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HQ 732741

October 3, 1989
RES-3 CO:R:C:V 732741 SO


Mr. John Kelly
General Manager
Allied Import Corporation
P.O. Box 267
Brattleboro, Vermont 05302

RE: Switch combs and parts thereof - Switchblade Knife Act (15 U.S.C. 1241 - 1245)

Dear Mr. Kelly:

In your letter of September 12, 1989, you asked if a ruling previously issued by Customs Headquarters would still apply to the admissibility of switch combs and parts for switch combs. You are expecting a shipment and seek confirmation of their permitted entry status. Samples were submitted.


Sample No. 1 consists of a spring loaded metal comb which is stored in a handle with a release button near the top which, when pressed, allows the comb blade to spring to the fully extended position and lock into place. The handle is made of what appears to be brass with a polished wood inlay. The crudely made metal comb has square cut "teeth" which could hardly be used to comb hair. Sample No. 2 is the metal comb. Sample No. 3 is the handle without any comb or knife blade.


Would the switch comb and the parts described above be prohibited entry into the United States by the Switchblade Knife Act (15 U.S.C. 1241 - 1245) or any other provision of law?


The Switchblade Knife Act prohibits the introduction, manufacture, transportation or introduction into interstate commerce of any switchblade knife. To implement the law, Customs adopted regulations (19 CFR 12.95 - 12.103) which followed the
legislative language. Section 12.95(a)(1) provides that a switchblade knife means any imported knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button or device in the handle of the knife, or any knife with a blade which opens automatically by operation of inertia, gravity or both.

Headquarters ruling 706593 WJA of August 26, 1976, referred to the decision in the case of Precise Imports Corp. v. Kelly (378 F.2d 1014), and expressed the opinion that nothing in the Switchblade Knife Act or this court decision would prohibit the importation of items other than knives, such as combs, which may possess switch action capabilities.

On June 6, 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided the "Switchblade Knife" case of Stewart A. Taylor, d/b/a Taylor Cutlery Mfg. Co. v. U.S.A., et al, No. 87- 5014. The central issue in the Taylor case was whether the Balisong knives seized by Customs had a blade "which opens automatically * * * by operation of inertia, gravity or both," so as to fall within the definition of switchblade knives set forth in 15 U.S.C. 1241(b) and 19 CFR 12.95(a)(1). In reversing an order of the district court which enjoined Customs from seizing future importations of these knives, the Court stated that the agency's action in barring Taylor's knives came about by reason of a permissible interpretation of the statute and its regula- tions issued thereunder.

The Court's decision, in our opinion, affords Customs the opportunity to reassess its entire position with regard to the admissibility of all types of switchblade knives, knife kits and knife handles imported without blades. Accordingly, we have pub- lished proposed amendments to the Customs Regulations in the Federal Register, Vol. 54, No. 159, August 18, 1989, p. 34186, and in the Customs Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 35, August 30, 1989, copy enclosed, which clarify already existing enforcement standards and regulations. Customs is now using its seizure and forfeiture authority, 19 U.S.C. 1595a(c), to prevent the entry of articles found to be in violation of the prohibitions of the Switchblade Knife Act. You will note that Customs is proposing to delete the reference to the Precise Imports case from the regulations. The principles in this case are now considered to be too limiting. Comments on the proposed regulations must be submitted on or before October 17, 1989.

With regard to the switch action comb (No. 1), we regard this item as a prohibited importation. The insertion of a metallic comb instead of a knife blade in a switch operated handle appears to us to be a rather obvious sham transaction designed to thwart the intent of Congress in passing the Switchblade Knife Act. Persons desiring to purchase an imported pocket comb, in our opinion, would not purposefully choose to
purchase a bulky device with a heavy handle simply to see the comb spring into a locked position by pressing a button. Sample No. 2, the metal comb blade, in our opinion, is not a useful item of commerce suitable for combing hair, and is designed to be thrown away and replaced by a knife blade. However, if anyone desired to import this item separately, without a handle with a release button, there would be no prohibition. Sample No. 3, the handle without a comb or knife blade, is considered to be a prohibited switchblade knife part.


Samples No. 1 and 3 are importations contrary to law and subject to seizure and forfeiture pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 1595a(c). Sample No. 2 may be imported without restriction. Headquarters ruling 706593 WJA dated August 26, 1976, is hereby expressly revoked. Copies of this decision are being circulated to all Customs officers for their guidance.


John Durant, Director

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