The Internet is a big place. Policing it to make sure people aren't skirting the law in some way with 100 percent effectiveness isn't possible. So while it's definitely worked wonders for our access to products and information, it's also made some of the world's more nefarious purchases easier to make than ever. We talk about a few examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Keith Carey and Jeff May. That's also what I'm talking about in this column. Surprise!
I put switchblades on this list for a few reasons. For one, it's just been my understanding throughout the entirety of my life that switchblades were highly illegal. I knew this because after watching the Leif Garrett classic The Outsiders as a child, I asked my dad if I could buy a knife like the one in the movie someday.
None of that novelty comb bullshit, either.
He crushed my dreams by informing me that they were outlawed a long time ago. Because I live by the letter of the law, I never thought about it again, assuming that switchblades were a relic from the past that the world would never see again. I was helped along in this thinking by the fact that I only ever saw them in movies or TV shows about Fonzie-looking motherfuckers living in the 1950s. That brings us to my second reason for including switchblades in this article, which is that it provides the perfect excuse to once again share this video with the world:
That's French pop star Serge Gainsbourg on an old-timey variety show performing a tune called "Chez Les Ye-Ye" with an assist from one of the most enthusiastic backup dancers in recorded history. The moment that makes this video one of my favorites comes around the 0:55 mark, when Serge and his dancer friend both inexplicably pull out switchblades ...
They sure are good at being French.
... and then carry on as normal. I'd wear that video on a T-shirt if I could.
Anyway, sharp edges and live music will always be a weird combination, but that the knives in question here happen to be switchblades should come as no surprise at all. At that time (the song was recorded in 1963), the switchblade was the universal symbol of danger and violence in pop culture.
In the real world, their use was associated with gang violence. Magazines and newspapers throughout the 1950s were littered with unsettling tales of the violence and destruction gangs of switchblade-toting youths were inflicting on terrified citizens. The scare reached such a fever pitch that in 1958, the United States Congress enacted the Switchblade Knife Act, which effectively made the admittedly rad-looking weapon illegal to own.
Because of all this, I've had absolutely no reason to think about the legality of the switchblade. That all changed when I happened upon a website called uniqueblade.com. It doesn't matter how or why -- what matters is that I immediately noticed an interesting item listed for sale in the sidebar.
Switchblades!? What!? Since when has this been allowed? Well, in the United States, the answer is "since sometime around 2009." That's when the Switchblade Act was amended to allow "spring assisted" knives. What are those? Switchblades, basically.
"How'd you cut your finger?"
The only difference is the type of mechanism used to open the blade. Seeing as how they're essentially the same thing, this prompted several states to loosen their restrictions on the switchblades your grandparents knew and loved. That doesn't mean they're completely legal everywhere. Several states still ban them completely. This is information I expected to find somewhere on the uniqueblade.com site. A big, flashing warning that residents of Michigan can't buy switchblades, or something along those lines. Instead, I only found this:
Well how are people supposed to have fun in New York City now?
Given their recent epidemic of subway face-slashings, putting the kibosh on knives in New York City strikes me as a good idea. But shouldn't there be a few more restrictions listed? Speaking of which, there's another terrifying weapon of yore that's all of the sudden shockingly legal-ish again ...
Brass knuckles are another weapon of moderate-to-mass destruction that I assumed were at least sort of hard to find. I'd always been told they were illegal, despite also owning a set for a while as a teen. They looked like they were homemade, and I'm still not 100 percent sure where they came from, other than that they were just laying around the house one day. My grandfather was a cop, and he liked to bring shit home -- which also meant that I had ready access to a four-inch-high stack of mostly black-and-white crime scene photos for a few years as a kid. So a set of brass knuckles really wasn't that startling of a find.
Still, they were kind of terrifying. As mentioned previously, they looked like they were made by a dude who did blacksmith work on the side out of his garage on weekends. They also kind of looked like maybe it was a skill he picked up in prison.
If he'd learned as a child like the masters, he'd have been way better at it.
They weren't brass. They might have been bunk bed frame metal, for all I know. I was just absolutely positive I would never want to get hit in the face with something like that. I mean, given a choice, I'd take just never getting hit in the face at all, but I accept that it's bound to happen someday. When it does, I really don't want that fist to be wrapped in rings of solid metal.
Maybe it was the DIY feel of the set I owned that had me falsely assured that brass knuckles were mostly a thing of the past. I had my "cage rattled" -- to paraphrase noted scientist B.o.B. -- when someone sent me a link to this picture of a clip art man laughing at the notion that anyone anywhere is smoking tobacco out of an adorable yellow pig-shaped bowl.
However, those knives are definitely for murder.
While I share his sentiment on the tobacco issue, what caught my attention more than anything else was the assortment of brass knuckles down there in the bottom-left corner. I understand that they aren't made of brass, but they still look plenty capable of destroying a face. When did stuff like that become so easy to find?
Well, for one thing, my understanding of the illegality of brass knuckles was a little off. Turns out they're barely regulated at the federal level, but are indeed outlawed in some states. Several sellers skirt the law by labeling them as novelty paper weights or belt buckles. State laws apparently mean nothing online, though, because a quick search turned up a site called brassknucklescompany.com, where you can choose from an array of different skull-fracturing options. There's no "belt buckle" shit here. They say so right on the site. A set of actual brass knuckles will set you back less than $30. There's also a plastic version, presumably for when you need to beat some ass at a place with metal detectors.
When do you not need to do that?
As for those restrictions that are supposed to keep a person from owning this kind of thing in various parts of the country, this site approaches the issue in much the same way as the knife site from the last entry.
NYC-based switchblade buyers welcome! For some reason!
But who needs throwing stars and brass knuckles when you have all those guns around, anyway?