American Knife Laws

Posted by Alan Esquivel on

Gun control gets the majority of news these days, and rightly so. The ongoing debate as to whether the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms applies to modern Americans is an important one and one that every American should follow. What many don’t think about when it comes to the right to bear arms, is if it includes knives.

Beyond guns, the Founders didn’t specify what constitutes arms. In their days, the term “arms” included everything from a musket to a cannon to swords and bayonets. All were commonly owned weapons by private citizens in their time. And it appears the Founders meant all arms when they added the second amendment to the Constitution.

Knives have caused a bit of controversy around the world recently. Over in the United Kingdom, the government banned guns over 20 years ago but murder rates there are currently rivaling New York City and they’re being committed by criminals using knives in absence of guns, proving again that it’s not the weapon that kills, it’s the human.

Common Knife Types

  • Any knife having a blade that opens automatically, either with the press of a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or by operation of inertia or gravity or both.
  • Gravity Knife. A folding knife that allows the blade to fall out of the handle by force of gravity.
  • Bowie Knife. A large, fixed-blade knife used mostly for hunting and in butchering game.
  • A short-blade knife with a pointed tip and a sharpened edge.
  • A knife with a long, slender blade and needle-like point.
  • Folding Knife. A knife with a blade that folds back into the handle.
  • Fixed-Blade Knife. A knife without a folding joint, such as a kitchen knife.
  • Assisted-Open Knife. A folding knife that requires force on the blade to open but has a spring mechanism to help open it once the user applies pressure to the blade.

Federal Law and the Right to Carry a Knife

As Federal law goes, there are no restrictions on individuals owning or carrying any kind of knife. The Federal Switchblade Act of 1958 prohibits manufacturers from selling automatic knives across state lines, but the law does not restrict your ability to carry a switchblade. In fact, in 2009, President Obama signed an updated amendment to the original law that makes it clear the federal government would not classify all knives that open with one hand as switchblades. The amendment serves to clarify that a knife that opens with one hand but doesn’t not open with the press of a button is not a switchblade.

If you’re wondering how the switchblade came to be illegal, it goes back to 1950 when the Women’s Home Companion published an article written by Jack Harrison Pollack, a ghost-writer to then-Senator Harry S. Truman, that warned of the violent and deadly consequences of unrestricted access to switchblades. Additionally, during the 1950’s, the American press reported of rampant robberies and stabbings by urban gangs and the so the concern of switchblade made its way to Congress, where hearings were held on the supposed menace of the switchblade. From these hearings sprang the Federal Switchblade Act of 1958, the law heralded as protecting citizens from gang members and dangerous criminals.

Does Your State Allow Knife Carry?

Since the federal law on switchblades focuses on commercial transport of switchblades and not individual possession, the feds leave it up to the states to determine their own laws regarding the carry of knives. These laws are many, they’re convoluted, and local laws within each state are often contradictory. For instance, in Arizona, it was once okay to carry a concealed pocketknife but not a bowie knife in Phoenix. In nearby Tempe, however, the only knife bans were while in bars and liquor stores. Arizona corrected this confusion in 2010, as have a handful of other states. You can check knife laws where you travel, whether out of state or out of town here.   Most states allow minors to carry knives, as long as they are legal and meet the standards of that state. Check with your state for specifics on minor carry. Some states don’t allow the carry of a switchblade until 21 or older.

Carry With Confidence

Because of their compact size, knives are easier to conceal, and conversely, their smaller size can make it difficult to deploy the weapon when needed.  If you choose to carry a knife on your person, consider a concealed carry knife holster. While it’s legal to carry a knife in your belt, it’s much safer if you use a holster. If you’re carrying for self-defense, a holster makes it easy to access your knife while keeping it out of plain sight. Carry on your dominant side, either inside or outside of your waistband, whichever is more comfortable. Use a belt clip with your sheath for stability, otherwise you risk the sheath coming loose when you deploy the knife. 

Some folks carry a knife with them at all times, even if it’s not necessarily for protection. Working in shops or places where daily deliveries need processed makes a pocket or utility knife come in very handy. If you want to carry a knife with you at all times, consider a utilitarian pocket knife, such as a Swiss Army knife or a pen knife or utility knife with a small blade, less than two and a half inches long.

Keep in mind that while knife carry laws vary from state to state and locale to locale, there are a few places where you can never carry a knife. Schools and federal facilities, as well as planes and courthouses are a few places where detainment and arrest are possible if you present with a knife on your person. And, unless you are a member of the military, don’t ever bring a knife to a military base.

Knife laws are not much different than gun laws when it comes to understanding our fundamental right to self-defense. Laws seek to ban tools used in bad behavior ignore that banning inanimate objects does not change human behavior. People have been killing and harming each other since the dawn of time.
Be it with rock, timber, firearm, or knife, removing the object does not remove the behavior that makes the object dangerous.

Use common sense when you carry. Check your state’s laws and check with your city for any local rules on concealed knife carry.

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