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A potential customer checks out an AR-15-style rifle at a gun store in Orem, Utah on February 4, 2021. (Photo: George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

Of Assault Rifles and Swiss Army Knives

Since 1931 there have been four mass killings in Switzerland resulting in the deaths of 35 people. In none of those massacres was the Swiss Army Knife used.

Christopher Brauchli

"The walking stick... is also a weapon and it meets a felt need of barbarian man on that ground.' —Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

When Judge Roger Benitez, a Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California said in his recent ruling that: “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment” his words awakened in us the realization that many of us need to have a better understanding of the Swiss Army Knife and its role in society.

"No comparison is drawn between the Swiss Army Knife and the AR 15 since outside of actual combat zones there are no reports that the AR 15 has ever been used for self-defense. In the civilian world it is purely an offensive weapon."

In Switzerland and the United States there are no regulations about where those knives can be carried. The possession of those knives, although common in both countries, is unregulated. They can be openly carried or concealed in a pocket or a purse. There are no age restrictions on who can carry such knives, nor do there appear to be any restrictions on where the knives can be taken except, of course, on airplanes. I have seen people in both Switzerland and the United States openly using those knives on mountain trails to cut up a piece of bread or sausage to enjoy with lunch.

There are no statistics available in Switzerland or the United States to indicate how often Swiss Army Knives have been used for killing people. A search on the web for that kind of information yields no results. In the violence-prone United States there have, of course, been reports of gang violence in which knives were used, but whether they were Swiss Army Knives or even other folding knives is never reported. In one recent example of a knife being used in an altercation, a video of the incident shows a bicycle rider riding down a city street and hitting a pedestrian who was crossing the street against the light. A scuffle ensued and the bicyclist stabbed the pedestrian. The knife used by the stabber was reportedly a folding knife, but the report does not indicate if it was a Swiss Army Knife.

A brief search of the web produces numerous comments about Swiss Army Knife. None of the articles I found addresses the issue of whether it is an effective weapon for someone intent on committing mass murder. The only discussion I found of its use in a violent situation was in an article in the Anchorage Daily News. The Anchorage Daily News does not compare the Swiss Army Knife with the AR 15 since it is an article about the value of the knife for self-defense for women, and for obvious reasons, does not delve into its use if a woman wants to murder a lot of people quickly. The headline gives away the substance of the article. It says: “Don’t count on the Swiss Army Knife for Self-Defense.” For obvious reasons no comparison is drawn between the Swiss Army Knife and the AR 15 since outside of actual combat zones there are no reports that the AR 15 has ever been used for self-defense. In the civilian world it is purely an offensive weapon. That article, somewhat pejoratively, says that the Swiss Army knife “leaves much to be desired as a self-defense weapon." The author concludes his discussion of the knife saying: “If you’re carrying a Swiss Army knife for protection, I don’t think you’ve mentally prepared for the real thing.”

The foregoing makes it obvious that the knife is never a good substitute for the AR 15 for someone bent on committing mass murder. The first and most obvious disadvantage is that the Swiss Army Knife is a folding knife which means if the owner wants to use it to murder a large number of people the owner has to waste precious seconds unfolding it in order to extract the blade. Once the blade is exposed, pointing the knife at the intended victim has no effect. The owner of the knife has to make physical contact with the intended victim and that can take many seconds, if not minutes. While the mass murderer with the knife is trying to contact and stab his first victim, the other hoped for victims are leaving the premises and there is little the would-be mass murderer can do to prevent their escape.

Since 1931 there have been four mass killings in Switzerland resulting in the deaths of 35 people. In none of those massacres was the Swiss Army Knife used.

In 2019 Judge Benetiz ruled that a voter approved initiative banning high capacity gun rounds was a violation of the second amendment right of citizens and, therefore, unconstitutional His ruling was put on hold pending an appeal. Judge Benitez has taken senior status on the Federal bench. One can only hope that he will take full retirement sooner rather than later.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a Common Dreams columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. For political commentary see his web page at

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