Ballistic Knives: What They Are and Why They're Illegal

Picture of a Ballistic Knife
Image from Specter Arts

Ballistic knives are the most illegal kind of knives in the world.  While many states are starting to back off on their switchblade rules and regulations, ballistic knives are still considered the ultimate evil when it comes to knives, and, unfortunately, knife advocates didn’t rally together in time to stop the fearmongering and banning that took place.

This is my comprehensive look at the ballistic knife.  What are ballistic knives?  Why are ballistic knives illegal?  If these questions are in your head, you’ll soon learn the answer to them.

Table of Contents

What are Ballistic Knives?

Ballistic knives are projectile weapons.  They’re like guns, but with knives instead of bullets, or like arrows that fire from a spring instead of a taut string.  It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  You have a blade attached to a hollow handle that fits inside a handle equipped with a coil spring.  A latch holds the blade in place, keeping the spring from launching it until the latch is released.  Some spring-loaded knives can launch up to 20 feet, although the accuracy isn’t that great.  This is why throwing knives are actually more deadly in combat than ballistic knives.

Some of them use compressed air or gas to assist in propulsion, but those are considered to be firearms, even if they can serve the purpose of regular knives, too.  Any ballistic knife, when in the locked position, can cut and slice and be used the same way any other knife can.

History of the Ballistic Knife

Our story starts in Russia, when a Russian company, Ostblock, dispersed large numbers of ballistic knives to the Russian special force, Spetsnaz.  This was all in the 80s, and it wasn’t long before unlicensed copy-cats emerged in the USA, as most things do.

The Spetnaz troops were originally trained in throwing knives, allowing them to eliminate targets silently, and even in Russia, these weapons were off-limits to the citizenry.  Then again, in the 1980s, we’re still talking about the Soviet Union, in which case most things were off-limits to the citizenry.

Anyway, learning how to throw knives accurately requires a lot of practice and training, whereas ballistic knives are more like point-and-shoot weapons.  They need far less practice to learn how to safely use a ballistic knife than a throwing knife, although ballistic knives would prove to be far less accurate.  This is due to the shock vibrations that occur when releasing the locking mechanism, so you had to be able to get pretty close to a target to ensure death.

Regardless, with so many new people being recruited, the army was willing to do anything to reduce training time, so ballistic knives became prevalent among the Spetsnaz.  Moreover, as a hybrid weapon, these knives could also be used as conventional stabbing tools.

Before wrapping this up, it’s important to note that the Spetnaz’s tool, the NRS-2 knife, wasn’t the same kind of ballistic knife that entered the United States.  Their knives had an integrated firearm within the handles, allowing for more power.

How Did Ballistic Knives Come to Be Illegal in the US?

If there’s one thing politicians (probably worldwide) are known for, it’s the ability to make legislation on things they have no clue about.  I’m pretty sure the process goes something like this:

  1. Get the bare-bones ‘facts’ about a subject.
  2. Figure out which stance your party will take and commit to towing that party line at all costs.
  3. Use hyperbole and poorly understood ‘facts’ to try to win people to your side, all while slinging mud at anyone who disagrees.
  4. Enact legislation that does more harm than good, undermines people’s rights, and demonstrates a poor understanding of an issue.

Just to clarify, I’m not ragging on one particular party, as I’m confident this is just how it works in most countries.  All parties engage in this behavior, which is why it’s important to write to your legislators and form groups that will stand to protect your interests against the sometimes willful ignorance of those playing politics.

That being said, ballistic knives provided a special opportunity for knife-haters to team up with gun-haters to look for something new to hate, and in 1986, Ronald Reagon signed into law the Ballistic Knife Prohibition Act of 1986, following in the footsteps of the 1958 attack on switchblades.

In fact, it was Republican Senator Alfonse D’Amato (that guy on the right) who invoked this very ban, stating during a news conference, that the ballistic knife is “a favored weapon used by drug dealers.”  There’s no evidence for that (and no evidence that anyone in the US has ever been killed by such a knife), but politicians play fast and loose with facts most of the time.  He would further claim that “ballistic knives are at least as dangerous as switchblade knives that have been banned since 1958.”

He didn’t stop there, either.  He claimed that the ballistic knife was a terrorist’s weapon and that “ballistic knives have no legitimate sporting purpose.  They are sought by professional criminals because they are easily concealed and capable of penetrating a policeman’s bulletproof vest.”  We’ll come back to that statement in a second.

It probably didn’t help that magazines advertised ballistic knives as being able to kill swiftly and silently and as technology stolen from “The Commies”, so it’s no purpose that D’Amato has joined by Democratic Representative Mario Biaggi (known anti-gun politician) in the fear-mongering surrounding ballistic knives.  Biaggi asserted that ballistic knives were cop-killer technology and that a ballistic knife could “fire its blade like a bullet” and even “penetrate police bullet-resistant vests.”

He shared an anecdote in which he’d bought a ballistic knife for $79.95 from the Florida Knife Corp. via mail order – an act that horrified him with its simplicity.  According to him, “There were no questions asked.  I could have been anybody.  The ballistic knife is totally accessible to anyone who wants it.”

The Florida Knife Corp. issued its own statement that its knives cannot penetrate bulletproof vests, although it also noted that bulletproof vests are just that: bulletproof.  They cannot repel, for example, an ice pick.

To support D’Amato’s and Biaggi’s assertions, though, a cop from New York demonstrated the power of a ballistic knife by firing one from 30 feet away at a person-shaped target.  You can do the same thing with throwing knives (check your state’s knife laws here to ensure that such knives are legal in your state), but no politicians or cops have set up a dog and pony show to demonstrate just how lethal they (or most objects) can actually be.  Moreover, if the concern is for sporting purposes (why do our rights hinge on sporting events?), then you could argue that ballistic knives are similar to throwing knives in that regard, too.

However, there weren’t exactly knife activists who were ready to rally to the hue and cry and our rights being eroded, so legislation was passed that banned their sale and manufacture at the federal level.  While some states don’t seem to have a problem with these knives, federal bans on their manufacturing have made it virtually impossible to get one.

If you really wanted, there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to make your own DIY ballistic knife, but you probably don’t want to be caught with one.

Why Does This Ban Matter?

A ban on ballistic knives matters for a couple of different reasons.  The first is that it demonstrates the ignorance surrounding these knives, and the second is that a band on one kind of knife (or gun or other weapons) can easily slide into bans on others.  You know, the slippery slope and everything.

Here are a few facts:

  • Any knife, designed for throwing or not, can be thrown with more accuracy and more power than a ballistic knife.
  • No one in the US has ever been killed with a ballistic knife, and definitely not cops (who have one of the safest jobs in the US, statistically speaking)
  • Ballistic knives could very easily have a sporting purpose if they needed to, but why shouldn’t anything need a sporting purpose?

Ballistic knives aren’t the most dangerous knives out there.  They sound dangerous in theory and look intimidating, but there are far more dangerous blades on the market than a ballistic knife.

Moreover, to invoke the slippery slope argument, once one knife is banned, it sets a precedent that says any knife can be banned.  While this precedent was technically spawned in the 50s, it shows how it can lead to anything demonized being made illegal.

A new organization has popped up called Knife Rights, which lobbies for pro-knife legislation, but there are far more advocates for gun ownership than knife ownership in the United States of America.  It’s important to stand up for our rights because politicians seem to take issue with the word ‘inalienable’ and are more than happy to create loopholes they can use to ban a knife outright or, in the case of all weapons, limit who can and cannot own them.

So, What Should We Do?

Ballistic knives went from being tools used to cut down training regarding throwing knives in the Soviet Union to being the most feared weapon in the United States quite quickly.  Slandered as being cop-killers, preferred by drug dealers, and the most lethal blade since the invention of the switchblade, they fell to the precedent set by the 1958 Federal Switchblade Act.

The best thing you can do is write to your legislators when knife laws come up and get involved with organizations such as Knife Rights (visit them here), which are fighting for pro-knife legislation.  Remember to never roll over and let politicians pass laws powered by fear-mongering and the desire to rally their voter base.

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