The ability to produce and use tools is what has enabled humans
to rise from a very primitive existence and adapt to almost every
climate or situation existing on this earth. Granted, we have
superior intellectual and reasoning ability. Wit alone, however,
did not enable our long-ago ancestors to overcome the lack of
fangs, claws, horns, antlers, size, speed, and/or strength possessed
by other members of the animal kingdom whom they either preyed
upon or competed with for food. Intelligence enabled them to fashion
stones, bones, and other material into increasingly efficient
tools. Knives, in the nascent form of naturally occurring sharp-edged
stones, were undoubtedly among the first tools they ever used.
We should consider that without these tools, the dietary and wardrobe
options available to our ancestors would have been quite limited.
Our "lifestyle" of today is built on this foundation.
are indeed tools. Occasionally, knives are employed as
weapons, both defensively and offensively. Unfortunately, knives
are also occasionally used to commit crimes. It is the potential
that knives can be used criminally and perhaps a misperception
as to the frequency of criminal use that has given rise to laws
regulating knives in essentially every state.
government became involved in firearms regulation in the early
part of this century and continues to assume an increasing level
of control as to firearms. Given the relatively long period of
Federal involvement, the doctrine of Federal preemption, and the
fact that firearms laws are for the most part based on purely
objective factors, such as barrel length or action type, there
is a greater degree of consistency among the laws of the various
states as to firearms.
Such is not
the case with knives. Laws regarding knives are a hodgepodge of
legislative action, some of which dates back to the 1800's.
"legal" in a given state would in all probability be
"legal" in the vast majority of states. The law regarding
what a person may or may not do with a legal handgun for example
would vary considerably from state to state. The situation is
slightly more complex in the case of knives. What constitutes
a legal knife varies greatly from state to state and may depend
upon objective standards, such as blade length, or more subjective
standards, such as the shape or style of the blade or handle.
As is the case with firearms, the law of the different states
regarding what one may do with a legal knife varies.
Criminal prosecutions based exclusively on the simple possession
of an "illegal" knife are rare. At least the cases that
become reported seem to involve coalescent criminal activity.
As a practical matter, the constitutional prohibition against
unreasonable searches and seizures protects the otherwise law-abiding
citizen who happens to be walking down the street with a pocketknife
having a blade one-eighth of an inch over the limit.
This may give
rise to a false sense of security based upon the "it can't
happen to me ...I'm not a criminal" mentality.
There is also
a perception that a violation is generally considered to be a
"weapon" violation, which can lead to all sorts of disqualifications,
ranging from acquiring or owning firearms to military service,
as well as public and/or private sector employment. As an example,
in Pennsylvania, it is a misdemeanor to possess a knife or cutting
instrument on school property. There is also a law in Pennsylvania
which disqualifies persons convicted of any firearms. Persons
convicted of any of the listed crimes who own or possess firearms
must sell or transfer any and all firearms in his or her possession
within a period of sixty (60) days. The list of crimes runs the
gamut from murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, robbery that also
includes the misdemeanor of possessing a weapon, meaning any knife,
on school property. Pennsylvania is not unique in this regard.
Similar legislation exists in many other states.
Attend a PTA
meeting or a high school football game with a small folding knife
in your pocket or handbag, or even a tiny knife on your key chain,
and you are subject to the same legal disqualifications meted
out to murderers and rapists. If there is even a small knife in
your pocket or car when you drive your child to school, or perhaps
exercise your right to vote (many jurisdictions' plots are located
in school buildings), various rights which you may have thought
to be "inalienable" may be in jeopardy.
By the way,
if you read the entire text of the Pennsylvania law regarding
weapons on school property, it merely advises that a breach of
the law is a misdemeanor and makes no mention of the other law
listed somewhere else which sets forth these additional and somewhat
harsh disqualifications. It should also be observed that in many
instances, several different laws of any given state that might
apply to the possession of a knife were enacted decades apart.
This would have happened quite likely without a full appreciation
by the legislators or their constituents (like American Knife
and Tool Institute, aka AKTI) as to the implications. Remember
that adage about making laws and making sausages are two activities
that should not be observed by the consumers or the electorate.
Knife laws vary from state to state, as discussed above. Laws
are also changed or amended from time to time. This often occurs
in a "knee-jerk" reaction to some problem or event.
Also, courts, in the form of opinions addressing a given case
or dispute, interpret these laws. Each "interpretation"
introduces another change or perhaps refinement to the law. Accordingly,
it would be an ongoing task to maintain an up-to-date reference
of all American jurisdictions as specifically related to knives.
interested in learning about the laws involving or pertaining
to knives in a given state, or perhaps more importantly, in avoiding
difficulty with the laws, should turn to the state statutes or
legislative enactments, and in particular, those dealing with
crimes. You may find that for a given state this would be described
or referred to as the Penal Code or Crimes Code. Within this Code,
you will likely find laws regarding knives under any of the following
Weapons - Typically there will be a statute defining listing various
weapons which are prohibited. As to knives, there may be specific
size/blade length limitations. Often times there will be prohibitions
against "dirks or daggers." Switch-blades or other knives,
the blade of which is exposed by gravity or mechanical action,
are frequently prohibited.
Instruments of Crime - This type of law deals with the possession
of an instrument not otherwise illegal but possessed under circumstances
indicating intent to employ the instrument for criminal purposes.
For example, a 12-inch butcher knife would be commonplace and
unquestionably legal in a butcher shop or meat packing plant,
but might be questionable in the proverbial dark alley at 3:00
o'clock a.m. This type of law is sometimes found under the heading
of "inchoate crimes."
of a weapon in a prohibited area - In most states, it is a crime
to possess a knife on school grounds. In some instances, exceptions
are made for small pocketknives. It is also a crime in many states
to possess a weapon to include a knife in a court facility or
some other government buildings.
B - In many states, it is a crime to engage in certain transactions
regarding knives and other prohibited weapons or to furnish such
items to children or persons known to be incompetent or intemperate.
If you are
conducting your research outside of "cyberspace," meaning
real books, you should note that there are typically supplements
published in paperback format or as "pocket parts" inserted
in the rear cover of the hardbound book which contain the current
law. Once you locate an applicable code section, be sure to check
the "pocket part" for the same section to be sure the
law has not changed.
also some cities/municipalities that have their own ordinances
pertaining to knives. The best place to obtain such information
is to contact your local police department and inquire if there
are any applicable ordinances regarding the use, possession, carrying,
or sale of knives.
Even small knives are forbidden on all commercial airliners and
are among the illegal imports that may be confiscated at airports
by customs staff even if packed in luggage. The knife laws of
different countries vary, but are generally strict in Western
in U.S. cities vary tremendously. In Texas, for example, individuals
may carry knives openly or concealed so long as they are single-edged,
and are not daggers, switchblades, or gravity knives (balisong
legality is questionable — there have been convictions).
In some other States, fixed-blade knives are banned, open carry
is banned, and sometimes concealed carry of anything except pocketknives
is banned. Cities have ordinances further restricting these laws;
in San Antonio, TX, it is a violation to carry a folding knife
having a locking blade. In some metro areas such as Washington,
D.C., going into office buildings or museums, or simply loitering,
carrying even small 3" folding knives can be problematic.
Other restricted areas in the U.S. include court buildings and
federal property (the latter of which technically has a limit
of 2" for blades).
in public is generally forbidden by law in many countries. Exceptions
may be made for hunting knives, and for knives used for work-related
purposes (e.g. chef's knives). Automatic knives (switchblades)
are almost universally banned from civilian carry if not possession.
Balisongs (butterfly knives) are only slightly less stigmatized,
and tend to be treated as switchblades by unfriendly law enforcement
agencies. Most Western European nations are very unfriendly toward
all knives other than small pocket knives and similarly small
tools, which are nonetheless not allowed on planes or in certain
other venues. Even multitools like the SwissTool, Gerber multitools,
and Leatherman multitools are often frowned upon, due to their
having relatively large blades and/or locking ability.