Knowing pocket knife rules and laws specific to each U.S. state is crucial. This knowledge empowers you to responsibly and legally carry your pocket knives in compliance with local regulations.
By understanding the nuances and differences in pocket knife laws across states, you can avoid unnecessary legal trouble and confidently navigate any situation that may arise.
1- We work hard to provide the latest, most up-to-date information, but it's wise to double-check with your state’s laws.
2- In every state, you should also check which public areas prohibit pocket knives, such as airports, schools, theaters, amusement parks, and other public areas.
How Pocket Knives are Legally Defined & Classified
Types of Knives & Blade Shapes
Pocket knives are not all the same. There are several types, categorized broadly by their intended use and design features. Here are some common types of pocket knives you may encounter:
- Folding Knives: These are the most common type of pocket knives with a pivot mechanism, allowing the blade to fold into the handle. Folding knives are compact, portable, and often have a locking mechanism to secure the blade in the open position.
- Fixed Blade Knives: Unlike folding knives, fixed blade knives have a non-folding blade that extends from the handle. These knives are typically larger and more robust, making them suitable for heavy-duty tasks such as hunting, camping, or survival situations.
- Multi-Tool Knives: Multi-tool knives combine the functionality of a pocket knife with additional tools such as pliers, screwdrivers, can openers, and more. These versatile tools are ideal for those who require a variety of functions in a single tool.
Regarding blade shapes, pocket knives can have different configurations, each serving a specific purpose. Here are some common blade shapes:
- Drop Point: This blade shape features a convex curve on the blade's spine that gradually slopes to the point. Drop point blades are versatile, suitable for a wide range of tasks, and are known for their strength and durability.
- Clip Point: Clip point blades have a concave curve, with the blade's spine forming a straight line until it reaches the tip, which is often sharper and more delicate. The clip point design is ideal for precise cutting and piercing tasks.
- Tanto: Tanto blades possess a straightedge and a distinctive angular point. Tanto blades, drawing inspiration from Japanese swords, showcase their strength and find common applications in tactical and self-defense knives.
Legal Definition of Pocket Knives
The legal definition of pocket knives may vary across states and at the federal level. Understanding how pocket knives are classified becomes crucial for compliance with jurisdiction-specific laws. Here are some general factors that people often consider when legally defining pocket knives:
Blade Length: Many states differentiate pocket knives from other types based on blade length. Knives below a certain threshold may be pocket knives, while longer ones may be classified differently.
One-Hand Opening Mechanism: Some have regulations on pocket knives that allow for one-handed opening. Knives with assisted or automatic opening mechanisms may be subject to specific laws.
Intent of Use: For legal classification, the intended use of a pocket knife may matter. Knives designed for self-defense or as weapons may have different requirements from those intended for general utility.
Legal definitions of pocket knives can be complex and subject to interpretation. It's advisable to familiarize yourself with specific state laws for compliance.
Let's now look at federal laws governing pocket knives in the U.S.
Federal Laws on Pocket Knives
State and federal laws govern pocket knife regulations in the United States. Understanding the federal regulations is essential for anyone who wants to possess, carry, or transport a pocket knife across state lines.
The Federal Switchblade Act of 1958
The Federal Switchblade Act of 1958, also called the Federal Switchblade Knife Act, prohibits the manufacturing, interstate transportation, importation, and sale of switchblade knives in the US. It defines switchblade knives as those with blades that open automatically through a button, spring, or other mechanical means.
While the act makes those activities illegal, it doesn't restrict the possession or carrying of switchblade knives in states where they are legal.
The Federal Knife Laws
Apart from the Switchblade Act, no specific federal laws regulate the possession or carrying of pocket knives. However, federal agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) have established regulations regarding pocket knives in certain contexts.
Pocket Knives and Air Travel
TSA regulates items allowed on board aircraft, including pocket knives. As of April 2021, carry-on permits pocket knives up to 2.36 inches (6 cm) in length without fixed or locking features. Pack knives with larger blades or locks in your checked bags.
Always check current TSA pocket knife guidelines before traveling, as they may change.
Pocket Knives on Federal Property
The General Services Administration (GSA) regulates pocket knife possession and carry on federal property, like buildings and courthouses. Pocket knives are typically prohibited unless there's a legitimate need due to occupation or circumstances. Rules may vary, so check guidelines before entering federal property.
Be aware of regulations set by federal agencies like the Transportation Safety Association (TSA) and GSA for pocket knife possession in specific contexts.
Now, let's discuss the main focus of this article: the state-by-state pocket knife laws.
State-by-State Pocket Knife Laws
Pocket knife laws in the United States can differ greatly from state to state. It's crucial to know the regulations regarding pocket knife possession, carrying, and usage in your or any state you plan to visit.
Alabama boasts one of the most lenient knife laws among all 50 states. It permits the possession and carrying of various types of knives, including balisongs/butterfly knives, switchblades, gravity knives, automatic and assisted opening knives, stilettos, dirks, toothpick knives, and all folding knives. However, carrying concealed Bowies and similar types of knives is illegal, and selling such knives to people under 18 is also prohibited.
In Alaska, there are no explicit restrictions on knife types as of 2013. However, carrying or using any instrument, including a knife, with the intent to cause death or serious injury is considered illegal.
In Arizona, all types of knives and any blade length are legal, and individuals over 21 can carry knives concealed. However, it's illegal not to disclose carrying a concealed non-pocket knife to a police officer, for someone under 21 to carry a non-pocket knife concealed, or to bring a knife into schools.
In Arkansas, all types of knives are legal regardless of their size or mechanism. Essentially, if it possesses a blade, it complies with the state's knife law.
In California, it is legal to carry knives of any blade size openly, and most knives, except for illegal types like switchblades over 2 inches, allow for concealment. Ballistic knives, disguised knives, and undetectable knives are among the illegal types, with specific laws against concealed carry of dirks and daggers.
In Colorado, you can openly carry most knives, but concealing a knife with a blade over 3.5 inches is illegal, except for hunting and fishing knives used for sports. Ballistic knives are completely illegal to own or carry.
In Connecticut, owning any knife is legal, but carrying automatic knives, switchblades over 1.5 inches, stilettos, or knives with blades over 4 inches is illegal. Hunters, anglers, and trappers may carry knives for their activities without restriction on size.
In Delaware, owning most types of knives is legal, and you can openly carry knives that aren't banned. However, the concealed carry of folding knives with blades over 3 inches is restricted. Switchblades, gravity knives, throwing stars, knuckle knives, and undetectable knives are illegal.
In Florida, individuals may own any type of knife except ballistic knives, and they can openly carry knives. However, concealed carry is allowed for common pocket knives with blades under 4 inches; larger knives require a permit.
In Georgia, you can legally own any knife, including balisong or butterfly knives, Bowie knives, throwing stars and knives, disguised knives, push knives, stilettos, switchblades, dirks, daggers, and spring-powered ballistic knives. However, carrying a knife, whether openly or concealed, that is larger than 12 inches requires a weapons permit. Once you obtain this permit, there are no restrictions on carrying knives of any size.
In Hawaii, it is legal to own most types of knives, but it is illegal to possess balisong (butterfly) knives and switchblades. You may openly carry any legal knife, but carrying concealed dirks, daggers, or any knife used as a weapon is prohibited unless used in a manner that does not render it a "dangerous weapon.”
In Idaho, you are allowed to own any type of knife. There are no restrictions on the open carry of knives, and it is legal to carry a knife concealed if the blade is less than 4 inches long. However, carrying concealed dirks, bowies, daggers, or knives with a blade longer than 4 inches requires a weapons permit.
In Illinois, you can own any knife except for ballistic knives and throwing stars, and switchblades are legal if you have a FOID card. You can carry any knife as long as you don't intend to harm someone, but carrying certain knives like dirks, stilettos, or dangerous knives with the intent to harm is illegal.
In Indiana, all knives are legal to own except for ballistic knives and throwing stars. You can carry any knife unless you are on school property, and there are no restrictions on blade length for concealed carry.
In Iowa, it is legal to own most types of knives except ballistic knives. Concealed carry prohibits switchblades, daggers, stilettos, balisong knives, any disguised knives, and any knife with a blade over 5 inches. There are no restrictions on blade length for open carry of knives.
In Kansas, all knives are legal to own and carry, both openly and concealed, except for ballistic knives and throwing stars. There are no blade length restrictions for carrying knives in Kansas.
In Kentucky, all types of knives are legal to own, including balisong, switchblades, and disguised knives. You can openly carry any knife, and concealed carry allows ordinary pocket or hunting knives. As of June 27, 2019, the "Constitutional Carry" statute allows concealed carry of other previously classified deadly weapons.
In Louisiana, you can legally own and openly carry any type of knife. Concealed carry of switchblades or any automatic knife is illegal.
In Maine, it is legal to own any type of knife and openly carry all knives. But it is illegal to carry concealed dirks, stilettos, or any knife designed primarily as a weapon against humans.
In Maryland, you may legally own any knife, but carrying concealed dirks, bowie knives, switchblades, and gravity knives is prohibited. You may carry a pocket knife of any size, provided there is no intent to use it unlawfully.
In Massachusetts, you can own any knife, but carrying stilettos, daggers, dirks, double-edged knives, ballistic knives, knives with knuckles, and automatic knives is illegal. Carrying any knife perceived as dangerous during arrest or a disturbance of the peace is also prohibited.
In Michigan, all knives are legal to own, and you may openly carry any knife unless it is an out-the-front (OTF) automatic knife. It is legal to carry a hunting knife concealed, but illegal to conceal carry dirks, stilettos, daggers, or any double-edged knife designed for stabbing.
In Minnesota, ownership of knives is unrestricted except for switchblades, and you may carry any knife, either openly or concealed, if you do not intend to use it as a weapon. It is illegal to carry a knife designed to be a weapon with the intent to harm others.
In Mississippi, anyone over the age of eighteen and not a convicted felon can legally own any type of knife. Conceal carrying a Bowie, dirk, butcher, or switchblade knife is illegal unless you are hunting, fishing, or participating in sports that often involve such knives. However, open carry of any knife is legal.
In Missouri, you can legally own and carry any knife. However, the law restricts the concealment of knives to pocket knives with folding blades less than four inches long; you cannot conceal all other knives on your person or in your vehicle.
In Montana, it is legal to own and carry any type of knife, including switchblades, as there are no limits on blade length for carrying knives. The only restriction is that it is illegal to bring a knife with a blade 4 inches or longer onto school property.
In Nebraska, you can legally own almost any knife, but concealing a knife with a blade over 3.5 inches is illegal. Open carry of any knife is legal.
In Nevada, you can legally own any knife except belt buckle knives and switchblades. Concealed carry is illegal for dirks, daggers, machetes, and knives considered dangerous or deadly weapons, but open carry is legal for all knives.
In New Hampshire, it's legal to own any knife unless convicted of a felony against another person or property or a felony drug offense. There are no restrictions on open or concealed carry of knives for law-abiding citizens.
In New Jersey, you can legally own most knives, except those intended for use against another person or property. Concealed carry of a knife is generally legal unless it's a dangerous weapon like a switchblade, and intent to use it unlawfully can make possession illegal.
In New Mexico, it's illegal to own switchblades and Balisong knives and illegal to conceal carry dirks, daggers, switchblades, and any knife with a blade capable of causing dangerous wounds. Open carry of any legal knife is permitted.
In New York, it is illegal to own switchblades, metal knuckle knives, cane swords, and ballistic knives; carrying a dirk, dagger, or stiletto with intent to use unlawfully against another is also illegal. Open or concealed carry of legal knives is allowed without intent to use them unlawfully.
In North Carolina, it is legal to own most types of knives but illegal to conceal carry a Bowie knife, dirk, dagger, or butcher knife; open carry for these knives is legal. There are no state laws regarding blade length for concealed carry.
In North Dakota, it is legal to own any type of knife. Still, it is illegal to conceal carry certain types of knives, including gravity knives, switchblades, dirks, daggers, stilettos, and any knife with a blade over 5 inches. Open carry of any knife is legal.
In Ohio, it's legal to own any type of knife, but concealed carrying a knife considered a deadly weapon, such as a dirk, dagger, switchblade, or a knife with a blade longer than a typical pocket knife, may be illegal. Open carry of any knife is generally legal.
In Oklahoma, it is legal to own any type of knife, but carrying a concealed knife considered an "offensive weapon" can be illegal. Open carry of any knife is allowed if it does not violate specific circumstances, such as school property or certain public events.
In Oregon, it is legal to own any type of knife unless you are a convicted felon. Still, concealing carry of a dirk, dagger, or any knife with a spring or centrifugal force-deployable blade is illegal. However, open carry of any knife remains legal.
In Pennsylvania, it is legal to own and open or conceal carry any type of knife. Still, it is illegal to carry a knife concealed if it is considered a "prohibited offensive weapon" without a lawful purpose. There are no statewide restrictions on blade length for concealed carry.
In Rhode Island, it is legal to own any type of knife, but it is illegal to conceal carry a knife with a blade exceeding three inches or any knife intended for stabbing, such as a dirk, dagger, stiletto, or sword cane. Open carry of any knife is permitted.
In South Carolina, it is legal to own any type of knife and legal to carry a knife openly or concealed, provided the knife is not used with the intent to commit a crime or in the furtherance of a crime.
In South Dakota, it is legal to own and carry any type of knife, either openly or concealed, as there are no state laws regulating knife ownership or carry.
In Tennessee, it is legal to own any type of knife, with the legality of carrying a butterfly knife remaining ambiguous until further clarification by the courts. Open or concealed carry is generally legal, provided there is no intent to use the knife for a criminal act.
In Texas, it is legal to own any type of knife, but it is illegal to carry knives with blades over 5.5 inches in certain locations such as schools, courthouses, and bars. Open or concealed carry of smaller knives is generally allowed.
In Utah, it is legal to own and carry any type of knife unless you are a restricted person, such as a felon or someone who has a mental illness or uses illegal drugs. There are no specific blade length restrictions for knife carry in the state.
As long as there is no intent to harm others and you do not take the knife onto school or government property, it is legal to own and carry any type of knife except a switchblade with a blade of 3 inches or longer.
In Virginia, it is legal to own any type of knife, but it is illegal to conceal carry dirks, bowie knives, switchblades, machetes, ballistic knives, throwing stars, oriental darts, or knives similar to these. Open carry of any knife is legal.
In Washington State, it is illegal to own switchblades or other spring blade knives, and it is illegal to conceal carry dirks, daggers, or any dangerous weapon. All knives are allowed for open carry as long as it does not alarm others.
In West Virginia, any type of knife is legal, and one can legally carry any knife concealed, provided they do not have restrictions on carrying a firearm, are a U.S. citizen, and are over 21 years old. Open carry of any knife is also legal.
In Wisconsin, it is legal to own any type of knife, and individuals not prohibited from possessing firearms can carry knives openly or concealed. There are no state-imposed restrictions on knife blade lengths for carrying.
In Wyoming, there are no restrictions on knife ownership, and it is legal to open carry any type of knife, but conceal carrying of a deadly weapon is illegal.
Throughout this article, we have explored various aspects of pocket knife laws, including legal definitions and classifications, federal laws such as the Switchblade Act of 1958, and state-by-state regulations. Please note that this information is subject to change, and it is always advisable to consult the relevant state statutes or seek legal advice for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
We hope this comprehensive guide on pocket knife rules and laws by state has provided you with valuable insights and information. Stay informed, stay safe, and enjoy the responsible use of pocket knives!