New knife-law reform legislation took effect April 12, and two bills have been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly to void any more restrictive local laws.
The new law in effect is Senate Bill 140, which repeals a statewide ban on the manufacture and sale of automatically opening pocket or folding knives and defines any knife or cutting instrument as a weapon only if it is used as a weapon. The new designation allows carrying any knife concealed under state law.
Todd Rathner – a lobbyist for Knife Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Arizona that has promoted knife-law reform nationally – lobbied for passage of SB 140.
Rathner said more restrictive knife laws enacted by cities continue to be in effect, and Ohio needs a statute that says the state is the sole authority on knife law.
Two bills – House Bill 243, introduced by state Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), and Senate Bill 156, introduced by state Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) – would establish statewide "preemption" for SB 140, voiding any more restrictive local laws at the local level.
"There are so many reasons to pass" preemption, Rathner said.
Having contradicting state and local laws creates "an insane patchwork (of) different laws in different municipalities that no one can navigate without a lawyer and a stack of legal books," he said. "Imagine if the rules of the road were in some cities in Ohio you had to drive on the right side of the road, and in some cities in Ohio you had to drive on the left side of the road. Think of what compliance would look like. Or in some jurisdictions you have to drive a red car, and in some jurisdictions you have to drive a blue car. I mean it's that arbitrary."
"In SB 156, the intention is to help protect law-biding citizens from inadvertently breaking a local ordinance,” she said. “So many people who work need knives for their jobs. They keep knives on their belts or in their pockets or somehow concealed. It might be legal in one town. They can just cross over into another municipality and they could be breaking a law. And we don't want that to happen. That just flies in the face of common sense. So SB 156 aims to correct that."
"A farmer with a knife in his pocket goes to Cleveland maybe for a baseball game, and suddenly, he's in violation of some city ordinance he never heard of and could find himself under arrest," Rathner said. "This is not like a zoning issue, where individual local concerns may come into play. You don't have the same needs in a rural area that you do in an urban area. Those things make sense."
Rathner emphasized that propose preemption bills are – like SB 140 itself – part of an effort at criminal-justice reform in Ohio.
"We know that a high disproportionate number of minorities, particularly African Americans, are stopped by the police for things like carrying a pocket knife, which then results in an interaction with the police that almost never ends well. That's an important thing for urban legislators to pay attention to because the victimless crime of carrying a pocket knife should not cause interaction with the local police that then results in escalation," he said.
One such example, he said, was the 2015 death of Freddie Gray Jr. in Baltimore. Gray was arrested for carrying an automatic-opening knife banned in Baltimore but otherwise legal in Maryland.
New York City earlier used a local knife law to arrest about 6,000 people a year, 84% of whom were Black or Hispanic, Rathner said.
House and Senate bills each require three hearings, he said, and whichever proposal first clears that hurdle likely would move forward to approval.
The House and Senate proposals are companion legislation, Roegner said.
"It doesn't happen on all bills, but if there is enough interest in both chambers, oftentimes you'll see language introduced in both chambers, and it's the same language. In this particular case, I believe, the language is the same. In other cases, it will be substantially similar. And then through the legislative process and committee, we work out the differences, and it does end up the same. At the end of the day, only one bill can become law. If approved, it meets everyone's goal," she said.
Roegner said a routine piece of legislation takes about a year to become law, but some bills take much longer.
Rathner said SB 140 took effect about two years after it was introduced.