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June 5, 2013

Indiana to lift decades-old ban on switchblades

INDIANAPOLIS —

For more than a half-century, the only legal access that most Hoosiers had to switchblades was viewing them in the hands of youthful hoodlums in movies such as “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” 

That’s soon to end. 

Come July 1, Indiana will join a growing number of states rolling back their decades-old prohibitions on automatic spring-loaded knives, better known as switchblades. 

A small provision tucked into a larger hunting and fishing bill does away with a 1957 law that made it a misdemeanor crime to manufacture, possess, display, offer, sell, lend, give away, or purchase switchblades in Indiana. 

“It was an obsolete law,” said state Sen. Jim Tomes, a Republican from Posey County who supported the change.

His argument: There is very little difference between the illegal spring-loaded switchblade of the past and the one-handed, spring-assisted handheld knives that are legally on the market and widely sold today. 

During a hearing on the issue earlier this year, Tomes demonstrated how both knives could be opened quickly with one hand. 

“No one could tell the difference. Maybe the law made some sense back in the ‘50s,” Tomes said, citing a rash of state and federal laws from that era that criminalized swithblades in response to fears that it was the weapon of choice for youth gangs. “But today, it doesn’t make sense.” 

Tomes successfully made that argument in the Senate during the 2013 session, which ended in April. His bill to lift the ban won unanimous support in the Senate, but was stalled in the House — as similar bills in the past have — when it didn’t get a hearing. 

But it got new life in the final days of the session, when a legislative conference committee put the switchblade language into House Bill 1563, a wildlife and fishing bill that makes it legal for hunters in Indiana to use lawfully possessed suppressors, also known as silencers, on firearms while hunting. That House bill, signed into law in May by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, goes into effect July 1. 

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