what I was thinking….

2nd Amender

Who holds your hand when you’re walking alone in the dark? Do you whistle, when walking passed the cemetery? Remember to check twice that you locked the doors! Is it time to take the dog out to pee? Anybody else out there in the dark? Are they neighbors? Never saw them before! Why is that car slowing down near you? Do you know the people in it? Who are these guys hanging around the corner store?

We can all add a question or two more, I’m sure!


Most local law enforcement personnel here in PA carry OTF’s. Like everything else including speed limits,he who holds a badge is exempt from governing laws which are in place to suppress it’s citizens

Clark Kent

So laws are in place to ‘suppress citizens’? Since when? You DO realize laws are made by ELECTED representatives, correct?

Jack Hamilton

If Americans are hoping for logic, reason, fairness or justice from the judicial system or US GOVERNMENT, they’re delusional!

Clark Kent

And we only have ourselves to blame. WE are the government. Elected officials and judges don’t just fall into their positions from outer space. They are either elected or appointed by those who are elected. Kind of like complaining your engine conked out if you neglected changing the oil.


Kent – so you start to figure it out, then go off into left field! Your mind is a mess!!

Larry Muhr

Colorado has a law against “gravity knives”. I still have not figured out what a gravity knife is, unless it is a knife blade that is fired like a gun, using a spring to shoot the blade. If anyone knows, please post an answer.

Dave Eckart

A switchblade uses a “switch” or button that releases the blade using the force of spring or other mechanism. A gravity/inertia knife uses those forces to open it, the “switch” or button unlatches or latches the blade, allowing it to open or close.

Dave Hernandez

Knives which propel the blade like a projectile are “ballistic knives” and are illegal in most states whether they use a spring, compressed gas, or explosive charge. Gravity knives open with the force of gravity, falling open when a button is pushed or in some jurisdictions if the blade can be flicked open with the snap of the wrist, and at one point were illegal in most states. Switchblades AKA auto-openers or automatic knives have a bias toward opening (meaning they want to spring open), but are restrained by a catch which is released by a button, switch, or lever… Read more »

Tom L

I’ve carried one daily since they were re-legalized in my state. There was never any legitimate reason for them to be outlawed in the first place because they’re just another knife!


As with all things the common person can use to defend themselves with, liberals see a threat to their control. Therefor they must be band!!! In other words liberal BS!!!


liberal activist courts must learn the offensive weapon crap must stop

bricks is a offensive weapon if used to hit you in the head before robbing you

then ohio state terrorist and las vegas idiot proved cars can be used as offensive weapons

VT Patriot

In areas where it is ‘illegal’ to carry a knife with a blade over 3 inches, 2 3/4 is fine, but 3 1/16 makes you a felon. It’s obvious to anyone that the extra 1/16 turns it into an ‘Assault’ knife. A carving knife? they’re fine. All good logical thinking.

2nd Amender

Judges are judges preferably because they have “wisdom”!
“Wisdom” is usually an attribute associated with experience, and to most extent, age. Though the latter cannot work without the former.
Perhaps this judge sits and watches videos of “West Side Story” over and over to recapture her youth, because she has no ‘real world’ experience!
A knife, is a knife, is a knife!

Clark Kent

Actually, most judges are judges because they are elected by those that bother to cast a ballot (a minority of eligible voters by the way). Ignorant/clueless/misinformed electorate equals ignorant/clueless/misinformed judges. We get the government we deserve. The Founding Fathers expected an informed, involved citizenry in order for our republic to stand. Instead we have a citizenry who can’t even name their representatives and are more concerned about filling their collective guts with cheap pizza and watching drivel on the boob tube than the health of their nation.


With liberal judges guns are not protected under the 2nd amendment so there is no story here!!!

Mike the Limey

A knife is a common defensive instrument & in 40 years the only one I’ve ever come close to using.



Aaaaahhh….”switchblade”, the language of the left. No different than my semi-auto rifles with pistol grips being demonized as an “assault weapon”.

Words have meaning.

The time is coming where a short piece of hemp and a tall tree will have special meaning for those in black robes. Wonder what they’ll call it when their feet are dangling 1/2″ off the ground ?

Dave Eckart

Based on that ruling, this judge would probably believe my spring-assisted pocket knife isn’t protected, either. Although in my state it is still legal. I’d love to know what the term “arms” means to this judge and other judges that makes these inane rulings. Any dictionary I have referenced states it is any tool or weapon, not just those that a judge feels we are allowed to possess. The *reason* that automatic knives do not have a “common lawful purpose” is that many states made them illegal to carry; therefore, they were no longer “common” tools that lawful citizens possessed.… Read more »


Knives are for defending one’s honor when the person is too close to draw your pistol.

Dave Eckart

It’s almost amusing the pathetic rubbish you post here. More interestingly, or rather, peculiarly, is the fact that you must relish being verbally abused, since that occurs most of the time you post on this site, because you frequently post nonsense.