California Knife Laws

Updated for 2023

California’s knife laws are as diverse as its landscape, with a myriad of statutes governing the ownership, carry, and use of knives across the Golden State. This guide delves into the specifics of state and local regulations, referencing relevant Penal Codes and legal cases to provide a thorough understanding of what knives are permissible and under what conditions.

Statewide Statutes Governing Knife Ownership and Carry

The foundational legal framework for knife laws in California is set forth in several sections of the California Penal Code (CPC). Key statutes include:

  • CPC 16470: Defines a “dirk” or “dagger” as a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon.
  • CPC 21510: Prohibits the possession, sale, and manufacture of switchblade knives with blades longer than 2 inches.
  • CPC 17235: Defines a “switchblade” as a knife with the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade, snap-blade, or other blade released by a mechanism.
  • CPC 626.10: Restricts carrying knives on school grounds, limiting blade length to less than 2.5 inches.

Legal Interpretations and Case Law

Recent case law has further interpreted these statutes, providing clarity on what constitutes legal carry and ownership. For example:

  • In People v. Trujillo (2020), the court examined the definition of a switchblade, providing guidance on what mechanisms fall under the statutory definition.
  • The case of People v. Pickett (2021) highlighted the complexities of defining a “dirk” or “dagger” and the implications for open carry.

Local Ordinances and Municipal Regulations

Beyond state law, local municipalities have enacted ordinances that can be more restrictive. For instance:

  • Los Angeles Municipal Code 55.10: Prohibits carrying knives with blades over 3 inches in public.
  • San Francisco Police Code Article 17, § 1291(a): Outlaws carrying blades longer than 3 inches and all spring-assisted knives within city limits.
  • Oakland Municipal Code 9.36.030: Prohibits carrying knives with blades over 3 inches in public places, public transportation, or in vehicles in public places.
  • San Diego Municipal Code § 33.0102: Restricts the open carry of certain knives and prohibits the concealed carry of “dirk or dagger” knives.
  • Sacramento City Code 9.74.060: Bans the concealed carry of “dirks” or “daggers” and prohibits the carry of switchblades with a blade length of 2 inches or more.
  • San Jose Municipal Code 10.32.010: Limits the carry of knives in public places and bans the concealed carry of knives capable of inflicting significant injury, including “dirks” and “daggers.”
  • Fresno Municipal Code 9-3313: Forbids the carry of knives with blades longer than 3 inches in city parks or playgrounds and restricts concealed carry of certain knives.
  • Berkeley Municipal Code 13.68.010: Prohibits the possession and carry of switchblade knives with blades 2 inches in length or more.
  • Long Beach Municipal Code 9.49.020: Enforces regulations that align with state law, with additional enforcement within city limits, especially regarding the carry of knives in public parks and government buildings.

Practical Guidance for Knife Carriers

Understanding the nuances of these laws is crucial for anyone wishing to carry a knife in California. Here are detailed considerations:

  • Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry: While open carry of certain knives is permissible, concealed carry often falls under stricter regulation, especially for knives considered “dirks” or “daggers.”
  • Intent and Use: Legal consequences can also depend on the intent behind carrying a knife. Tools used for work or utility purposes are typically viewed differently than those carried with the intent to harm.

Extended Q&A for Clarity on Common Concerns

Q: What constitutes a “switchblade” under California law, and how has recent case law affected this definition? A: A “switchblade” is defined by CPC 17235 and has been further clarified in cases like People v. Trujillo. The presence of a mechanism that releases the blade automatically can classify a knife as a switchblade.

Q: How do local knife laws in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco differ from state regulations? A: Local laws, such as Los Angeles Municipal Code 55.10 and San Francisco Police Code Article 17, often impose stricter limitations on blade length and types of permissible knives.

Q: Are there any exceptions to these knife laws for certain professions or activities? A: Yes, individuals such as emergency personnel, law enforcement, and those using knives for lawful hunting, fishing, or work-related purposes may be exempt from certain restrictions.

Conclusion and Legal Compliance

The landscape of California knife laws is complex and requires individuals to be well-informed to navigate it successfully. The statutes and cases mentioned provide a framework, but this is a dynamic field of law, subject to ongoing changes and interpretations. Always verify the current laws and consult with a legal professional to ensure compliance and to understand the implications of carrying a knife in California.