Bible-college student’s pocketknife spoils trip to New York City
Still, the Grove City High School graduate now has a New York weapons charge on his record. Baltzer, 19, is a Bible-college student — a camping-ministry major — and took his pocketknife to New York City on a field trip. He did not know about New York’s strict knife laws. He now has some fame among knife-rights advocates because of what happened to him.
“I have never been in trouble before,” Baltzer said.
His fine-arts class at Baptist Bible College & Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pa., went to New York City on March 27. It was Baltzer’s first trip to the city. On the schedule: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the World Trade Center site, Times Square and an opera at Lincoln Center.
Baltzer and his class were at the Times Square subway station when someone grabbed him by the arm and said, “ Don’t move.” It was a plainclothes New York City police officer.
Baltzer has carried a pocketknife almost everywhere since he was a 14-year-old camp counselor. He clips it on his pocket so that the clip is visible, but the knife isn’t. He always uses two hands to open it, the way most people would a regular pocketknife.
In New York state, it’s illegal to carry a “gravity knife” — a knife with a blade that is released from its handle by flicking a wrist and then locks into place. A switchblade, also illegal to carry in New York, isn’t a gravity knife because a spring opens the blade. A typical Swiss Army knife — legal, in theory — also isn’t a gravity knife because it can’t be opened just by flicking.
The officer had seen the clip on Baltzer’s pocket, which gave him cause to search him. He found the knife. In Baltzer’s telling, the officer tried to flick it open and couldn’t. He handed it to another officer, who did flick it open after several tries.
Baltzer was arrested and charged with the highest degree of misdemeanor under New York law. He had another knife in his backpack, a fixed-blade one he used to whittle for kids at a special-needs camp in Pennsylvania. He forgot he had it in his bag. Police confiscated that one, too.
Two months and two court hearings later, Baltzer was sentenced to two days of community service and fined $125. He paid the fine the day it was levied, and his volunteer camp work quickly took care of the community service.
A New York neighborhood-news website wrote about the case, and it came to the attention of an Arizona-based group called Knife Rights. Knife Rights had filed a federal lawsuit challenging New York’s knife laws even before Baltzer’s case.
“(Baltzer) is a poster child for the unreasonableness and ridiculousness of the prosecution of honest citizens carrying knives,” said Doug Ritter , Knife Rights’ chairman.
In 2010, the Manhattan district attorney announced an initiative to crack down on illegal knives. Since then, New York has treated many typical pocketknives as gravity knives, Ritter said.
Ohio’s laws “aren’t as screwed up as New York’s,” but they are vague, said Greg Ellifritz, who gives knife training to central Ohio officers and civilians. Ohio has outlawed the carrying of concealed “deadly weapons,” which might include knives, he said.
Ohio case law tends to show that a common pocketknife isn’t considered a deadly weapon, Ellifritz said. Some common pocketknives can be opened by flicking them with the proper technique, he said.
The arrest should drop off Baltzer’s record in a year. The experience has taught him a lesson, though.
“I don’t plan on visiting New York unless I have to,” he said."
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