The Absurdity of Self-Defense Restrictions

Nick Foley, who found because of Pete’s arrest for wearing a hat in court, contacted us to share his encounter with New York City Police. I’d like to thank Nick for taking the time to share his story with us and for having the courage to stand up to cops like this. If you have a police story that you want to write about, go for it (personal experience, quick hit on article/topic or a video )! Just click our contact tab above and we’ll help you with the rest.

By Nick Foley

Self-defense laws are contradictory. Our supposed “leaders” love to bellow loudly about respecting Individual Rights and the Constitution of the United States of America while quietly taking away those rights described within it. Like a third-rate magician performing a cheap trick, the modern politician will turn up the music and wave one hand in the air, while the other hand is under the table reaching for the fixed deck of cards.

In the realm of self-defense, the Constitution, which the politician will claim to value, states that “…the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This is widely accepted to mean that the restrictions regarding the ownership and carrying of firearms are unlawful. True freedom-loving people do and should consider laws discouraging firearms ownership offensive. Today, carrying a gun without government permission is, in most places, a jail-able offense, regardless of whether or not an actual offense has been committed. While this may be unjust, the politicians don’t stop there. In some cities, you may be put in handcuffs and thrown in a cage for carrying an item far, far less dangerous and deadly than a gun…you will be incarcerated for carrying an item that most would never give a second thought about bringing with them during their day’s activities…an item that has many practical uses beyond self-defense. What is this item? A pocketknife.

I know, because I was arrested last spring in New York City for carrying a small folding blade in my pocket. What was my supposed “offense?” Exiting a subway train between work sites, and walking peacefully past a uniformed officer of the NYPD. In the absence of any real threat, the officer only knew I possessed a pocketknife because of the clip of my knife on the outside of my jean’s pocket. When the officer ripped the knife out of my pocket without my permission, I pulled out my phone and began to videotape the interaction (the officer later claimed that he would not have arrested me if I had not recorded our interaction). You can see the interaction here:

Let’s get something straight: I knew and understood the specific New York City laws concerning knives before I carried one, and followed the law under the expectation that I would be protected by the law. I now know better; that all laws are subject to the personal interpretation of the Police and the Courts. The specific portion of the law under which the officer arrested me for criminal possession of a weapon refers to gravity knives. The law states:

“Gravity knife means any knife that has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device.”

The knife I was carrying was not a gravity knife by definition, since the blade was tightened to the point where one could not simply “flick” it open, rather one must use the opposing hand to open the blade. While one may argue all day about the specifics of what a gravity knife is, and if my knife was or was not a gravity knife under New York law, it really detracts from understanding the fundamental violation here: that a peaceful, non-violent, non-threatening individual can be thrown in jail for simple possession, not offensive use of, a common pocketknife.

Under this interpretation of New York City law, it is legal to carry a menacing 4-inch fixed blade, but illegal to carry a 1-inch folding blade. It is legal to carry a 3-foot long baseball bat, but illegal to carry a 1-foot long defense baton. It is legal to possess a .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifle without a permit, but it is illegal to possess a .22 caliber rifle without a permit. See the contradictions?

Fortunately, my personal story of arrest ends anticlimactically; I was jailed for 4 hours, fingerprinted, and released. At my court hearing, I was not even called to the stand: I was simply handed a slip of paper informing me that the “The D.A. has decided not to prosecute” my case. Unfortunately for many others, this kind of story does not end as well. Thousands of non-violent people are incarcerated in the United States each day, for non-crimes ranging from carrying a defense weapon to carrying a certain plant.

The anger and frustration that I felt reminds me of the opening scenes of the original “Rambo” movie, where Rambo is stopped by local police for wearing a buck-knife, is taken to jail for no real reason, then proceeds to fight his way out of the jail. While I am not about about to go “Rambo” on anyone, I do want to stress that wrongful imprisonment, even for just a few hours, is a horrible crime for a government to commit against a citizen.

Self-defense is a universal, moral right which the government must take away if is to maintain its power. An un-armed, vulnerable population is easily controlled. Laws that prohibit an individual’s right to carry weapons of defense only give government the excuse to expand its weapons of offense.

In conclusion, I would like to make a statement that may shock some people: Laws don’t matter. Even if the law is perfect, it is enforced by imperfect beings. In my opinion, the greatest mistake of our generation is to think that freedom can be achieved by elections. The thinking goes: if we could only get Politician X into office, things will change for the better. But to elect better people into government office is to snap a twig off the tree of evil without ever striking the root. As long as there is a monopoly on the use of violence, violence will always be widespread. As long as we hand over all the guns to the state; to political rulers and brutal police, we will always be ruled and utterly, tragically, brutalized.

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Ademo Freeman

was born and raised in Wisconsin, traveled the country in a RV dubbed “MARV” and is an advocate of a voluntary society, where force is replaced with voluntary interactions. He’s partaken in projects such as, Motorhome Diaries, Liberty on Tour, Free Keene, Free Talk Live and is the Founder of

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  • Jenn

    Thanks for writing, Nick! I am very glad the charges were dropped against you, although I agree that many others are not so fortunate. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Thanks for this. It really means a lot to me because I am a weapons lover. I’m trying to shop for a knife and all my favorite ones are apparently too long by state law. It really makes me mad. By the way does anybody know what Tennessee law says about katanas?

  • Guy Fawkes

    Knife laws are retarded. I remember reading somewhere switchblades got outlawed because the politicians watched West Side Story and got all panicky about juvenile delinquents running around menacing people with them. Knife laws in general are often deliberately vague, which makes it hard to comply and easy to get screwed by cops and prosecutors Ref. –
    ” The meaning of most of these state laws is ambiguous, their
    terms either poorly defined, or not defined at all. In large
    part this vagueness was intentional, for it gave wide
    discretion to local police and judges. These laws’ practical
    day-to-day meaning can only be understood from a study of
    relevant appellate decisions, which are summarized in notes
    in the various state law codes.”

    BTW THIS, is a gravity knife:
    The blade comes straight out, you don’t have to flick it, hold it pointing downward and the blade falls out on it’s own.

  • jp

    Get over yourself and cooperate a little. You brought this on yourself. A lot of times officers have the authority to arrest, issue a citation, or issue a warning for a particular offence. If you had just shut up and cooperated, I bet you would have been given the warning or citation. LIfe isn’t all about you. Your are responsible for your actions.

  • Lucas L

    I completely empathize with Nick’s encounter, but it appears the Transit Cop was correct in his knowledge and application of the appropriate statutes. An encounter that might have been handled much differently indeed.

    The Cop’s statements:
    “can I help re-instruct you on the law?”…
    “when you enter a New York City subway, you cannot carry any knife”…
    “upstairs, different, they have different laws”…
    “inside the subway we do not allow people to carry knives”…

    This is factually correct, as per NYC Transit Rules of Conduct (21 NYCCR Sect 1050.8)

    –No weapon, dangerous instrument, or any other item intended for use as a weapon may be carried in or on any facility or conveyance.–

    Tools (knives) obviously meant as such, although they might be used as a weapon, are exempt. The fine is a maximum $25, but a violation also allows for up to ten (10) days in jail.

  • Yeah jp, If he’d just licked the Nazi’s boots and not demanded that he be held to the law rather than this pompous ass’s whim–well yeah. The police officer would have allowed him to crawl away like a good slave. It was indeed not just about him. Weren’t you paying attention?

  • this knife was not a weapon–nor was it intended to be used as one. The officer could just as easily have claimed the a pen was a weapon and that there was an intent to use it as such. Police should not have such broad discretionary authority–especially when they tend to be some of the least educated “professionals” out there.

  • Lucas L

    Clearly the Transit Cop didn’t buy the ‘it’s for my work’ claim. It is obvious for use as a self defense weapon (see the title of this post). You cannot carry this type of weapon on a commercial airliner either. Should it be illegal? Different question.

    Now if it was NOT visible to the Transit Cop, It seems he wouldn’t have stopped Nick. I agree a completely lousy encounter, but apparently NYC LEOs are pretty aggressive. After listening to line of questioning that a tourist would have walked with no harm no foul. Just a guess though.

    Excellent post and comments though.

  • Giovanni

    Are you going to file a false arrest lawsuit? Think about setting up a “Legal Prosecution” fund (as opposed to “Legal Defense”) where you could finance a lawsuit, perhaps with donations submitted on this site. The only way the police learn is to hit them in the wallet.

  • Lucas L–you cant bring baby formula on a plane either. It’s a bad comparison–unless your focus in on the illegal searches and seizures aspect going on there as well.You cannot know that this knife was “obviously” for self-defense. I agree that the issue as to whether the law itself is an unconstitutional infringement on individual liberty is another issue–but it seems too intertwined here to debate one w/o the other. The state is infringing, and this cop is its agent.

  • Ogre

    Thanks for writing this, Nick — it does help to point out that there really is no value to cooperating with police or talking to them at all. They’re going to do whatever the hell they want, no matter what you say or do.

  • Lucas L

    The airline comparison is just that; a comparison of two different modes of public transportation, same banned item. They’re banned because they are weapons. The applicable statute (21 NYCCR Sect 1050.8) seems completely clear and unambiguous; no weapons, or any other item intended as a weapon.

    I draw my conclusion that it’s a self-defense weapon as Nick doesn’t describe the “work” use of the knife to either the Cop or us readers. He also argues against “Laws that prohibit an individual’s right to carry weapons of defense”. So, we’re talking about a weapon he carried for self-defense.

    I think the Cop was pretty arrogant and pushy, not allowing Nick to have any meaningful dialogue, just peppering him with questions. Nick had done his best to research and follow the law and the Cop just hassled him about it. Citizens never forget these negative encounters, and frankly why should they. He was taken to jail as non-judicial punishment, delivered by a front line cop who’s probably bored to tears and miserable spending his time underground.

    I think if Nick had said he didn’t know it was illegal to have it on the subway, the Cop would have let him walk. Hard to say.

  • JL Turner

    To all who said just shut up and bend over and take it, read this and shut up.

    When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.

    Martin Niemöller

  • Guy Fawkes

    They could have pursued the subway fine, but I don’t think the $25.00 was enough to make it worth it for them. Apparently the D.A. was smarter than the cop and figured out that it was NOT a gravity knife. That charge was total bullshit.

  • Rich K

    This situation was all about control and intimidation. Sickening.

  • I salute you for your resistance but honestly was it worth it? There has to be a cost-benefit analysis here. Was the knife worth more than the cost of compliance with their bs? If so, why were you carrying it?

    Since we’re early in the game we have to be careful not to do self-destructive things like go to court over a cheap knife that is easily replaced.

  • Guy Fawkes

    If I was going to NYC I’d carry a knife too. The only difference being after reading this I’d make sure it was in my pocket, with no part of it showing. All that stupid regulation does is make it easier for the subway muggers, who of course pay it no attention.
    That cop was belligerent. What exactly was Nick supposed to say? Nick thought he was in compliance with NYC laws, he got tripped up as the subway regulations probably aren’t in any law books, being dictated by the transit authority and not passed by the legislature. That’s exactly what BLOWS about the U.S. legal system, no matter how much you research laws you can still miss something.

  • Hazy

    I do believe the cop was vindictive. Unfortunately this is why sometimes it’s best to just keep quiet. Just give them your name or ID(at this point it looks like he’s writing you a citation so he can demand your ID) and don’t say anything else. If they ask what your address is, just tell them all your contact info is on your ID and that you have nothing to say.

    Don’t bother arguing with a cop on your interpretation of the law. That’s to be done at court.

  • Great article of your interaction and viewpoints. I love the allusion to Rambo. That was a classic, enduring movie. Are knives arms? In other words, are knives included in the Second Amendment? I think a pocket knife’s purpose is outdoors sporting and general utility, not a weapon. Well, it’s a poor, better-than-nothing weapon.

  • Barney

    I think everyone in NYC should start carrying black pens with flat black clips showing on their pants pockets. Make sure you don’t have a knife on you. If the cops see this enough they will either have to make the pens illegal or ignore the clips (whatever they hold).

  • the law only works if you consent. WAKE UP! you have been tricked are still free under common law but you are tricked into thinking ALL laws apply to you such as statutory laws.

    I can’t believe we are all so dense that no one knows about this information and are still sitting there like fools. I know you are smarter than this. GO TO THIS SITE AND WAKE UP ALREADY !

  • Billy

    I see from the comments that there are some law enforcement agents watching cop watch. I’m glad to see them here and would like to welcome them. Hopefully they’ll find it a learning experience.
    As for Nick I thank him for standing up for our rights. It’s unfortunate that LEO’s are allowed to harass and intimidate in this manner and steal hours of our time in doing so. The laws a designed so it’s all to easy to pay the fine and submit to these nuisance stops.

  • Barney

    Billy, you make an excellent point. It is quite obvious that red light cameras are there to make money not increase safety. The practice of reducing speeding tickets and other moving violations to “no seatbelt” charges is another cash cow. (No court time, higher profit for the municipality). So why not expand those pseudo “for your safety” money makers to other realms like fining pedestrians for possession of items on the ever changing contraband list?
    For those who don’t know, the TSA sells your stuff on ebay. It’s all about the government taking your money and your rights… and saying it’s for your own good.

  • Andre

    I agree with Nick cops here in New York are pompous asses. I myself work for NYCTA, and have never heard of that bullshit rule till i was running for the bus, and 2 cops come running up flashing their light in my face, shoving their hands in my pocket and then claiming the swiss army knife I carried in my pocket was illegal. Where do these guys get off. Maybe I should start carry broken glass, maybe glass will become illegal here

  • Holly Helmstetter

    It seems to me that a woman could get by with carrying a small knife in her bra, or possibly her boot, in case someone attempted to rape her. I don’t get into situations like that, not because I don’t believe someone would attempt to rape a 71 year old woman (crazy though that would be) but because I have female descendants who I believe SHOULD be carrying some sort of defense, and do not want to carry a gun.

  • Holly

    I also have relatives who are members of a Medieval-Renaissance group, for which little jeweled daggers, though potential useable for defense, are basically just part of a costume that they want to be as authentic as possible. Any ideas on this or my mention of self defense for women, would be very welcome.

  • Man

    I swear to my Life as a Man if this did not happen to me! I am disgusted. I am fighting this right now. (Like I just had court yesterday for this) If anyone can really Help me please. I need to win this case and i googled the exact same knife I was carrying, and in no fashion is it a gravity knife. Its similar to the knife in video. Thanks for this site.

  • Man

    To add I was in Manhattan, I legally own a construction business, and just finished doing some work for a legal business. So whats the problem. Oh by the way my Girlfriend is Caucasian and i’m African American, and we were walking hand in hand, which I concluded was a problem with the, Rookie officer…

  • Feb 25 wAs in brooklyn , went out to dinner with gf and friends .tried to leave , pulled over at dunkin to get coffe two guys called me out , ignored them they approeched , saw badges , plain cloths cops , had my wrk knife in pocket clip inside knife outside as to not be carrying a consealed weapon. So retarded cop opens knife up says its longer than my 4 fingers wich I laughed n said thats an old wives tial. Did not have a drink, no drugs, so they told me to sit in car. 4 more cop cars show up. They ask me if im in construction wich I am and supplied photo id from my construction co., searched my back seat, then asked me to come to back of car, then was told to put hand behind bac. At this point told thearresting P.O. I have ainjured shoulder an they would need two pairof cuffs, the P.O. s stated its only 4 or 5 block forced my arms together n threw me in back, er apntmnts mri shoulder now needs surgery. Went to court 3/25/13 they offered me a violatin and 1 day community service, told them respectfully decline , taking itall the way, kept me for about 4 hrs 0 we ll see what happens good luke w yours bro, isnt there bigger crimes they should be worriedabout , .also now its ok to carry a knife on a plane , but not in the street, also cop claimed knife was to long but charged me with a gravity knife , once found out it wasnt too long, gravity knive is just like a switch blade , just no spring , uses gravity by holding it upside down, and to close with one hand by hiting button and hold ing in upright possition so gravity will allow it to retract ,

  • Holly Helmstetter

    Is it legal to carry a rock in NY? As a woman, when I’ve had to walk somewhere alone at night, and started to feel a little nervous about it, I generally have sought out a rock that would fit in my partially-open hand, and which preferably had one edge or lump that might be shall we say, more incisive than the rounder, smoother part of the rock. I don’t live in NYC, but if cops could stop and arrest people for the absurd things mentioned here, I’m wondering how my choice for self-defense would fare.