No reader, user, or browser of this post should act or refrain from acting based on information in this article without first seeking legal advice from the relevant jurisdiction. Only your attorney or authorized legal advisor can provide assurances that the information contained herein — and your interpretation of it — is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation.
Did you know that you can make a knife fly without throwing it? Nope, it is not through some hocus-pocus witchery but through a device that is not quite a knife and not quite a gun — it’s a ballistic knife!
Loved by Hollywood and Call of Duty fandom, the ballistic knife has gained polarizing popularity, especially in the later part of the 20th century. Regarded both as a villain, an inflated lethal bane; and as a hero, a clever hollow gismo.
So, in this post, we’ll get to know more about the brass tacks of a ballistic knife — what it is exactly, what makes one so, how it works, what you should know before getting yourself one, and more. We’ll take a closer look and lay out both sides of the coin — the good and the bad. And by the end, you can then make an impartial impression and educated conclusion on ballistic knives.
What Is a Ballistic Knife?
In the simplest term, a ballistic knife is a knife that shoots its blade. If you want to get more elaborate, it is a knife with a detachable blade that can be ejected to a distance of several yards or meters once you press a trigger.
Or as the U.S. Code Title 15. Commerce and Trade § 1245 legally defines it, a “ballistic knife” means a knife with a detachable blade that is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism (legal definition is critical and you’ll understand why later).
Ballistic knives were initially rumored to have originated from Soviet Spetsnaz and Eastern Bloc armed forces. However, no proven historical evidence can back such claims (perhaps a mere marketing gambit given that back in the 1970s and 80s, Spetsnaz and European forces were considered badass forces with stealth tactics by many).
On that note, there was the NRS-2 which was a part of Soviet Spetsnaz trooper’s equipment. It was a gun hybrid developed during the 1970s at the order of the Russian Ministry of Defence. But the thing is, it is not technically a ballistic knife. It is more of a secret gun. Because instead of ejecting the knife blade, a small barrel in the handle shoots a non-standard 7.62mm cartridge. You see the difference? With that in mind, a true ballistic knife fires a knife blade and not a cartridge or any other projectile of some sort.
How the Ballistic Knife Works
Ballistic knives have a hollow handle where the firing mechanism, usually a coil spring (the preferred one because it is relatively quieter than compressed gas or explosive propulsion), is stored. A knife blade with another hollow end is pushed into the main handle until it locks in place compressing the coil spring inside in the process. Then, a safety pin is inserted to prevent accidental discharge. Once everything is locked and loaded, the ballistic knife is ready to rock.
At this point, you can use it as you would with a regular knife. And whenever you’re ready (to shoot responsibly and sensibly), just pull the safety pin off, point, and shoot. This is done by pressing the button or lever which is usually located at the ballistic knife’s guard part. By doing so, what happens is the coil spring thrusts the blade out causing it to go ballistic at a speed of about 39mph or 63kph (obviously slower than a bullet yet faster than a knife throw by hand). The efficacy is within 16 ft or 5m.
Now, this is one of the main reasons why ballistic knives were made in the first place — to overcome the biggest shortcoming of a regular knife which is range. Because unless you’re a master knife thrower like Adam Celadin, a knife is a useless weapon when your enemy is way outside arm’s reach.
Here’s the interesting and most important part though. As cool as shooting knife blades may be, politicians and the judicial system are not a fan of ballistic knives.
Let’s talk about that.
What You Should Know Before Getting a Ballistic Knife
There are two critical things you need to be aware of before even touching any ballistic knife (yes, it’s that deadly) — its legality and limitations.
1. Ballistic Knife Legality
Most judicial systems around the world especially in the US have stringent policies concerning the manufacture, sale, possession, and importation of ballistic knives. Short after ballistic knives became commercially available in the US market in the mid-1980s, they were construed as illegal under the Ballistic Knife Prohibition Act of 1986.
It was thanks to baseless testimonies and theories like its body armor piercing capability (even coined as “latest in cop-killer technology”), a terrorist weapon, drug dealers’ weapon of choice, and other things ludicrously irrelevant.
That’s why we went over the definition earlier not just in layman’s terms but more importantly in legal terms. As the juristic principle goes, “ignorantia legis neminem excusat” — ignorance of the law excuses no one.
You don’t want to be working in the garage and unknowingly build what can only be considered a “ballistic knife” simply by putting a spring and a blade together. And when the wrong people find you in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could end up on the wrong side of the prison bars wrongfully wronged (tons of wrongs so be careful).
Moreover, before considering manufacturing, buying, selling, possessing, transporting, or even touching (fingerprint forensics are not your friends) a ballistic knife, it is best to consult with your attorney or legal expert first. You see, even if you’re outside the land of the free, it pays to be cautious.
2. The Good and the Bad of a Ballistic Knife
Like any tool or weapon, ballistic knives are neither perfect nor fail-safe. And while they are not necessarily evil by themselves, it is worth noting both facets.
- Multi-purpose – from cutting tomatoes in the kitchen to cutting and shooting heads on the battlefield
- Can work both at short-range and long-range making enemies misjudge where they are safe
- Stealth and inconspicuous
- Great backup weapon to your main firearm
- Simple and easy to use
- Illegal in the US and most parts of the world
- Not for hard use like batoning and pummeling as there are many moving parts and the safety pin could break
- Assembling requires some muscle, especially if it’s got a strong coil spring
- Not as long-range and accurate as a gun (manage your expectations)
Watch the Ballistic Knife in Action
Use Ballistic Knives at Your Own Risk
While there have been countless controversies and unfair politically motivated slander surrounding ballistic knives, no rational person can deny their ingenuity and covert usefulness.
And now that you know the brass tacks of ballistic knives including the definition, legalities, the good side, and the bad side, time to make your educated move — whether to add one to your weaponry or to just appreciate the history and beauty without prejudice. Should you choose the former, keep in mind that any weapon is only as good as the wielder.
That being said, it is not enough to just buy and own one. When worse comes to worst and you’re clueless as to how to assemble let alone aim the right and accurate way, even the best ballistic knife will do you no good. In fact, it could even harm you. Because get this: you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of preparation.
You see, a ballistic knife is as cool as it is dangerous. Knowing it can make your knife blade fly and your attorney say Hi!, no doubt it is one of the most illegal knives to carry.
Images courtesy of YetMC/TurboSquid