Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Hawaiian Knife Prohibition Deemed Against the Constitution


In 1999, Hawaii introduced a strict prohibition on the possession, carriage, and utilization of butterfly knives, also known as "balisongs." These knives were previously legal. However, in 2020, this prohibition was contested legally. Initially, the District Court endorsed the ban, but this decision was taken to the Ninth Circuit for appeal. On August 7, 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, through a three-judge panel, overturned the District Court's decision, declaring the Hawaiian ban as inconsistent with the Second Amendment. This ruling was influenced by the Supreme Court's Bruen decision from 2022. The rationale provided by the panel regarding the plaintiffs' right to initiate the lawsuit was particularly intriguing. This highlighted how the standards for such legal standings have evolved since the Heller decision of 2008. As quoted from the opinion:

In the past, the interpretation was that the Second Amendment mainly pertained to states' rights, sidelining private citizens' rights to weapon possession. However, the Heller verdict transformed this viewpoint, emphasizing individual rights.

The panel further asserted that the Second Amendment undoubtedly protects knives as arms. Emphasizing a pivotal point, they indicated that just because some criminals might use arms doesn't justify barring regular citizens from possessing them. In their view, while Hawaii's argument relied on general statements associating butterfly knives with criminal activities, this shouldn't override the broader constitutional rights. Every arm, in essence, can be linked to some criminal activity.

While Hawaii's knife laws are seen as limiting, they permit carrying single-edged pocket knives without considering the length. Yet, certain knives, including daggers, dirks, and particularly butterfly knives (since 1999), are prohibited.

The composition of the three-judge panel reflects the significance of prior Presidential appointments. Senior Judge Carlos T. Bea, originally from Spain and an Olympian basketball player for Cuba, was appointed by George Bush in 2003. Meanwhile, Judges Daniel P. Collins and Kenneth K. Lee were nominated by President Trump in 2019.

The Ninth Circuit, historically, has been known to overturn pro-Second Amendment rulings from three-judge panels. It remains uncertain if this case will follow a similar trajectory. The main contention from the Hawaiian government was based on the argument of standing. Thus, any decision to overturn might revolve around this contention.

The panel's opinion provides a comprehensive history on knife possession regulations in the U.S., highlighting that pocket knives were often exempted. The conclusion is unambiguous: the Hawaiian law infringes upon the Second Amendment. This case underscores the influence of prior verdicts like Heller and Caetano, which definitively state that the Second Amendment protects all bearable arms.

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