EDC Tip: Know Your Local Knife Laws

So you’ve paid your fee, passed the background check, and received your CCW permit. Good on you: you’re now allowed to carry a concealed handgun in your jurisdiction. Now that you can strap up with your favorite 1911, J-Frame or Glock-alike, it’s only natural to assume that you can also carry other, lesser forms of armament. Right? Wrong.

Just as the various states, counties and municipalities have a confusing and contradictory galaxy of gun laws, there are hundreds of laws restricting the possession or carrying of sharpened pieces of metal.

Some jurisdictions are cool with fixed-blade knives, as long as they’re not too big. Some don’t mind if you carry them discreetly, and some require them to be worn openly. Some don’t let you carry them at all. Some states totally lose their shit if your knife has two sharpened edges, and some states couldn’t give a damn.

Enough about fixed blades; what about folding knives? California doesn’t let you carry anything over three inches on the street, but if you’re in a state college or university it can’t be longer than 2.5 inches. Maybe that extra 12mm of blade becomes much more deadly when it’s surrounded by books and leftist-leaning academics…

And we all know that switchblades are illegal everywhere, right? Once upon a time they were  considered so frightful that the U.S. congress outlawed them. The National Switchblade Act, 15 USC section 1241, punishes possession or manufacture with up to two years in prison or a $5,000 fine or both. I blame this stupid 1958 legislation on West Side Story, which opened on Broadway in 1957.

In recent years, so-called ‘Assisted Opening Knives’ have become popular offerings from Kershaw, Gerber, CRKT and many other manufacturers. Unlike switchblades (which spring open at the push of a button) these assisted-openers are held closed by a spring or detent, and require some manual force to overcome that tension before they flip themselves open the rest of the way.

It’s pretty easy to spot the difference in this video:


Portland, Oregon is just across the river from Washington, and the Portland area may have the highest concentration of quality domestic knife-makers in the US: Gerber, Kershaw, Coast and CRKT all call the rainy Rose City their home, and they all crank out piles of assisted openers every year.

Stick one of them in your pocket in Oregon and you’re G2G, but drive over the I-5 Interstate Bridge to Washington and you’re risking jail time: anything that opens with a spring is considered a switchblade in Washington state. On the bright side, it’s only a misdemeanor so it won’t put the kibosh on your gun rights.

This uber-stupid law may change very soon: matching bills are working their way through the Washington state House and Senate which will rewrite the law to permit assisted-opening knives, and will permit LEOs and EMS personnel to carry switchblades and automatic knives as well. The House bill, HB2347, passed on the floor with a unanimous vote, and the Senate version is winding its way through the intestines and bowels of the state capital with almost no opposition.

Here’s my small contribution to the cause:

Dear Senator Pridemore:

I urge you to support SB6179. With the passage of HB2347 this week, this common-sense bill will bring Washington’s illogical knife laws into the 21st century. Assisted opening knives are not ‘switchblades’ and have never run afoul of the federal laws prohibiting switchblade possession, but Washington’s ‘Dangerous Weapon’ statute is so broadly worded that these knives (popular in Oregon and many other states) are completely illegal here. SB6179 would clarify this statute and make these knives legal to possess. Other states including Arizona and New Hampshire have recently liberalized their laws regarding spring-activated knives, and have noticed no increase in crime or violence as a result.

Thank you,

Chris Dumm