Brass knuckles, switchblades and throwing stars — also known in Virginia statutes as “oriental darts” — are close to becoming legal in the commonwealth, thanks to a bill that has passed both chambers of the legislature.
The bill from Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-Buckingham) passed the state House on Tuesday after clearing the Senate last week. Most Democrats opposed the bill in both chambers; they were joined in the House by a handful of Republicans.
Garrett argued that there was no reason for guns, knives and swords to be legal in the state but more obscure weapons illegal.
“You can sell your law-abiding neighbor a gun, but oriental darts are somehow a threat that needs protecting from,” he said. “It’s ludicrous.”
The idea was brought to him by the nonprofit American Knife & Tool Institute, whose slogan is “Keeping Knives in American Lives Since 1998.”
The current law is unconstitutional, said Daniel Lawson, a lawyer and legal counsel for the institute — and it discriminates, he said, against people of lesser means who want to exercise their right to bear arms.
“A decent handgun costs six hundred bucks. Not everybody can afford a handgun,” he said. “So why shouldn’t poor people have the right to possess these other items?”
Lawson’s organization considers the term “switchblade” pejorative and prefers “automatic knives.” In general, he said, the laws against these more convenient blades stem from a 1950s-era stigma fueled by movies such as “Blackboard Jungle.” At least 30 states have since overturned such laws, he said.
Garrett emphasized that he has taken no campaign donations from the knife industry. His bill would repeal an entire section of Virginia code prohibiting the sale or possession of “any blackjack, brass or metal knucks, any disc of whatever configuration having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart, switchblade knife, ballistic knife . . . or like weapons.” A blackjack is a club topped with leather-wrapped lead. A ballistic knife is a blade that can be ejected by a trigger and shot some distance.
The crime is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $250.
House Democrats argued Tuesday that the bill is dangerous because it includes no age restrictions.
“It’s something straight out of a Victorian crime novel,” said Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington) of the weapons allowed under the bill. “It just creates more problems than it’s purporting to fix.”
Garrett said he would have welcomed an age limitation but “saw no effort whatsoever” from critics to amend the bill.
Under a different Virginia law, concealed carrying of most of these weapons remains a crime. Federal law also bans interstate sales of switchblades and ballistic knives.
The bill might be vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who has advocated for stricter gun control this year. The governor will review the legislation when it comes to his desk, a spokeswoman said.