On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions he will be taking with the goal of reducing gun violence after a spate of recent mass shootings. The biggest arguments over the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution are typically fought over the rights associated with gun ownership. But beyond guns, the definition of precisely what types of arms the "right to bear arms" entails is a bit hazy.
Last week, a divided Washington Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that carrying a paring knife is not a protected right under the Second Amendment. In the court's majority opinion, Justice Charles Wiggins wrote that a pairing knife “is a utility tool, not a weapon" and so does not qualify as a constitutionally protected weapon.
The question was brought before the Supreme Court after a man pulled over for a speeding infraction informed a Seattle police officer that he was carrying a paring knife in a plastic sheath in his pocket, according to the ruling. Seattle prosecutors initially charged the man with the unlawful use of weapons, based on a city ordinance that declares it illegal for someone to “carry concealed or unconcealed…any dangerous knife.” The city's law defines any knife with a fixed blade longer than 3 ½ inches as dangerous, Levi Pulkkinen reports for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The defense argued that posession of the paring knife was constitutionally protected under the Second Amendment.
The jury ruled in favor of the prosecutor, and the superior court and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. Though the Supreme Court upheld the ruling, it did so on different grounds. Wiggins wrote that because a cooking knife isn't designed to be a weapon, it shouldn't be protected as one, rendering the defense's argument, whether or not the ordinance was constitutional, invalid, Munchies reports.
Washington state law does, however, consider things like police batons, billy clubs, dirks and switchblades as “arms.” While Wiggins’ ruling doesn’t specifically mention whether the Second Amendment extends to concealed carrying of these items, it does reinforce that the right to bear arms includes the “right to carry a weapon,” Eugene Volokh writes for the Washington Post.
Still, a knife doesn’t necessarily need to be designed as a weapon for someone to use it as one. And while most people might not think to carry a paring knife with them when they leave home, this could be concerning for some professional cooks, many of whom take their personal knife kits with them to and from work.
“It is true that some weapons may be used for culinary purposes, as it is also true that many culinary utensils may be used when necessary for self-defense; but it does not follow that all weapons are culinary utensils or that all culinary utensils are weapons,” Wiggins wrote.
For now, Seattle’s chefs might want to be extra careful when carrying their knife kits home.