Butterfly knives are protected under the Second Amendment right to bear arms, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel ruled Monday, overturning Hawaii’s 30-year ban on the weapon, Courthouse News reports. The conservative panel cited precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, which found the carrying of concealed firearms in public a constitutional right. In Bruen, Justice Clarence Thomas held that gun restrictions must comply with what he called the “historical tradition of firearm regulation.” The three-judge appeals panel determined this new standard for gun regulation also applies to restrictions on other forms of “arms” including knives like the butterfly knife, a kind of pocketknife with double handles that can be quickly opened and used with one hand. Hawaii first criminalized possession of butterfly knives in 1993 and remained the only state to ban the possession, sale, manufacture or transport of the knife.
Two Hawaii residents sued Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors and State Sheriff Division Administrator Al Cummings in 2019, challenging the ban, which prevented them from owning the knives for self-defense. U.S. District Judge Alan Kay issued summary judgment in favor of state officials in 2020. Circuit Judge Carlos Bea, a George W. Bush appointee, citied a 1774 dictionary that considered bladed weapons like swords and halberds, and by extension butterfly knives, “arms” — a definition that would have applied during the Second Amendment’s adoption in the 18th century. “Although Bruen discussed ‘firearm regulation[s],’ that was because the arm at issue in that case was a firearm. We see no reason why the framework would vary by type of ‘arm’,” Bea wrote. The panel, rounded out by Donald Trump appointed Judges Daniel Collins and Kenneth Lee, rejected Hawaii’s argument that there are historical analogues of similar bans on the concealed carry of potentially dangerous weapons like Bowie knives, “Arkansas Toothpicks” or daggers that justified the ban.