Knife legislation is defined as the body of statutory law or case law promulgated or enacted by a government or other governing jurisdiction that prohibits, criminalizes, or restricts the otherwise legal manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, possession, transport, or use of knives.
The carrying of knives in public is forbidden or restricted by law in many countries. Exceptions may be made for hunting knives, pocket knives, and knives used for work-related purposes (chef's knives, etc.), depending upon the laws of a given jurisdiction. In turn, the carrying or possessing of certain type of knives perceived as deadly or offensive weapons such as automatic or switchblade knives or butterfly knives may be restricted or prohibited. Even where knives may be legally carried on the person generally, this right may not extend to all places and circumstances, and knives of any description may be prohibited at schools, public buildings or courthouses, and at public events.
- 1 Austria
- 2 Belgium
- 3 Bulgaria
- 4 Canada
- 5 China
- 6 Czech Republic
- 7 Denmark
- 8 France
- 9 Netherlands
- 10 Germany
- 11 Greece
- 12 Hong Kong
- 13 Hungary
- 14 Italy
- 15 Japan
- 16 Latvia
- 17 Lithuania
- 18 Norway
- 19 Poland
- 20 Russia
- 21 Serbia
- 22 Slovakia
- 23 Spain
- 24 Sweden
- 25 United Kingdom
- 26 United States
- 27 See also
- 28 References
- 29 External links
In accordance with the Austrian Arms Act of 1996 (Waffengesetz 1996) it is illegal to buy, import, possess or carry weapons that are disguised as another object or as an object of common use (sword canes, e.g., or knives disguised as ink pens, brush handles or belt buckles). For ordinary knives, there are no restrictions or prohibitions based on blade length or opening or locking mechanism.
The Austrian Arms act defines weapons as "objects that by their very nature are intended to reduce or eliminate the defensive ability of a person through direct impact". Consequently, certain knives are considered "weapons" in accordance with this definition. Except for firearms, however, which are heavily regulated, such "weapons", including automatic opening lock-blade knives (switchblades), OTF automatic knives, balisongs, and gravity knives are implicitly permitted under the Arms Act, and thus may be bought, possessed and carried by anyone over the age of 18 who has not been expressively banned from owning any weapon (Waffenverbot) by the civilian authorities.
Article 3, §1 of the 2006 Weapons Act lists the switchblade or automatic knife (couteaux à cran d’arrêt et à lame jaillissante), as well as butterfly knives, throwing knives, throwing stars, and knives or blades that have the appearance of other objects (i.e. sword canes, belt buckle knives, etc.) as prohibited weapons. In addition to specifically prohibited knives, the police and local jurisdictions have broad authority to prohibit the carrying or possession of a wide variety of knives, to include carriage inside a vehicle, if the owner cannot establish sufficient legal reason (motif légitime) for doing so, particularly in urban areas or at public events. This discretion extends to even folding knives without a locking blade.
Bulgarian weapon law is maintained on a yearly basis. It is called ZOOBVVPI (Bulgarian: „Закон за огнестрелните оръжия, боеприпасите, взривните вещества и пиротехническите изделия") and it covers ONLY the possession and usage of firearms, pneumatic, gas and signal weapons. A state regulation on melee weapons of any kind does not exist, whether knives, swords, bats or electric devices. Neither there is a juridical definition on the terms "melee weapon" or "cold weapon" in any Bulgarian law. Hence it is absolutely legal to possess and carry a knife in Bulgaria without having to procure any reason for doing so. Concealed knife carry is OK, anyywhere and anytime. Although there are no restrictions on the possession or carrying of any type of knives or swords, it is not widely accepted or considered appropriate to carry a knife openly in public places such as streets or public buildings, stores or restaurants. In urban areas, expect an instant check and hassle if a policeman sees you to openly carry a larger knife, even if you have legal right to do it. From a society point of view, the open carry of knives in Bulgaria is justified only on rural areas, when fishing or hunting, or when the knife serves as a tool in work activities, such as gardening. Some places like courts, banks, clubs, bars, etc. will deny you the access with any type of weapon and most of them don't offer a safekeeping option. It is urban legend in Bulgaria that knives above 10 cm. are illegal to carry on person, so expect the police to try and convince you give up the knife voluntarily, even if such measure is illegal. You should not give up your knife, instead state the purpose of 'self-defense' for carrying and be clear that you haven't commited any crime and that the policeman must cite a law against you carrying a knife in public. Since there isn't any such law in Bulgaria, police most likely will let you keep your knife and send you on your way with a "warning". If they insinst or are further misbehaving, ask to contact their superior officer prior to giving up your knife or else you won't see it again. Actually, there are some random city councils which try to limit knife lenghts above 10 centimeters (4 inches) with issuing acts, but these acts are all illegal and have no compliance force, because the councils serve only administrative functions and they don't have the jurisdiction to invent or impose laws of any kind. Remember that although very liberal in terms of knives (weapons) possession and carry, compared to many European countries, Bulgaria isn't the place where you can defend yourself with deadly force. If the need for self-defense with a knife ever arises, consider it very carefully. Bulgaria has strong restrictive self-defense laws and a "duty to retreat" is always obligatory. Usually, courts often consider the armed self-defense as "unjustified" based on the Penal Code and the defending side ends up with an effective jail verdict, even if the cause (treat) for initiating self-defense is proven.
The Canadian Criminal Code criminalises the possession of knives which open automatically. Section 84(1) defines "a knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device attached to or in the handle of the knife" as a prohibited weapon. Only persons who have been granted exemption by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police through the Canadian Firearms Program are allowed to possess (but not acquire) prohibited weapons.
If a person is found in unauthorized possession of a prohibited knife by any law enforcement officer, the person is liable to a maximum of 5 years in jail and the weapon being seized. The Crown can then apply to a Provincial Court judge for the weapon to be forfeited and destroyed. The import and export of prohibited weapons is also strictly regulated and enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Examples of prohibited knives include:
- any knife, including a switchblade, or butterfly knife with a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife;
- Constant Companion (belt-buckle knife);
- finger rings with blades or other sharp objects projecting from the surface;
- push daggers.
Manually-opened or 'one-handed' opening knives, including spring-assisted knives, that do not fall within the categories listed as prohibited weapons definition are legal to own, import and use.
There is no length restriction on carrying knives within the Criminal Code, but there is a prohibition against carrying a knife if the possessor intends to carry for a purpose dangerous to public peace or for the purpose of committing a criminal offense. It is also an offence to take a weapon or prohibited device to a public meeting "without lawful excuse".
Due to concerns about potential violence at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China began restricting "dangerous knives", requiring that purchasers register with the government when purchasing these knives. Included in the new restrictions are knives with "blood grooves", lockblade knives, knives with blades measuring over 22 cm (8.6 in) in length, and knives with blades over 15 cm in length also having a point angle of less than 60 degrees. As of January 2011, according to an authorized Leatherman dealer in Beijing all knives with a locking blade are illegal unless they are part of a larger multi-tool like a leatherman. However, many people still carry locking pocket knives especially when camping with no issues. He suggested carrying locking knives in checked luggage on airplanes, and on your person in trains and subways since they could be confiscated if found in a bag. Foreigners are generally given a bit more leeway in China so if a traveler is caught with a small knife there will probably be no prosecution and at most confiscation.
Czech weapon law from the year 2002 concerns firearms only, with no other legislation concerning knives in existence (with the exception of the paragraphs of the penal code penalizing the use of any weapons in criminal offenses). This means there are no restrictions on the possession or carrying of any types of knives or swords, not that it is common or considered appropriate to carry one openly in public places such as streets or public buildings.
In Denmark, fixed-blade knives are legal to own if the blade is no longer than 12 cm (4.75 inches). Blades over this length may only be legally owned if the possessor has a legitimate reason for carrying the knife or a special collector's permit. However, such knives are still generally illegal to carry in public, whether on one's person or in a vehicle, unless transported in such a manner as to prevent ready access by the owner (lockbox, locked trunk, etc.) Folding, non-lock blade knives are legal to carry if the blade length does not exceed 7 cm (2.756 in). Locking knives and knives over 7 cm must be transported in public so as not to allow ready access by the owner. Knives with blades that may be opened with one hand (even if the one-hand opening mechanism has been removed), automatic-opening knives (switchblades), push daggers, gravity knives, disguised knives (belt-buckle knife, sword cane, etc.) and knives with ready access by the wearer (neck or belt knives, boot knives, etc.) are illegal to own or possess. Multi-tools featuring one-hand opening blades are also illegal to own or possess. Owning throwing knives and throwing in private or public is subject to permissions.
In France, the carrying of any Category 6 weapon (Armes de la 6e catégorie), defined as including any knife of any blade length with a fixed blade, or a folding blade with a locking system, is illegal, unless carried "for good reason", for example, as part of the tools of one's profession. French law does allow the carrying in public of a folding knife of "reasonable size". French law also defines switchblades (couteaux à cran d'arrêt) as Category 6 weapons, which may be legally purchased if over 18 years of age, but may not be carried on one's person. If carried in a vehicle, such knives must be placed in a secure, locked compartment not accessible to the vehicle occupants. In addition, French law provides that authorities may classify any knife as a prohibited item depending upon circumstances and the discretion of the police or judicial authorities, and summarily confiscate it.
As of 2011 in the Netherlands a new law prohibits ownership or possession of the following knives, whether kept at home or not: Stilettos, switchblades, folding knives with more than one cutting edge, throwing knives, folding knives with an overall length of more than 28 cm when open, butterfly (balisong) or gravity knives, disguised knives (belt knife, sword cane, etc.) and push daggers. Also, it is illegal to carry a fixed-blade knife with more than one cutting edge, though such a knife may be kept at home for collector purposes.
In addition to national laws, each Dutch city and urban district has the right to prohibit carrying of any knife that can potentially be used as a weapon in certain "no-go" areas. Normally a "no-go" area includes all built-up urban areas including bars, cafés, concerts, and public gathering places or events. In public, a knife must be transported in such a manner so that it is not directly usable by the owner, such as storing the knife in a locked case for carrying in a backpack, or placing the locked-up knife in a storage area of a vehicle separate from the passenger compartment.
German knife law establishes three categories of knives: 1) prohibited knives; 2) knives designated as cutting and thrusting weapons; and 3) other knives. Some knives are additionally classified as restricted-use, in that they may be possessed in the home or business, but may not be carried on the person. In addition, paragraph 42 section 5 of the Weapons Act gives each German state the option in certain areas to enact local regulations prohibiting the carrying of weapons "and any dangerous objects" in so-called "weapons ban" areas for purposes of protecting public safety and order. "Weapons ban" areas have been enacted in Berlin and Hamburg.
German law prohibits the manufacture, importation, or sale of butterfly knives, gravity knives, and push daggers (palm knives), as well as knives designed to be disguised as another object, such as a sword cane or belt buckle knife.
Automatic or switchblade knives are generally prohibited, with certain exceptions based on blade length and number of sharpened edges. Switchblades and automatic knives with telescoping blade opening designs are prohibited. Side-opening automatic knives are also prohibited unless 1) the blade is no longer than 8.5 cm, and 2) the blade is single-edged, i.e. a blade without double edges, such as a stiletto or dagger.
Cutting and thrusting weapons
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Knives designated as cutting and thrusting weapons, but not otherwise specifically prohibited may be possessed by persons of 18 years and older. German law defines a cutting and thrusting weapon as any object intended to reduce or eliminate the ability of a person to attack another person or to defend themselves. This includes swords, sabers, daggers, stilettos, and bayonets. For example, as a bayonet is a military weapon intended to injure or kill people, it is regarded as a weapon by the criminal law. In contrast, a machete is regarded as a tool to clear dense vegetation. Knives classed as cutting and thrusting weapons are generally restricted to possession and use on private property, and may not be carried in public or at certain public events.
All knives that are not illegal may be legally purchased, owned, and used by anyone on private property. However, some knives are restricted from being carried in public, which is defined as exercising actual control of a restricted-class knife outside the home, business, or private property.
- All cutting and thrusting weapons such as daggers, swords, or stilettos (see above 2.)
- All folding knives that are locking and have a one-handed opening mechanism (whether automatic, assisted-opening, or manual in nature). A knife that has only one of these two features may be legal to carry (namely provided it does not violate the principles below and above).
- All knives with fixed blades over 12.0 cm
Restricted-use knives may be carried if transported in a locked, sealed container, or if there is a commonly accepted legitimate purpose for carrying it, such as participation in a historical reenactment, sporting use (i.e. hunting), or as a necessary tool in a trade or business. The desire to defend oneself, or to use the knife as a tool without proof of necessity for its use is ordinarily not considered a legitimate purpose under the law.
It is illegal to carry a knife for use as a weapon in attack or defense. The only general restriction is intended use, not the properties of the knife itself (in particular, there is no restriction of blade length, despite popular belief). However, in practice there will be significant leeway for interpretation for police officers and judges – and much will depend on whether an intended use other than as a weapon can be argued – for which the properties of the knife in question will be very relevant (bad: flick-knife, automated, long blade, neck-knife, tactical). So, carrying a knife that has its main use as a weapon will be illegal. In addition, it is not allowed to carry knives in certain places, such as courtrooms, to football matches, etc. Carrying knives is generally very unusual in towns, but not in the countryside.
- Law 2168/1993 on weapons, explosives, etc.
"Article 1. Meaning of terms, applicability
§ 2. Objects that offer themselves [είναι πρόσφορα] to attack or defense are also considered weapons. In particular:
b) Knives of all sorts, except those where ownership is justified by use in the home, profession or education, or art, hunting, fishing or other similar uses."
The remaining sections refer to: a) sprays and electro-shockers, c) knuckle dusters, clubs, nunchakus, etc., d) flame throwers or chemical sprays, e) fishing spear-guns.
No license is needed for import, trade or carrying of knives for these uses (Art 7, 5).
See also the constitutional court decision 1299/2008  where the intended use of the weapon found in the car of two criminals is the point of discussion.
A useful article from a hunting journal (in Greek).
Under the Weapons Ordinance (HK Laws. Chap 217), certain knives are designated as 'prohibited weapons', including:
- Gravity knife
- Knuckleduster whether spiked or not and with or without blade
- Any bladed or pointed weapon designed to be used in a fashion whereby the handle is held in a clenched fist and the blade or point protrudes between the fingers of the fist
- Any knife the blade of which is exposed by a spring or other mechanical or electric device
Possession of prohibited weapon is illegal under section 4 of the ordinance and offender is liable to a fine of and to imprisonment for 3 years. Any Police officers or Customs officers can seize and detain any prohibited weapon. Once convicted, the weapon is automatically forfeited to the government and can then be disposed of by the Commissioner of Police.
Carrying a knife with blade length over 8 centimetres (3.1 in) is prohibited in public places in Hungary unless justified by sport, work or everyday activity. Automatic Knives, throwing stars and "French knives" are prohibited regardless of blade length and may be sold only to members of the army, law enforcement and the national security agency. Violation may be punished with a fine up to 50000 HUF. Possession at home and transportation in secure wrapping is allowed for everyone.
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Carrying a knife in Italy is strictly forbidden. Knives with two cutting edges, locking blades, balisong, daggers, bayonets, switch-blades are all considered weapons. As such no one is permitted to carry them, not even if issued with a firearm permit. Other knives are considered to be tools, not weapons, as long as the design, shape, and intended usage is not that of a stabbing and/or slashing weapon. No distinction is made on the size or length. However, as any knife can be used as a weapon, all knives that do not fall in the weapon category, belong to the improvised weapons group. As such one is not allowed to carry them unless a specific circumstance of need exists. If found with a knife the carrier must provide proof of such need. The need is intended in terms of "can't do without": one can't carry a knife and an apple to justify the need of the knife being peeling the apple to eat it as one can peel it at home. Going fishing and having a fishing knife 'could' apply. Most of these restrictions apply to other tools with cutting capabilities too, such as scissors and gardening tools.
Any fixed knife containing a blade length of 15 cm or more requires permission from the prefectural public safety commission in order to possess. Permission requirements also apply to any type of pocket knife over 6 cm (including Automatic Knives), spears over 15 cm in blade length, and Japanese halberds. All knives with a blade length over 6 cm are prohibited from being carried, under a crime law, with an exception for carrying for duty or other justifiable reasons. There is a penalty of up to 2 years prison or up to a ¥300000 yen fine.
Latvian legislation "Law On the Handling of Weapons" defines knives as:
- (1) Cold weapon – an object that has the features of a weapon and that is intended to cause damage utilising human muscle strength or special mechanisms.
- (2) ..to carry non-firearm weapons except the non-firearm weapons necessary for hunters – in hunting and non-firearms necessary to sportsmen for the relevant sport – in competitions or training.
According to Lithuanian law it is legal to possess and carry most types of knives. This includes hunting knives, pocket knives, multi-tools, survivor knives, balisongs etc. as knives are not considered weapons. The only exception are switchblades. It is illegal to carry or possess a switchblade if it meets one of the following criteria: the blade is longer than 8.5 cm; the width in the middle of the blade is less than 14% of its total length; the blade is double sided.
According to Norwegian law, one can spend up to 6 months in prison for purposefully bringing a knife or similar sharp tool especially suited for causing bodily harm to a public place, or for helping others do so. The law does not cover knives or other tools worn or used for work, outdoor pursuits or similar reputable purposes. Note that this includes bringing knives in one's car. It is also illegal to buy, own or store switchblade knives, butterfly knives and stilettos.
All kinds of knives are regarded as dangerous tools, but are not considered weapons under Polish law, so no restriction related to weapons apply. The exception is a blade hidden in an object that doesn't look like a weapon (a sword in an umbrella, a dagger in a shoe etc.). It is legal to sell, buy, trade and possess any knives, and Polish law does not prohibit carrying a knife in a public place. However, certain prohibitions in possession of so-called "dangerous tools" may apply during mass events.
Only certain knives are considered "cold weapons" and regulated in Russia, the others are common tools and are entirely unregulated, however using them in a violent manner is considered an "improvised weapon" usage and is an aggravating circumstance when the charges for an aggressive behavior are filed, and the local regulations may prevent bringing of "dangerous objects" to some events or businesses. The key point of knife regulations in Russia lies in the fact that the determination whether the particular knife represent a weapon or an unregulated tool lies entirely within the opinion of a certified expert or an authorized certification board. In practice this means that there's no legal difference between the knife as a tool and as a weapon, and most given examples may be considered either, the only difference being the certificate issued by an authorized body, and any knife having this certificate being explicitly legal. Certifying the knives as a tool isn't difficult and most producers and importers do this, issuing a copy of a certificate with the knife during the sale, for presentation to the police officers in case of an inquiry. However, unauthorized possession, creation, sale and transport of bladed weapons were decriminalized in 2001 and is now only a civil offence, carrying the penalty between 500 and 2000 ($15 to $60) roubles and/or a ban on a bladed weapon possession for 6 months to a year. For the knives considered weapons the law forbids only the throwing knives, and the automatic and gravity knives with the blades longer than 9 cm (the shorter blades are allowed, providing the owner having the relevant permission).
The "Weapons and Munitions law" article 2. lists different types of weapons. It states that: "melee weapons, brass knuckles, dagger, kama, saber, bayonet and other items whose primary purpose is offense" are considered weapons. Most knives are therefore considered tools and technically legal to possess and carry. However, since any knife could be used a melee weapon and the law doesn't differentiate between particular types it is up to the authorities to determine the intent of the individual in possession of the knife and whether there is a "good reason" to do so. Thus fixed blade knives are considered appropriate for particular professions or when hunting and fishing, but will likely be treated as a weapon in an urban environment. Switchblades, butterfly knives, blades concealed in everyday objects are usually treated as weapons and assisted opening knives may also fall into that category. The appearance of the knife (how aggressive it appears), the length (although there is no legal limit on length), the location where it was carried (large gatherings, schools, public buildings etc.) and the demeanor of the person carrying the knife all factor into the decision on whether the law has been broken. Purchase, possession and carry of a melee weapon is classified as a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to 10000 RSD or up to 60 days imprisonment ("Weapons and Munitions law", article 35. In practice the less akin to a weapon the knife appears, and if carried and used with "good judgment" the lesser the likelihood of legal consequences.
Carrying a knife in Slovakia is not explicitly prohibited nor are there any prohibited types of knives. However Act No. 372/1990 Offences Act states in paragraph 47 that carrying of a "cold weapon" such as knife, dagger, or sabre on public places is a non-criminal offense to public safety if, from the circumstances of the case or the behaviour of the person, it can be concluded that these weapons can be used for violence or threats of violence. It is up to the individual assessment of any single situation by a policeman whether carrying of such a weapon can lead to violence. This offense can be penalized with maximum 500 EUR. An example of such a situation is visibly carrying of a knife in crowded public places, public meetings, etc.
In Spain there are stringent laws proscribing the carrying of armas blancas, or fighting knives, and prohibiting the manufacture, sale, possession or use of certain knives classified as prohibited weapons. Armas blancas and other sharp-bladed instruments or cutting tools may be freely purchased and owned provided they are not on the list of prohibited weapons, are not purchased or possessed by minors, are kept at home for the exclusive purpose of a collection, and are not transported on the public roads. It is against the law generally to carry, display or use any kind of knife in public, especially knives with pointed blades, unless one is on one's own property or is working or engaged in a legitimate sporting activity requiring the use of such a knife.
The list of prohibited weapons is found in Anexo I – Armas prohibidas of the Real Decreto 137/1993 Por El Que Se Aprueba EL Reglamento de Armas, which prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, possession and use of sword canes, automatic knives (switchblades), as well as daggers of any type. Knives with a double-edged, pointed-tip blade 11 cm (4.33 inches) or less in length (measured from the forward end of the handle to the tip of the blade) are considered to be armas blancas, which may be owned, but not carried in public. The law also prohibits the marketing, advertising, sale, possession, and use of folding knives with a blade length exceeding 11 cm (4.33 in.), measured from the bolster or top of the handle to the tip of the blade. Certain exceptions to the list of prohibited knives exist for legitimate knife collections and historical artifacts registered with the Guardia Civil for possession exclusively at one's own home.
Civilians are prohibited from possessing knives, machetes, and other bladed weapons officially issued to the police, military, and other official authorities without a special license. Sale of such weapons requires the presentation of an official arms license duly certifying the identity and status of the person entitled to possess such weapons.
Swedish law prohibits the carrying of knives in public areas, including schools and vehicles at these areas, if the carrier has no legitimate purpose. Examples of legitimate purposes include carpet layers carrying their knife to and from work, soldiers in uniform carrying a knife or normal use of a pocket knife. The same law also regulates some other objects that are made to thrust, cut, or that are otherwise intended for crime against life and health. Furthermore, objects that are "particularly" intended for crime against life and health, such as switchblades, shurikens and brass knuckles, are not permitted to be given or sold to anyone under the age of 21. Carrying a weapon for self-defence does not count as a legitimate purpose.
The 1689 Bill of Rights ensured that only Parliament and not the King could restrict the right of the people to bear arms. Over the last 60 years, Parliament has enacted a series of increasingly restrictive laws and acts regarding the possession and use of knives and bladed tools. The United Kingdom (to include England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) has one of the most comprehensive set of laws of any developed nation restricting the right to import, purchase, possess, sell, and carry knives. Ambulance service data gathered in 2009 suggests a slow increase in knife crime incidents in the UK although the overall rate remains low.
England and Wales
Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959
The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 (amended 1961) (ROWA), prohibits the importation, sale, hire, lending, or gift of certain types of knives in England, Wales, and Scotland as of 13 June 1959 under Section 1:
- (1) Any person who manufactures, sells or hires or offers for sale or hire, or exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire or lends or gives to any other person—
- (a) any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, sometimes known as a flick knife or "flick gun"; or
- (b) any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force and which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device, sometimes known as a gravity knife,
- shall be guilty of an offence [...]
Subsection 2 also makes it illegal to import knives of this type as of 13 June 1959. The above legislation criminalizes the conduct of the original owner or transferor of an automatic-opening or gravity knife, not the new owner or transferee; in addition, the statute does not criminalize possession of such knives other than possession for the purpose of sale or hire. It is therefore not illegal per se to merely possess such a knife, though the difficulties of acquiring one without violating the statute makes it (almost) impossible to obtain one without either committing or abetting an offence.
Criminal Justice Act 1988
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 mainly relates to carrying knives in public places, Section 139 being the most important:
- (1) Subject to subsections (4) and (5) below, any person who has an article to which this section applies with him in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.
- (2) Subject to subsection (3) below, this section applies to any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except a folding pocketknife.
- (3) This section applies to a folding pocketknife if the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 3 inches.
- (4) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place.
The definition of "public place" is unsettled, but can loosely be defined as anywhere the public have a legitimate right to be whether this access is paid for or not, which could include any populated area within the England and Wales, including one's motor vehicle, which is defined by law as a 'public place' unless parked on private property. In a remote or otherwise unpopulated area, a public place could include: 1) an organised wilderness gathering or event; 2) a National Park; 3) Forestry Commission land that is held open to the public; 4) public footpaths; 5) bridleways; and 6) any area where an individual does not need to ask specific permission to walk, camp, or travel from a landowner.
The phrase "good reason or lawful authority" in Subsection 4 is intended to allow for "common sense" possession of knives, so that it is legal to carry a knife if there is a bona fide reason to do so. Subsection 5 gives some specific examples of bona fide reasons: a knife for use at work (e.g. a chef's knife), as part of a national costume (e.g. a sgian dubh for the Scottish national costume), or for religious reasons (e.g. a Sikh Kirpan). However, even these specific statutory exceptions have proven unavailing to knife owners at times. It is important to note that "good reason or lawful authority" exceptions may be difficult to establish for those not using a knife in the course of their trade or profession, but merely because the knife is needed in case of emergency or for occasional utility use.
Although English law insists that it is the responsibility of the prosecution to provide evidence proving a crime has been committed, an individual must provide evidence to prove that they had a "good reason or lawful authority" for carrying a knife (if this is the case) upon being detained. While this may appear to be a reversal of the usual burden of proof, technically the prosecution has already proven the case (prima facie) by establishing that a knife was being carried in a public place (see Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 on Knives, etc.; New powers to tackle gun and knife crime)
As the burden of proving "good reason or lawful authority" lies with the defendant, it is likely that an individual detained and searched by the police will need to prove the following (sometimes known as the THIS list): Has THIS person got permission; to use THIS article (knife); for THIS use; on THIS land; and by THIS land owner.
The special exception which exists in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Sec. 139) for folding knives (pocket knives) with blades less than 3 inches (76mm) long, is another "common sense" measure accepting that some small knives are carried for general utility; This exemption however only applies to folding knives without a locking mechanism. The wording of the Criminal Justice Act does not mention locking and so the definition of "folding pocket knife" was settled through case law. In the Crown Court appeal of Harris v. DPP (1992) and the Court of Appeal case of R. v Deegan (1998) the ruling that 'folding' was intended to mean 'non-locking' was upheld. As the only higher court in England and Wales to the Court of Appeal is the Supreme Court, the only way the decision in R. v. Deegan could be overturned is by a dissenting ruling by the Supreme Court or by Act of Parliament.
Offensive Weapons Act 1996
The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 covers the possession of knives within school premises:
- (1) Any person who has an article to which section 139 of this Act applies with him on school premises shall be guilty of an offence.
- (2) Any person who has an offensive weapon within the meaning of section 1 of the M1 Prevention of Crime Act 1953 with him on school premises shall be guilty of an offence.
- (3) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (2) above to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article or weapon with him on the premises in question.
- (4) (Subsection 4 gives the same specific exceptions as subsection 139(5) with the addition of "for educational purposes". This would appear to imply that all legislation on knives in public applies similarly to school premises, and therefore a folding pocket knife under 3 inches (76mm) in length would be considered legal.)
The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 imposes an age restriction on the sale of knives:
- (1) Any person who sells to a person under the age of sixteen years an article to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence [...]
- (2) Subject to subsection (3) below, this section applies to—
- (a) any knife, knife blade or razor blade...
In Scotland, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 makes it an offence to sell knives to someone under 18 years of age (including any blade, razor blade, any bladed or pointed article, or any item made or adapted for causing personal injury.)
Knives Act 1997
The Knives Act 1997 prohibits the sale of combat knives and restricts the marketing of knives as offensive weapons.
Prevention of Crime Act 1953
The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits the possession in any public place of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. The term "offensive weapon" is defined as: "any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use".
Under the Prevention of Crime Act, otherwise 'exempt' knives carried for "good reason or lawful authority" may be still deemed illegal if authorities conclude the knife is being carried as an "offensive weapon". In recent years, the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 has been reinterpreted by police and public prosecutors, who have persuaded the courts to minimize exceptions to prosecution on the grounds that the defendant had "lawful authority or reasonable excuse" in order to apply the Act to a wide variety of cases. This new approach now includes prosecution of citizens who have admitted carrying a knife for the sole purpose of self-defence (in the eyes of the law, this is presently viewed as an admission that the defendant intends to use the knife as an "offensive weapon", albeit in a defensive manner, and in otherwise justifiable circumstances). While the onus lies on the officer to prove offensive intent, prosecutors and courts have in the past taken the appearance and the marketing of a particular brand of knife into account when considering whether an otherwise legal knife was being carried as an offensive weapon. In addition, the Knives Act 1997 now prohibits the sale of combat knives and restricts the marketing of knives as offensive weapons. A knife which is marketed as "tactical", "military", "special ops", etc. could therefore carry an extra liability.
In Scotland, the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 prevents the carrying of offensive weapons as well as pointed or bladed articles in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Defences exist to a charge of possessing a bladed or pointed article in a public place when carried for use at work, as part of a national costume or for religious reasons. As in England and Wales, an exception is allowed for folding pocket knives which have a blade of less than 3 Inches (7.62cm)
Other relevant Scotland knife legislation includes the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons Act) (Scotland) Order 2005, which bans sword canes, push daggers, butterfly (balisong knives), throwing stars, knives that can defeat metal detectors, and knives disguised as other objects, and the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, which makes it an offence to sell a knife, knife blade, or bladed or pointed object to a person under eighteen years of age, unless the person is sixteen or older and the knife or blade is "designed for domestic use." In 2007, the passage of the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007 allowed exemption from criminal liability under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for selling a prohibited offensive weapon if the sale was made for purposes of theatrical performances and of rehearsals for such performances, the production of films (as defined in section 5B of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), or the production of television programmes (as defined in section 405(1) of the Communications Act 2003).
Further legislation in Scotland, known as the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007, is now in effect (certain parts of this Act came into force on 10 September 2007). This legislation amends the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and makes it compulsory to possess a local authority license to sell knives, swords and blades (other than those designed for 'domestic use'), or to sell any sharply pointed or bladed object "which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person." Any dealer in non-domestic knives will be required to hold a ‘knife dealer’s licence’.
The laws restricting knife ownership, use, possession and sale are nearly identical to the laws of Scotland and the rest of the UK, though contained in different acts. In 2008, in response to a surge in public concern over knife-related crimes, Northern Ireland doubled the prison sentence for persons convicted of possessing a knife deemed to be an offensive weapon in a public place to four years' imprisonment, and added an evidential presumption in favour of prosecution for possession of a knife.
Under the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 (amended 1986, codified at 15 U.S.C. §§1241–1245), switchblades and ballistic knives are banned from interstate shipment, sale, or importation, or possession within the following: any territory or possession of the United States, i.e. land belonging to the U.S. federal government; Indian lands (as defined in section 1151 of title 18); and areas within the maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the federal government, with the exception of federal, state law enforcement agencies and the military. In addition, federal laws may prohibit the possession or carrying of any knife on certain federal properties such as courthouses or military installations. U.S. federal laws on switchblades do not apply to the possession or sale of switchblade knives within a state's boundaries; the latter is regulated by the laws of that particular state, if any.
Occasional disputes over what constitutes a switchblade knife under federal law has occasionally resulted in U.S. Customs seizures of knives from U.S. importers or manufacturers. In one case the seizure of a shipment of Columbia River Knife and Tool company knives resulted in an estimated US$1 million loss to the company before the shipment was released.
Amendment 1447 to the Switchblade Knife Act (15 U.S.C. §1244), signed into law as part of the FY2010 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill on October 28, 2009, provides that the Act shall not apply to spring-assist or assisted-opening knives (i.e. knives with closure-biased springs that require physical force applied to the blade to assist in opening the knife).
State and local laws
Each American state also has laws that govern the legality of carrying weapons, either concealed or openly, and these laws explicitly or implicitly cover various types of knives. Some states go beyond this, and criminalize mere possession of certain types of knives. Other states prohibit the possession and/or the concealed carrying of knives that feature blade styles or features sufficient to transform them into "dangerous weapons" or "deadly weapons", i.e. knives either optimized for lethality against humans or designed for and readily capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. These frequently include knives with specific blade styles with a historical connection to violence or assassination, including thrusting knives such as the dirk, poignard, and stiletto, the bowie knife, and double-edged knives with crossguards designed for knife fighting such as the dagger. Some states make the carrying or possession of any dangerous or deadly weapon with intent to unlawfully harm another a crime.
The origin of many knife laws, particularly in the southern states, comes from attempts by early state legislatures to curtail the practice of knife fighting and dueling with large knives such as the bowie knife, which was commonly carried as an item of personal defense prior to the invention of the revolver. In Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, and Virginia, the carrying on one's person of large and lengthy fighting knives capable of causing grievous wounds such as the Bowie Knife is prohibited by statute, originally in the interest of controlling or eliminating the then-common practice of "dueling", a term which had degenerated from a rarely used social custom into a generalized description for any knife or gun fight between two contestants. In many jurisdictions, a local tradition of using knives to settle differences or for self-defense resulted in the enactment of statutes that restricted the size and length of the knife and particularly, the length of its blade.
After the Civil War, many restrictions on knife and even gun ownership were imposed by state, county, and city laws and ordinances that were clearly based on fear of weapon possession by certain racial groups, particularly African-American and Hispanic Americans. In some states, so-called "Black Codes" adopted after the Civil War required blacks to obtain a license before carrying or possessing firearms or Bowie knives. The governments of Texas and other former states of the Confederacy, many of which had recognized the right to carry arms such as Bowie knives openly before the Civil War, passed new restrictions on both gun and knife possession and use. In some cases, these laws were directed at freed slaves and other minorities; in other cases, by reconstruction legislatures anxious to disarm rebellious militias and groups seeking to disenfranchise African-American and other minorities. The April 12, 1871 law passed by the Texas' Reconstruction legislature is typical, and is the ancestor of the present law restricting knife possession and use in Texas:
"Any person carrying on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddle-bags, any pistol, dirk, dagger, sling-shot, sword-cane, spear, brass knuckles, bowie knife, or any other kind of knife, manufactured or sold, for the purpose of offense or defense, unless he has reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack on his person, and that such ground of attack shall be immediate and pressing; or unless having or carrying the same on or about his person for the lawful defense of the State, as a militiaman in actual service, or as a peace officer or policeman, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor..."
While most gun restrictions were eventually repealed, many knife laws remained in effect in the South. In Texas, this was largely explained by the presence of large numbers of Tejanos. By 1870, Texas whites of the day had almost universally and exclusively adopted the revolver for self-defense, while Tejanos, steeped in the blade culture (el legado Andaluz) of Mexico and Spain and generally without the means to purchase handguns, continued to carry knives. Thus while local and state Texas gun laws and ordinances were gradually relaxed or eliminated during the late 1800s, the old prohibitions against bowie knives, daggers, dirks, and other long-bladed knives remained on the books, since they served to disarm and control a minority group viewed as engaging in lawless behaviors and violence without legal justification.
Interpreting current state laws
Many of today's state criminal codes restricting knife use and ownership have been amended repeatedly over the years rather than rewritten to remove old classifications and definitions that are largely a historical legacy, a process that frequently results in illogical, confusing, and even conflicting provisions. Thus in Arkansas, a state in which knife fights using large, lengthy blades such as the Bowie and Arkansas Toothpick were once commonplace, a state statute made it illegal for someone to "carry a knife as a weapon", specifying that any knife with a blade 3.5 inches or longer constituted prima facie evidence that the knife was being carried as a weapon, yet allowed a complete exemption to the law when "upon a journey".
While Arkansas eventually repealed its archaic criminal knife possession law in its entirety, other states still periodically amend archaic criminal codes that penalize both historic and present-day behavior involving knife use and ownership; these patchwork statutes can result in lengthy legal disputes over legislative intent and definitions. As one example, Indiana law makes it illegal to possess a 'dagger', 'dirk', 'poniard', 'stiletto', 'switchblade', or 'gravity knife' on school property, or to possess any knife on school property "capable of being used to inflict cutting, stabbing, or tearing wounds" if that knife "is intended to be used as a weapon", but provides for a criminal penalty only if a person "recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally" possesses such a knife on school property. The statute thus requires 1) an examination of the knife and the legislative history of the statute; 2) expert testimony on the individual characteristics of historic knife designs to determine whether the knife in question fits within one of the six specified categories of knife; 3) a determination as to whether the blade can cause a "cutting, stabbing, or tearing wound"; 4) a determination as to what degree of injury constitutes a "wound", and 5) two separate determinations of the defendant's intent by the fact finder – before guilt or innocence may be adjudged.
Some states prohibit the possession of a folding knife with a quick-opening mechanism such as a gravity knife, butterfly knife, balisong, or switchblade. Other states may impose no restrictions at all, while many allow possession with some restrictions (age, carrying on one's person, carrying concealed, carrying while a convicted felon, prohibited possessor, or while in the commission of a serious offense, etc.)
The continual advent of new knife designs, such as assisted-opening knives can complicate issues of legality, particularly when state laws have not been carefully drafted to clearly define the new design and how it is to be classified within existing law. This omission has led in the past to cases in which state courts have substituted their own understanding of knife design to interpret legislative intent when applying statutes criminalizing certain types of knives.
City, County, and local laws
City, county, and local jurisdictions (to include sovereign Indian nations located within a state boundary) may enact their own criminal laws or ordinances in addition to the restrictions contained in state laws, which may be more restrictive than state law. Virtually all states and local jurisdictions have laws that restrict or prohibit the possession or carrying of knives in some form or manner in certain defined areas or places such as schools, public buildings, courthouses, police stations, jails, power plant facilities, airports, or public events.
Local or city ordinances are sometimes drafted to include specific classes of people not covered by the state criminal codes, such as individuals carrying folding knives with locking blades primarily for use as weapons. For example, a San Antonio, Texas city ordinance makes it unlawful for anyone to knowingly carry within city limits "on or about his person" any folding knife with a blade less than 5.5 inches long with a lock mechanism that locks the blade upon opening. This ordinance is designed to work in tandem with the Texas state statute making illegal the carrying of knives with blades longer than 5.5 inches. The San Antonio ordinance allows police to charge persons carrying most types of lock blade knives without good cause with a criminal misdemeanor violation, allowing police to remove the knife from the possession of the offender, while providing exemptions from the ordinance designed to protect certain classes of people the city assumes to pose no threat to public order. Occasionally, city and county ordinances conflict with state law. In one example, the city of Portland, Oregon initially passed a city ordinance banning all pocket knives, until the measure was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court as conflicting with state criminal statutes.
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- See Ala. Code 1975, §13-6-120, Sec. 13A-11-50: "Carrying concealed weapons. Except as otherwise provided in this Code, a person who carries concealed about his person a bowie knife or knife or instrument of like kind or description or a pistol or firearm of any other kind or an air gun shall, on conviction, be fined not less than $50.00 nor more than $500.00, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months." A companion statute allows the jury to mitigate punishment if the accused can produce evidence that he was reasonably in fear of being attacked at the time he was carrying the concealed knife.
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- Mississippi Code, Crimes § 97-37-1: Deadly weapons; carrying while concealed; use or attempt to use; penalties: "(1) Except as otherwise provided in Section 45-9-101, any person who carries, concealed in whole or in part, any bowie knife, dirk knife, butcher knife, switchblade knife...shall upon conviction be punished" by a fine and/or imprisonment.
- New Mexico, Criminal Offenses – 30-1-12 (B), Definitions..."deadly weapon" means any... weapon which is capable of producing death or great bodily harm, including but not restricted to any types of daggers, ...bowie knives, poniards, butcher knives, dirk knives.."
- New Mexico, Criminal Offenses – 30-7-2: "Unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon... consists of carrying a concealed...deadly weapon anywhere, except in the following cases: own residence or property; private automobile, or other means of conveyance."
- Walker, Greg, Battle Blades: A Professional's Guide to Combat/Fighting Knives, ISBN 0-87364-732-7 (1993), p. 210: The effectiveness of the Bowie knife can be seen in one of Col. James (Jim) Bowie's early fights in which he defended himself against three knife and gun-wielding attackers. At the end of the fight, all three of Bowie's assailants were dead; one man was nearly decapitated, the second was disemboweled, and the third had his skull split open.
- Virginia Code § 18.2-308(A): The Virginia statute prohibits only the concealed carrying of a Bowie knife upon one's person, while Texas prohibits the carrying of such a knife whether concealed or not.
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- Arkansas Criminal Statute Section 5-73-121: Punishable except when "upon a journey or upon [one's] own premises", this statute was clearly designed to enable prosecution of persons carrying knives without good cause in towns and cities, while exempting farmers and others carrying knives on their own property or when traveling to and from their local communities.
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- State of Florida v. Darynani, So.2d (Fla. 4th DCA 2000): In State of Florida v. Darynani, a Florida appellate court held that a poorly written state criminal knife statute (Sec. 790.225) that had been hurriedly drafted in 1985 to prohibit the ballistic knife must be interpreted to prohibit switchblade knives as well, despite the lack of any specific evidence that the legislative branch intended to prohibit switchblades when drafting the ballistic knife provision. The court's error was finally corrected by the Florida Legislature in 2003 with the passage of HB 1227 (2003) (see HB 1227 (2003).
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