By Jenny Coffey, ipmNation Radio Host
Some might remember my loud mouth telling everyone in 2010 that the world’s largest cutlery show, The BLADE Show, held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, was illegal. It really was; those selling dirks, auto knives, and even Bowies, were at odds with local laws and ordinances. It was troubling to think a local person could come in and buy a tool only to be arrested at a later date for possessing that very same tool. It’s not like the Blade Show is a “backroom” event. It is the largest knife and cutlery event in the world and had been holding the annual trade show for the cutlery industry in Atlanta since 1993. Thousands of people come and hundreds of vendors fill the room and halls with tools, teachings, and demonstrations. It’s easy inside such a vast room to forget that others might not look at these valuable tools in the same way.
Many people fear anything they don’t understand or use. And, with knives, there is a misconception that a blade can somehow open too fast. The truth is anyone with minimal skills can learn to open a manual, assisted, or auto-opening knife at about the same rate of speed. What we are really talking about is the technology that goes into the tool. For some, like myself, the ease of being able to open a knife with one hand, and also close the knife with the same hand, is a huge help when working. Having to use both hands sets up a greater risk of making the wrong cut – or not being able to make it in time! That difference can destroy a project. As an artist, if my canvas is suddenly not square for my frame, it’s ruined and might as well be discarded or painted over and cut down to size. An auto-opening knife is a very valuable, and often life-saving, tool. Unfortunately, auto knives (also called switch knives, automatics or switchblades) are are the most widely banned knife in the world. But as more and more people understand that auto knives are very useful tools, laws have been changing in numerous states. It’s important to continue to change laws and legalize our tools.
Atlanta, Georgia, no longer discriminates against our tools and understands the technology behind them. Vendors can now sell their wares with confidence.
My first introduction to auto knives came from a bizarre place, a lawyer’s office. It was then that I found out as an Emergency Medical Technician that the law allowed me to “have” an auto knife, but not to buy one. It was a crazy law that had been on the books since the 1950s. A few days prior, I had gone on a rescue call and my manual, albeit very inexpensive, knife opened in my turnout gear pants and bit me right in the thigh. It was so cold that I didn’t realize how bad the cut was, or even that it had bled until after the call. We had arrived on scene for an elderly person who was ill. It was a cold wintery night; I had my gear on and my car was equipped with a radio and lights. I was a senior officer with the squad. We were all volunteers. Some, like me, worked in the medical field for a living as well as volunteering. Others were real estate agents and carpenters from various walks of life.
We all shared a love for community, and even though it was about 2am when the pager rang out, we all came running. I arrived at about the same time as the ambulance. At the time, I was an Intermediate Emergency Medical Technician and I worked in an emergency room, an ambulance service, and spent the daylight hours haunting the halls of the New Hampshire State House. A lot of people thought I was nuts. I guess maybe I was, and still am, in that I have have a hard time saying “no” to those who need me. I’m a mom first and foremost, and that has a way of making it into everyday moments of life. In truth, you have to be a little bit crazy to be an EMT to begin with. I’m sure that there are a few who will read this and nod in agreement with me. It’s a bug that bites you and infects your whole being. My heart would rush and pound driving down the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring in the frigid night.
I found myself heading in across what seemed like a clear driveway. It was dark, but we had a lot of lights around us with the ambulance, the fire chief’s car, a police cruiser and a few of us in our own personal cars. We didn’t have a staff department; whenever there was a need we simply arrived, with tools in hand to handle the call. I loved the men and women I worked with, trained, and learned from daily. I was lucky to have some of the best from area departments as volunteers in our town. I didn’t realize how slick the driveway was. Heavy duty work boots and all, I slid right down on my buttocks. I felt the sting of the cold ground through my gear. For a moment I thought I might have broken my tailbone. It sent a pain down my legs and I swear that wave of pain went across the yard out of me. Between the cold temperature that had frozen the ground and created the ice that I fell on, coupled with adrenaline, I didn’t feel the pain right away.
I got up and put my head back on straight to head into the house. It was a single floor ranch style home with an elderly man and woman at home. She was a tiny woman and more worried about leaving her husband than her own sickness. It took some creative work to find someone to stay with him so she would feel okay, while allowing us to transport her to the local hospital. She was so apologetic in the ambulance. She felt bad for “getting us out of bed,” but, to us, she was the reason we wanted to get out of bed. Being there for her fed us, fed my soul on every call. After I warmed up and had finished my paperwork on the call, I climbed out of my gear and it was then that I could see that I had cut myself. I cleaned up the cut and treated it like any other and then climbed back into bed and tried to get more rest and warm up for the night’s events.
That knife bothered me. It made me mad that not only did I get hurt, but something could have gone wrong and it could have hurt someone else. I hated to think what could have happened if I had gotten bumped in the rig next to one of my partners, or worse a patient.
It was then that I looked for a knife that would be better for me. I found an auto from Benchmade Knife Company that I loved, but it was very costly. I will say that it was so kind of them to offer to gift me that same blade. Les de Asis, CEO of Benchmade, is a really fun and great guy to be around. I had to sadly decline; at the time I was a state representative for the State of New Hampshire. I had introduced legislation to change New Hampshire knife laws and allow people access to various types of knives currently prohibited. In that fight for knife freedom, one of the best tools we used was my story and examples of when a better type of knife could have prevented an injury.
I had a lot of support. Industry folks such as, A. G. Russell, Ken Onion, and C.J. Buck stepped into the arena with me to fight for knife freedom. A local store owner helped by bringing a box he locked to ensure “safety” that contained knives. Honestly, there were only three, but one was a dreaded “evil” switchblade. We actually had to be concerned that the shop owner could be arrested. He came into the hearing rooms and showed the committee members how a manual, assisted, and auto opening knife work. It was an impressive and simple display. He showed them how he could open each one at approximately the same rate of speed.
We were able to highlight the differences amongst the technologies used to create each of the the knives rather than the type of each knife. I could see the looks of astonishment on legislators’ faces, as they truly believed that a switchblade knife was not a tool, but was similar to a gun. I was able to talk about my work in emergency medicine and how the need to cut a person free can be immediate. They understood that the blade locked open and closed to provide greater safety for me as a user. It was fun to highlight the more than 120 various jobs, hobbies and crafts that benefit by the common use of knives in various styles, shapes, and sizes.
Changing the laws in Atlanta and New Hampshire opened up new opportunities for businesses and enthusiasts alike. In one of my trips to Blade Show ® I ran into Walter (? last name) and a showcase full of Italian OTF knives They were beautiful! It has long been my favorite knife to use in one of my hobbies, painting. I use my automatic knife to cut canvas and do it safely, with one hand, allowing me to hold onto the canvas with the other hand. . Nothing worse than ruining a piece you were just starting on, or, even worse, trying to trim better for a frame. Can you imagine how awful it is to cut into your own artwork? I’ve wanted to cry. Making a good cut takes a good knife and a skilled eye. My eyes need work, my knife Is Perfect!
For me, being able to open and close with one hand is very important. I don’t want to get paint everywhere, and I don’t like to try to make a good straight cut with an Exacto blade. Of all the knives in my collection, “she” is the knife that I use far more often than others with my art. My Italian knife sits next to my canvases, and this part-Italian girl loves the feeling of the spring releasing in the grip and cutting through the canvas, perhaps a fresh piece; a painting that needs to be framed and just needs the right trim to allow it to fit perfectly. As an artist, I appreciate the craftsmanship of my knives as much as their functionality. I hope you do as well.
Jenny Coffey, ipmNation Radio Host
Former New Hampshire State Representative