‘West Side Story’ hysteria? Bill would repeal Montana’s switchblade ban

Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, presents his bill to repeal the ban on switchblades in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 21, 2019. (Shaylee Ragar/UM Legislative News Service)

(UM Legislative News Service) The House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would repeal the statewide ban on switchblade knives.

Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta, is sponsoring House Bill 155, and said 14 states have already repealed the ban. Knudsen also said EMTs, firefighters and people with disabilities often use spring-activated knives because you can open and close the blade with one hand.

“They’re honestly one of the safest knives on the market,” Knudsen said.

SK Rossi, the advocacy and policy director of ACLU Montana, spoke in support of the bill during a committee hearing on Monday. Rossi said the ban, which was enacted in 1957, unnecessarily criminalizes people and originally came from sensational fear.

“It definitely was because of hysteria on ‘West Side Story,’ to be perfectly honest,” Rossi said.

The bill drew several opponents for not allowing local governments to ban switchblades in certain buildings like courthouses or jails. But Knudsen said he is drafting an amendment to allow those restrictions.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.