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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfP_Xv1AHqE

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

49 Responses to EDC Tip: Know Your Local Knife Laws

  1. avatarMatt Gregg says:

    You should look at Michigan’s senseless laws on knives and other weapons. Knives have to be 3″ or less and cannot be double edged. You basically cannot carry anything that might be a weapon if you have “unlawful intent” which isn’t defined. They used to strictly regulate pepper spray and ban TASERs/stun guns.

    So legally in Michigan I could carry my PLR-16 with a 60 round magazine and even a suppressor now. But if I put a 4″ knife on my belt I might be going to jail. If I carry pepper spray that is too strong I will definitely go to jail. And god forbid I pick up a stun gun.

    I can legally shoot someone with anything that falls under the handgun description but making their eyes water means its time to
    cozy up next to big bubba at Jackson.

    • avatarC. Walther says:

      From the way other contributors have described Detroit, I can’t help but wonder if the legislature did that on purpose hoping that the citizenry might be able to clean up the streets in the most efficient manner possible (.XX caliber aspirin).

      …naaah.

    • avatarMishcoff says:

      “I can legally shoot someone with anything that falls under the handgun description but making their eyes water means its time to
      cozy up next to big bubba at Jackson.”

      We here in michigan are big in to conservation. I assume the former are just considered cruelty to animals. Like big game hunting with a 22. ;)

  2. avatarRainman says:

    Stronger pepper spray is allowed in Michigan as of December 2010

  3. avatarAharon says:

    “Stick one of them in your pocket in Oregon and you’re G2G”

    I’ve been meaning to look into the knife carry laws in Oregon and Portland. I wonder if it is legal to carry the defense tool linked below in a leather sheath? It’s called a Sawtooth Ironwood Flat Stick and it is a traditional Filipino weapon. Cool huh?

    http://traditionalfilipinoweapons.com/SawtoothIronwoodStick.html

  4. avatarChris Dumm says:

    All pepper spray was/is illegal in California, but there was an utterly moronic OC permit you could apply for. I got a real CCW permit instead, by GTFO of California and moving north.

    You’ll notice that TTAG doesn’t even try to keep tabs on how stupid CA’s weapon laws have become. We like to think we know how to handle a pen or a keyboard around here, but we don’t have any Franz Kafkas or George Orwells.

  5. avatarGetSome says:

    I carry a Cold Steel Voyager, 5 inch tanto folder everywhere I go…..it’s good to be a cop sometimes

  6. avatarChris says:

    In my State knife laws vary by city. A knife that is perfectly legal in my home city, is illegal in Seattle, but again legal in Bellevue, but Illegal in Everett, but legal in Issaquah…

    When the only variable between criminality and compliance is a slight difference in geography, something is very wrong with the foundational principles of the legal system.

    We need one knife law: Don’t stab anyone. I don’t care if you have a Scottish Broad Sword, or a toothpick, it’s not the thing that should be criminalized. The law should only concern itself with redressing harm unjustly inflicted on others.

    • avatarAharon says:

      ‘We need one knife law: Don’t stab anyone’.

      That is the simple common sense truth.

      • avatarChris says:

        I often wonder how much simpler life would be for both the police and everyone else if our laws were distilled into very simple and well reasoned principles that everyone could understand, instead of the the insane mishmash of conflicting prejudices and the arbitrary and ever changing edicts we live under now.

        I’d also love to divorce fines form funding. All fines collected, which don’t go directly to a specific victim as a form of compensation, should go into a collective fund designed to compensate the victims of crimes which the police were unable to resolve. This puts the incentives in favor of justice and crime prevention.

        The stuff seem kind of obvious to me.

        • avatarDubya Bee says:

          If we rationalized our criminal laws, lawmakers would no longer be able to pump out legislation every session that they can then use as campaign material.

          In other words, it would reveal how useless most legislators are.

        • avatarMike M says:

          Lawyers would starve to death and we can’t have that!

    • avatarCarlosT says:

      At the very least, this is an argument for extending state preemption laws to the field of weapons generally. There’s no reason that crossing the 520 bridge should make a knife legal or illegal to possess, any more than it should make a gun legal or illegal to possess.

    • avatarCarlosT says:

      Thinking about it further, I realized that your One Knife Law needs an amendment, otherwise it could present some problems. Here it is, in amended form:

      Don’t stab anyone, except in self defense.

  7. avatarEric says:

    Holy Crap it is nice to live in Arizona where the law for non-felons is: “Carry whatever you want.” Fixed Bowie, sure. Assisted opening, sure. Katana, sure. Handgun, sure. M4 in the center console of your car, sure.

    Amazingly, folks are not getting in to gun and knife fights all the time.

    I didn’t know about this when I moved here, but am glad to call it my home now.

    I found out about the stupidity of state knife laws when I wanted to buy a knife as a gift for a friend back east. I went with the teeny 2.5″ blade model since my friend travels all over the East including Atlanta and the last thing I needed was him getting busted over a gift I thought nothing of because I live in a free state.

    Hopefully he leaves it home if he ever goes to Chicago or NYC.

    • avatarBLAMMO says:

      In most of NY you’re okay under 4″, no gravity or assisted open (thumb post or slot is okay) and if it’s a clip type blade, the top edge may not be sharp.

      In NYC, the blade must require two hands to open, so even a thumb post or slot is no good. And the knife must be carried completely concealed. No belt sheath or clip showing. If you have it in your pocket with the belt clip showing, and a cop sees it, you’re under arrest for “menacing”. If he’s really nice and you look like a citizen, he’ll just stop you and tell to put it in your pocket. Oh, and you had better have a believable explanation for carrying a knife at all (e.g., tradesman).

      • avatarMontesa_VR says:

        Wow. That means you can’t even legally carry a Leatherman in NYC.

        • avatarBLAMMO says:

          Ahh, yes. I’m a big Leatherman fan. I do not take my Surge or Charge into the City because the blades are mostly external and they can be opened easily with one hand. But I do carry (in my backpack) my Super Tool 300 because all the bladed tools are internal. You have to open the tool to access the knife and that can’t be done with one hand. I also might carry a Buck Folding Hunter (110). With a violent enough action, I can open it with one hand but there is no assist and it certainly wouldn’t be considered a gravity-open knife.

          I find multi-tools much more practical than knives. If you use a knife a lot, you should have a knife. But I’m as likely to have to tighten a screw or bolt as I am to have to cut something.

  8. avatarracer88 says:

    In Florida, I can buy and own auto “switchblade” knives. And, with a CCW, I can even carry them.

    There is no law stipulating the length of blades other than referring to a “common pocket knife.” But, again with a CCW, I could pack a katana, if I can hide it.

    The only thing we CAN’T have here in Florida are “ballistic knives.” Apparently, it’s a device that SHOOTS blades. But, I guess bullets are OK. :)

    • avatarJohn says:

      That’s not completely true. County and city jurisdictions cna, and do, have their own laws about knives. What’s OK in Lee county isn’t OK in Broward.

      Right now there is legislation in committee for the state to preempt knive laws just as we do with firearms so we can do away with the crazy-quilt patchwork of laws around the state.

      In the last session the legislature put teeth in the firearms preemption law. Although the state preempted gun laws 25 years ago local jurisdictions basically ignored the law and created their own patchwork of local regulations. The new state law allows for fines and potential removal from office against city/county commissioners who pass or do not repeal local ordinances in contravention of the state laws. And the fines are personal, they cannot pass them off on the taxpayer. So guess what? In this year’s session several counties are pressing for exemptions for themselves — because they are special I guess.

    • avatarDubya Bee says:

      “In Florida, I can buy and own auto “switchblade” knives. And, with a CCW, I can even carry them.”

      How does that work, given that it’s still a Federal crime? Florida can’t pre-empt the Feds. True, they can decide they won’t prosecute, but there’s still jeopardy involved, at least theoretically.

      • avatarracer88 says:

        I’m not an expert on law, but I thought the switchblade law prohibited them from crossing state lines.

        No matter… I can open a Spyderco knife much faster than an auto. :)

      • avatarOsmer Batcheller says:

        Federal Statue 15 USC § 1243 provides, in pertinent part:
        “Whoever, within any Territory or possession of the United States, within Indian country (as defined in section 1151 of title 18), or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States (as defined in section 7 of title 18), manufactures, sells, or possesses any switchblade knife, shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

        Some online sources interpret this statute as a complete prohibition against the possession of switchblades. This is not the case; the statute applies to switchblade possession while actually is a “US Territory or possession” plus tribal and maritime areas administered by the US.

        However the 50 states are not US Territories or possessions. Therefore the aforementioned Federal Statute does not in fact preempt Florida law regarding switchblades. Obviously the Federal statute governs on lands in Florida owned/administered by the US (which owns 13% of Florida’s land).

        FYI: US Territories generally refer lands/properties administered by the Federal Government which are not officially claimed by any US state or by another country. Examples include: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Midway Islands (this is not a complete list but gives an idea of what “Federal Territory” refers to).

        Florida law regarding switchblades, it is legal to own a switchblade but cannot be carried as a concealed weapon outside of your home or business.

        Please be aware that those with a CCW cannot “carry” switchblades if local law prohibits the same. Florida’s preemption statute which allows CCW holder to carry firearms regardless of local laws only applies to FIREARMS and AMMO and nowhere even touches on knives, much less switchblades.

        Therefore a CCW has no bearing on possession of a switchblade in Florida; local laws apply. This is not really much of an issue in most of Florida, but be aware that Miami Dade County specially prohibits “any person to sell, offer to sell, display, use, possess or carry any knife or knives having the appearance of a pocket knife, the blade or blades of which can be opened by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, or other mechanical contrivance.” Any such device is considered a “dangerous weapon,” which cannot be carried in a concealed manner.

        The penalty for violating the law is not exactly a slap on the wrist but is punishable as follows: ” first conviction thereof be punished by imprisonment for not less than six (6) months and by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00); for a second or subsequent conviction of a violation of subsection (a) such person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one (1) year and by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00).”

        I apologize for the length of this post but there are simply too many erroneous statements on relevant forums. Regardless I hope someone may find this summary of benefit.

        Nothing I have written herein is intended to be advice and should not be relied upon by anyone in any manner; what I have written are my personal opinions and interpretations.

  9. avatarGS650G says:

    Knives aren’t the only things regulated. Brass knuckles, batons, blow guns, big sticks, baseball bats, probably even bad breath.
    Despite this criminals still commit acts of aggression. Why I wonder ( scratches chin)

  10. avatarIdahoPete says:

    Gotta love Idaho. A Concealed Weapon License covers carry of any weapon that is concealed. Knife, gun, whatever. Our laws focus on what you do with it, not what it looks like.

  11. avatarDaveM says:

    I think the Kalifornia rule is 3″ max in LA, San Fran and Oakland and 4″ max in public buildings and outside of those restrictions there isn’t a max length for a folding knife.
    Can anyone clarify ? One rule would be way to simple.
    Hate to be busted for 4″ Cold Steel Tanto Voyager.

    • avatarMark N. says:

      There is no specific State rule about public buildings and knives, other than that all or most courthouses ban them in any length. You are right about local rules on length. Check your local jurisdiction laws. State laws are any length is ok, open carried fixed any length is ok.

  12. avatarMark says:

    One of the many great things about living in Kentucky is that the commonwealth’s carry permit is for “concealed deadly weapons”–not just handguns. It specifically permits the holder to carry:

    “Any weapon from which a shot, readily capable of producing death or serious physical injury, may be discharged; any knife; billy, nightstick, or club; blackjack or slapjack; nunchaku karate sticks; shiriken [sic] or death star (how about that one?); and/or artificial knuckles made from plastic, or other similar hard material.”

    Even without a permit Kentuckians are allowed to carry an “ordinary pocket or hunting knife.”

  13. avatarJohn says:

    Why, On the mobile version of the site, will it not let me access more entries or the drop down menu?

  14. avatarThe 4th says:

    And don’t forget 18 USC Sec. 930. You violate the law every time you carry a pocket knife with a blade more than 2 1/2 inches into a federal facility, including a Post Office:
    “The term “Federal facility” means a building or part thereof owned
    or leased by the Federal Government, where Federal employees are
    regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties.”

    • avatarMark N. says:

      Never heard that one before. Here’s the question I could never answer–where did the 2 1/2 inch rule come from? I mean, that’s long enough to reach the jugular, right? Or split a belly wide open. So what’s the point?

  15. avatarChristian says:

    Don’t forget Benchmade in that list of awesome Portland, OR knife companies oh and we have Leatherman too (little different but still awesome).

  16. avatarkiller99 says:

    In montana we have a concealed weapon permit, meaning if your can hide it you can pack it.

  17. avatarTanner says:

    “Stick one of them in your pocket in Oregon and you’re G2G”

    THIS ADVICE CAN GET YOU ARRESTED

    Per ORS 166.240:
    “…any person who carries concealed upon the person any knife having a blade that projects or swings into position by force of a spring or by centrifugal force…or any similar instrument by the use of which injury could be inflicted upon the person or property of any other person, commits a Class B misdemeanor.”

    They may be made in Oregon, but putting one in your pocket is considered “concealing” and is a crime.

  18. avatarDonald says:

    I’m just curious if I would get in trouble if I carried around a six inch Ka-Bar survival knife in Metro Detroit area in Michigan?

  19. avatarMonstersdoexist says:

    The Federal law concerning “switchblades” must not apply in Florida as they are seen for sale at practically every flea market and gun show that I have visited. I have two high quality Italian made versions I keep in my knife collection. Maybe purchasing and carrying is where the feds draw the line in this state. I have a CCW and my EDC is an SOG Vulcan in all black color. I moved here 26 years ago due to the insane carry laws in my previous state. I refuse to bow down to liberal lawmakers who create those laws for their own political gain and kneejerk reactions to news stories.

  20. avatarelj says:

    I live in Oklahoma City and I never leave home without my switchblade and butterfly knife is it legal who cares the Constitution says it’s my right

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