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.
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 a few examples:
- Carrying a concealed knife with a fixed blade is a misdemeanor (must be worn in plain view); Los Angeles County prohibits fixed blades of 3 inches or more (other municipalities have similar restrictions).
- There is no size limit for concealed folding knives (as long as the knife isn't in the open/locked position while being carried).
- Switchblades are outlawed.
- 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 are 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 being charged with violating your state's knife law means, 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, whether you can recover damages from the assailants and their employers.
Knives: Getting Legal Help
- Click here to learn how a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you if you are charged with the illegal possession or use of a knife.
- To find an experienced criminal defense attorney, use the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page, or click here.
- If you were injured by some using a knife or knives, you can contact a personal injury lawyer using the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page, or click here.
Knives and Knife Safety Tips
- Follow your state's knife laws. Even if a knife or knives are not prohibited, you must still use extreme care when handling and storing them.
- If you are outside your home state, check the applicable local and state regulations governing the possession, ownership and transportation of knives.
- 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.
- 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.