Pocket Knife Rules & Laws in the U.S.

pocket knife laws in us

Pocketknives are handy, common, and sometimes illegal. They’re small enough to be carried in someone’s pocket or even on a keychain and are useful on a daily basis, but there are some places, like the airport, that having one will get you in big trouble. Each state is different, but there are some general guidelines to follow if you own or carry a pocketknife.

Types of Knives You Can Typically Legally Carry

Knives that are usually legal to carry almost anywhere include multi-tool devices, Swiss Army knives, and utility knives, and knives with blades that are shorter than 2.5 inches.

Places Where It’s Illegal to Carry a Knife in the U.S.

There are some locations in the U.S. where it’s always illegal to carry a knife, including schools, courts, and government buildings. Knives cannot be brought on board planes, or onto military bases except for members of the military.

Ownership Laws and Carry Laws

Ownership laws forbid owning certain types of dangerous knives. Carry laws define what a person can have with them outside the home. Different states have varying regulations for what can be carried and whether it must be carried openly or can be concealed. Some states define “carry” as being held on one’s person, while others include knives within a vehicle or within reach. In some places, knives in someone’s vehicle are considered concealed, depending on their visibility and accessibility within the vehicle.

Pocket Knife Laws By State

Pocketknives are small, folding knives that can fit in a pocket. They are used primarily as tools and are generally legal to own and carry. Knife laws vary widely by state, however, as do definitions of what is considered a “pocketknife.”

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia allow for pocketknives to be concealed when carried.

Many states set restrictions for conceal carry based on the length of the knife blade. Knives with blades that are shorter than 2.5 inches, like the Kershaw 1600 Chive, are usually legal in these states. Delaware only allows the concealed carry of knives with blades shorter than 3 inches. Colorado requires concealed knives to be shorter than 3.5 inches, while Connecticut, Florida, and Missouri specify they must be shorter than 4 inches. Georgia, North Dakota, and Texas permit pocket knives to be conceal carried if the blades are shorter than 5 inches.

Other states have other restrictions on the types of knives that can be carried. Idaho allows pocket knives of any size, and those with blades shorter than 2.5 inches may be carried into schools. People who are intoxicated are prohibited from carrying knives in Idaho.

Iowa allows concealed carry of knives with blade length shorter than 5 inches, but only if they are not used in a dangerous way. Blades shorter than 5 inches that are used as dangerous weapons fall under Iowa’s concealed carry ban. Similarly, Massachusetts allows Swiss Army knives and folding knives to be carried as long as they are not used in a dangerous fashion.

Pocketknives are legal in Ohio, but they have also been classified as “dangerous weapons” in court. If they are intended for use as a weapon, pocketknives are subject to the concealed carry ban. South Carolina allows concealed carry of any knife that is not used to commit a crime, and Washington permits concealed carry of knives that are not considered “dangerous weapons.”

Some states specify what types of knives are considered pocketknives. The majority of states ban either owning or carrying many types of automatic knives, which open with the press of a button, regardless of blade size. Knives that look like other objects, like lipstick or pens, are frequently banned although they may be “pocket-sized.”

In Montana, a pocketknife with a blade shorter than 4 inches can be carried, provided it does not fall under the definition of a switchblade, defined by that state as having a blade longer than 1.5 inches that open with the press of a button or device on the handle. North Carolina defines a pocketknife as a small, folding knife, designed to fit in pocket or purse, which cannot be opened by a spring or an explosive or throwing motion. In N.C., pocketknives can be conceal carried.

In Oregon, switchblades fall under the category of “pocketknife” and are legal to conceal carry.

People who have been convicted of felonies, who are fugitives, or who are under domestic violence restraining orders cannot own knives in Nevada. New Jersey prohibits ownership for those who have been convicted of certain crimes or have certain mental illnesses. Oregon prohibits felons from owning knives, while Utah bans certain felons, drug offenders, and those with mental illness.

Wisconsin and Wyoming prohibit anyone from carrying “a concealed, dangerous weapon.” Depending on its use or intended use, whether pocketknives fall under that ban is open to interpretation.

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