Knives can be useful for many benign purposes, such as fishing or cutting cardboard boxes. However, they also can be used to injure or even kill others. This is why they're tightly regulated, depending on the laws of your state.
Whether you own a Swiss Army pocket knife, a Bowie hunting knife, a machete, a pen knife, a stiletto switchblade, a dagger, or a butterfly knife, knife owners are often subject to federal, state, and local laws.
Although knives are popular as collectibles, tools, and self-defense weapons, carrying a knife or owning certain types of knives may be illegal under state or federal law.
Many people glamorize knives and fail to recognize their potential for danger. But illegal knife use may subject you to a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what type of knife you used, where you used the knife, and how you used the knife. It will also depend on whether you engaged in unlawful activity while carrying the knife.
This article provides an overview of knife laws in the United States.
State Knife Laws
It can be illegal to carry a knife. Every jurisdiction has specific laws and regulations that govern the carrying and use of knives. Most states regard short-blade pocket knives as legal.
Review your state's knife laws if you use or collect knives. This is the best way to avoid criminal charges and legal trouble. If law enforcement stops you and they find a knife on your person, they won't care that you don't know the local laws.
Generally, the longer a knife's blade (e.g., more than 2 or 3 inches), the more likely the state will restrict its use. Here are a few examples:
Under California law, you should carry your fixed-blade knife (dirk or dagger) in a sheath from the waist. You cannot carry a switchblade knife with a blade that is two inches or more in length in a vehicle or in public. California law also prohibits knives disguised as other objects.
Except for New York City's knife length restriction against 4-inch or longer blades, New York State does not restrict knife blade lengths. New York City ordinance requires that you conceal knives when carried in public. There are laws against the open carry of knives.
The state bans various knife types, including gravity knives (those that open with a flick of the wrist or by simply falling open), switchblades, pilum ballistic knives, and metal knuckle knives. Those with a valid hunting or fishing license may legally possess gravity knives. New York considers possessing a banned knife criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
In Texas, knife blades cannot be longer than 5.5 inches. Certain types of knives, such as switchblades, spring-loaded knives, swords, spears, and daggers, are also outlawed.
Federal Knife Laws
Although laws concerning knives are mostly a state issue, federal law also restricts the sale and transportation of knives. For example, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) bans travelers from carrying knives, razor blades, swords, and utility blades onto an airplane.
Domestic air travelers can pack knives in checked baggage if they sheath the knife or wrap it up securely. International travelers may be subject to different foreign policies concerning the transportation of knives into and out of other countries. U.S. federal law also bars the shipment of self-opening knives or automatic knives like switchblades across state lines.
Injuries from knives can be serious and potentially deadly. The purpose of a knife is to cut. Knives can inflict deep lacerations and puncture wounds. Common injuries with knives include:
- Internal and external bleeding
- Punctured organs
- Severed muscle tissue
One of the reasons there are so many prohibitions against knives is that you can use them as a deadly weapon. You'll face serious criminal penalties if you cause serious injury or death while using your knife.
Knives and Your Legal Rights
If you're charged with possession of a knife or the victim of a knife-related crime, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
Some of the legal factors that an attorney can review with you include:
- The elements of the crime, potential defenses, and the length of any possible criminal sentence
- The types of knives your state permits and any restrictions or limitations on the type of knife you can own and/or carry
- If you or your loved ones are victims of knife violence, you can recover damages from the assailants and their employers
Another major factor your attorney must consider is whether you were near a courthouse, school grounds, or a government building at the time of your arrest. There are very strict laws about carrying a concealed weapon -- even a folding pocket knife -- in these locations.
Knife Handling Safety Tips
Whether you are using Swiss Army knives, folding knives, Bowie knives, cane knives, air gauge knives, lipstick knives, box cutters, locking blades, belt buckle knives, ice picks, throwing knives, cane swords, kitchen knives, or any other type of knife, you will need to follow the right knife handling safety tips.
- Follow your state laws regarding knives. Being a responsible knife owner requires knowing the regulations and rules imposed in your state.
- If you're outside your home state, check the applicable local and state laws and regulations governing knives' possession, ownership, and transportation. Municipalities differ in their knife laws, so it is important to check wherever you use the knife.
- Like any dangerous weapon, knives have the potential to hurt others. If you hurt someone or damage their property using a knife, you could be liable in a civil lawsuit and/or face charges in a criminal court.
- Even if a type of knife is not outlawed, you must still use extreme care when handling and storing these legal knives. Just because a type of knife is allowed doesn't mean you won't face criminal liability if you use the knife to perpetuate a dangerous crime. For example, using a kitchen knife as a stabbing weapon doesn't exempt you from criminal liability.
- Make sure that you get safety training before using a knife.
- Never let children play with or near knives.
- Never use a knife while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Have Questions About Knife Laws? An Attorney Can Help
If you are facing legal trouble for carrying or using a knife, you will want to speak to a criminal defense attorney about your options. These attorneys can help provide helpful legal advice. They can help you navigate your state's carry law and the legality of your knife.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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