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What Is Considered an Open Carry Knife? | How To Stay Legal

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Knowing how, where, and when you can carry a knife is a common concern. Today, violating a weapon law is not something we want to make a habit of doing.

Any fixed blade knife, including swords, daggers, and dirks, is considered an open carry knife. If you own any of the above and you’re displaying it in public, it must be in a sheath and holstered at your waist on display. Failure to do so may result in criminal charges.

Keep reading for an in-depth view into when you can and can’t carry a blade on you. I’ll explore which blade varieties are always illegal and which people are permitted to carry a knife in public. 

What Defines a Concealed Knife?

Knife on the belt of a woman in blue jeans

A concealed knife is a knife you have in your possession in public, and not on display for people to see. Keeping a knife in your pocket or hidden in your waistband is an example of concealing a knife. You can only carry small blades and foldable blades as concealed knives under US law.

It’s illegal to carry an open carry knife as a concealed knife. Concealing a fixed blade knife like a dagger is a criminal offense and may result in prosecution if found in your possession

Typically, illegal knife possession results in a 4th-grade weapons charge or a misdemeanor. However, the specific legal repercussions in your state (or area) may vary. Therefore, make sure you do your research on the type of knife you want to carry before you buy it.

What Size Knife Is Legal To Carry?

You can legally carry any size knife in the United States. As long as the knife is a fixed blade and kept in a sheath, you can carry it publicly. For example, you’re allowed to open carry daggers, katanas, and long swords, as long as they’re sheathed and on display.

Of course, just because you can legally carry any size knife doesn’t mean you’re free to use it however you wish. You can put your hand on your sheathed weapon to remind certain types of people that you have it, but you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you try to use it.

Two different size knives with sheaths underneath

Is a Pocket Clip Considered Concealed?

A pocket clip isn’t considered concealed as the weapon is partly visible. Although you may not face prosecution for concealing a knife with a pocket clip, you can run the risk of criminal charges. Therefore, it’s best to keep your knife concealed in your pocket when necessary.

While an argument could be made for a pocket clip as a concealed weapon, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not put yourself at risk, especially when you can just put the knife into your pocket and avoid any legal trouble.

Is a Knife in a Backpack Concealed?

A knife in a backpack is concealed. For a knife to be considered concealed, it must not be readily identifiable, and an attempt must be made to cover the weapon from sight. Therefore, putting a knife in a backpack would be considered a concealed knife.

As a result, you mustn’t place any fixed blades in your backpack, especially if they’re large knives, as you’ll be breaking the law. However, carrying foldable blades in a backpack is permissible, unless they’re automatic or disguised as something else.

Is It Legal To Carry a Pocket Knife?

It is generally legal to open carry a pocket knife in the United States. Foldable knives that aren’t automated or disguised as something else are permitted for concealed carry. In some areas, the law states that the blade must be kept in the folded position while concealed in your possession.

Therefore, you should keep any foldable blades in your pocket or holster and out of sight of the public. You should also never threaten anyone with a pocket knife for all of the reasons I’ve already stated above.

What Kind of Knife Is Illegal To Carry?

Switchblade knife on a wooden background

It is illegal to carry automatic knives that exceed two inches in public areas, including your vehicle. Automatic knives include all knives that open with the press of a button or flick your wrist. However, you can possess automatic knives in your home only.

Switchblades, butterfly knives, and knives disguised as something else are classed as automatic knives. Possession of an automatic knife is illegal as it is considered a concealed weapon or open carry knife. 

Possessing an automatic knife can lead to felony charges with up to three years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine in court. Again, consult with your local laws regarding the specific legal consequences of carrying this kind of weapon in your area.

It’s only illegal to have an automatic knife in public. Although this also includes your vehicle, keeping an automatic knife anywhere but in your house is unlawful in most states.

Do Knife Laws Differ From State to State?

Knife laws differ from state to state. There are federal laws that allow for open carry and concealed knives. However, some states have stricter rules. Therefore, you should research your local knife laws before buying or carrying a blade in public.

An example of differences in state knife laws is that foldable knives must be kept folded and concealed in California. In New York City, on the other hand, blades must be hidden in public. Therefore, open carry isn’t permitted in NYC.

As you can see from the examples, knife laws can differ between districts within a state. You’ll need to research your local laws to ensure you don’t run into any legal trouble. You can check them via FindLaw’s Knife Laws article.

Can Felons Carry a Knife?

In the United States, felons aren’t allowed to possess guns or firearms under federal law once convicted. But since this law doesn’t mention knives (which are not guns or firearms), does that mean felons are allowed to carry blades after they’re released from prison?

Felons can carry a knife. However, a felon must complete their parole period before they’re allowed to do so. As with ordinary citizens, felons can carry a concealed foldable blade and openly carry any fixed blade in a sheath at their waist.

Although felons can carry a knife when they get off parole, they may not hold other otherwise legal weapons. Switchblades, butterfly knives, clubbing instruments, tasers, stun guns, and pepper sprays are all illegal for felons to possess.

However, felons can have their rights retired after some time or after a successful appeal with the courts.

Are Lock Knives Illegal?

Lock knives are a form of foldable knife. They have a mechanism that holds the blade in place when it’s taken out. As a result, the knife now functions like a fixed blade knife. So, where do you stand legally when carrying a lock knife on you in public?

Lock knives are not illegal. In the United States, lock knives are classed as foldable knives. As a result, citizens are permitted to conceal and carry locked knives. However, lock blades that are spring-loaded or can be opened with a flick are classed as illegal switchblades.

Final Thoughts

In most US states, you can openly carry a fixed blade knife of any length, as long as it’s kept in a sheath and is displayed at your waist. You can’t open carry a knife without a sheath covering the blade. It’s also illegal to open carry foldable blades in many states.

Foldable blades are permitted for concealed carry pretty much anywhere in the US. However, they must be concealed and kept folded. On top of this, blades that open with a flick or button are illegal to carry in public, as they’re classed as automatic knives.

For more, check out Can You Legally Have A Knife In Your Car? | It Depends.

Important Note: The info in this article is intended for general information purposes only. You will want to check your local laws to make sure you are in compliance. We will not be held responsible for any consequences or legal matters you might incur based on the information obtained here. Please do your due diligence. Here is a link to state-by-state knife laws: https://www.akti.org/state-knife-laws/

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