Monday, October 5, 2015

Artists can challenge NYC's knife rules

Did you know that gravity knives are illegal in New York? They are. This case alleges that New York City is classifying too many knives as gravity knives, even if they are not actually gravity knives but instead any folding knife that cannot be opened with a quick flick of the wrist. This case does not decide if New York City is misinterpreting state law. It instead decides whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge New York City's interpretation.

The case is Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, decided on September 22. That's right. We have the rights of gun owners and also the rights of knife users. The individual plaintiffs are artists who use folding  knives for their work. The City has charged them in the past for carrying these knives. A retail store, Native Leather, sells these knives. The City prosecuted Native Leather for selling them. An advocacy organization, Knife Rights, also sues, claiming the City has gone after its members.

Parties have standing to seek an injunction if they risk being subjected to the questionable rule or law without the injunction. This means that Joe Blow cannot sue New York City in a case like this if he does not own any knives that might get him arrested. As Native Leather has sold these knives in the past, wants to sell them again, and has a real fear of prosecution in light of the City's prior prosecution efforts against it, Native Leather has standing to bring this case. The same analysis applies to the individual plaintiffs, who wish to continue using these knives and were charged in the past with carrying a common folding knife. While the City has not threatened to prosecute them again for this, the City has not "disavowed that they would criminally charge Copeland and Perez again the same circumstances." They have standing to sue.

The Knife Rights organization does not have standing to sue. The Second Circuit does not allow organizations to assert the rights of its members in a Section 1983 suit. The organization can only sue by showing it can independently satisfy Article II standing rules, which requires a personal stake in the litigation. It cannot do so. While Knife Rights says it has incurred expenses in opposing the City's interpretation of the knife law, that was in the past. This does not mean the organization will incur these expenses in the future. Since the organization has not shown it will be prosecuted under the statute, it has not standing to bring this case.

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