State v. Evans: A Knife is Not a Gun

In City of Seattle v. Evansthe WA Supreme Court ruled that Article I, section 24 of the Washington Constitution and the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution’s protection of the right to bear “arms” does not extend to a paring knife.

Seattle Police Officer Michael Conners stopped a vehicle driven by Wayne Anthony Evans for speeding in the Central District of Seattle. As Conners approached Evans’s vehicle, he observed furtive movements from Evans and his passenger, and he smelled marijuana. Conners directed Evans to exit the vehicle and asked him whether he had any weapons. Evans responded that there was a knife in his pocket. Conners instructed Evans not to reach for the knife; Conners then reached into Evans’s front right pocket, retrieved a fixed-blade knife with a black handle, and placed Evans under arrest for possession of a fixed-blade knife.

The City of Seattle (City) charged Evans with the unlawful use of weapons in violation of SMC 12A.14.080, which reads, “It is unlawful for a person knowingly to . . . carry concealed or unconcealed on his or her person any dangerous knife, or carry concealed on his or her person any deadly weapon other than a firearm.”

The case proceeded to trial. The City’s Prosecutor introduced the knife into evidence and presented testimony from Officer Conners. Conners identified the knife that he recovered from Evans at trial and the State entered that knife into evidence. When asked, Officer Conners described the knife as having a “black handle with a metal colored blade” that was “about-about this long,” apparently gesturing with his hands. Officer Conners admitted that he was concerned that the knife had a fixed blade-that is, it had a blade that would not fold into the handle-and alternately described the blade as resembling a “kitchen knife” or a “paring knife.”

The jury returned a general verdict of guilty, and Evans’s conviction was affirmed by the King County Superior Court and the Court of Appeals.

The WA Supreme Court reviewed the case on the specific issue of whether Mr. Evans’ fixed-blade knife is a protected arm under the Washington or federal constitution. Apparently, ruled the court, a knife is NOT protected as an “Arm” under the Constitution(s):

 . . . we hold that not all knives are constitutionally protected arms and that Evans does not demonstrate that his paring knife is an “arm” as defined under our state or federal constitution. Therefore, Evans cannot establish that SMC 12A.14.080(B) is unconstitutional as applied to him and we reject his as-applied challenge.

The court reasoned that although 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:

Were we to adopt Evans’s analysis and hold that a kitchen knife was a protected arm because it could be used for self-defense, there would be no end to the extent of utensils arguably constitutionally protected as arms. If a kitchen knife is a protected arm, what about a rolling pin, which might be effectively wielded for protection or attack? Or a frying pan? Or a heavy candlestick? “Admittedly, any hard object can be used as a weapon, but it would be absurd to give every knife, pitchfork, rake, brick or other object conceivably employable for personal defense constitutional protection as ‘arms.’

With that, the WA Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and held that Evans’s paring knife was not an arm entitled to constitutional protection. Therefore, Evans cannot establish that SMC 12A.14.080 is unconstitutional as applied to him.

My opinion? I hate to say, but I somewhat agree. There’s a huge difference between a gun and a knife. The right to bear arms was made to protect guns, not knives. Period.