By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Garrett Monteagudo, Esq. | Last reviewed February 14, 2023
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Whether you own a Swiss Army pocket knife, a Bowie hunting 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.
In popular media, knives are often depicted as flashy weapons brandished by villains. Knives also have a long history of use in gang violence. As a result, many people glamorize knives and fail to recognize their potential for danger. 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.
This article provides an overview of knife laws in the United States.
State Knife Laws
Are knives legal? States in the U.S. have differing views on this question. Most states regard short-blade pocket knives as legal. Generally, the longer a knife's blade (e.g., more than 2 or 3 inches), the more likely a state will consider the knife illegal or subject to restriction. Here are a few examples:
- A fixed blade knife (also called a dirk or dagger) should be carried openly in a sheath from the waist under California law.
- Any switchblade knife with a blade that is two inches in length or more cannot be carried or possessed in a vehicle or in public.
- Knives disguised as other objects are also prohibited under California law.
- Except for New York City's knife length restriction against blades that are 4 or more inches, New York State does not restrict knife blade lengths. New York City ordinance requires knives to be concealed when carried in public.
- The state bans a host of 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.
- Possessing a banned knife is charged as criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
- 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.
If you use or collect knives, it is important to know and follow your state's knife laws to avoid any criminal charges and legal trouble.
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 are allowed to pack knives in checked baggage, as long as the knife is sheathed or securely wrapped. 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 or automatic knives like switchblades across state lines.
Injuries from knives can be serious and potentially deadly. A knife is engineered to cut, and knives can inflict deep lacerations and puncture wounds. Internal and external bleeding, punctured organs, and severed muscle tissue are some of the common injuries associated with knife wounds.
Knives and Your Legal Rights
There are state and federal laws about knives that people must understand and follow. 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:
- What it means to be charged with violating your state's knife law, including 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.
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 you to know of 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 the possession, ownership, and transportation of knives. Municipalities differ in their knife laws, so it is important to check wherever you are using the knife.
- Like any dangerous weapon, knives have the potential to hurt others. If someone is hurt, or property is damaged while you are using a knife, you could be held 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 and/or alcohol.
Have Questions About Knife Laws? An Attorney Can Help
Knives can be quite useful for a number of benign purposes, such as fishing or cutting cardboard boxes -- but 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.
If you are facing legal trouble for carrying or using a knife in an illegal manner, 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.
If you were injured by a defective knife or by someone else carelessly using a knife or perpetrating a crime, you may want to contact a local personal injury lawyer specializing in such matters.
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.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.