Can You Get Arrested for Carrying a Knife?

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

One of the most discussed pieces of gear in prepper sites is the knife.  On any given day, you will find knife reviews, benefits of carrying knives and knives for everyday carry (EDC).  After moving to Texas several years ago, we noticed a lot of people carry knives on a daily basis and we thought, “What a great idea!”  and started carrying one ourselves.  However, this is not the case in many states.  Some people are afraid of knives and feel they are deadly weapons.  In some states, you can get arrested if found with certain types of knives.  Short blade pocket knives are generally legal.  I started wondering just exactly what type of knives will get you in trouble.

The answer, it turns out, is not so cut and dried.  It varies in each state.  Some states allow up to a certain blade length, while others prohibit specific types of knives.

Also, there is a difference between “owning” a knife versus “carrying” it.  You can own a knife and leave it at home or in a display case, and you won’t run afoul of the law, but the minute you carry it somewhere, you may be in trouble.  For example, in Texas, it is illegal to own a “gravity knife”  (a knife that has a blade in its handle that can be opened by inertia or gravity, designed to be opened or closed one-handed).  However, under the Texas penal code, there are knives you can own but fall under “Unlawful Carrying

“Illegal knife” means a:
(A) knife with a blade over five and one-half inches;
(B) hand instrument designed to cut or stab another by
being thrown;
(C) dagger, including but not limited to a dirk, stiletto,
and poniard;
(D) sword; or
(E) spear.
(7) “Knife” means any bladed hand instrument that is capable
of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by cutting or
stabbing a person with the instrument.

From this definition, it is unlawful to carry any knife with a blade over 5.5 inches long, throwing knives or stars, dirks, daggers, stilettos, and other stabbing knives, bowie knives, swords, or spears.

However, in Los Angeles County, California, the 5.5 rule is way over their limit:  you would run afoul of the law in many that prohibit fixed blades of 3 inches or more.  California also prohibits “misleading knives,” which are knives disguised as something else such as lipstick knives, pen knives, cane knives, etc.

A good resource for finding out each state’s laws regarding knives is the American Knife and Tool Institute (AKTI) website:

Federal law prohibits transportation and sale of ballistic knives across state lines. A ballistic knife is a knife with a blade that can be fired as a projectile.  Also the TSA bans knives, utility blades, razor blades, swords in airplanes.  When flying domestically, you can keep a knife in your checked luggage as long as it is sheathed, or securely wrapped.

Areas where you must not carry a knife:

  • schools
  • school bus
  • courthouse
  • airport
  • polling places

What if you get stopped by the police and you have a knife?

I am not an attorney, or an expert on knife laws, but from what I read in my research:

  • Be courteous and calm.
  • You can state your name and address, but politely ask for a lawyer immediately.
  • Do not consent to a search, or agree to waive any other rights.
  • Do not give any other information about what your knife is for, why you are carrying it, but keep asking for a lawyer.

In answer to the original question, “Can you be arrested for carrying a knife?” The answer is “Yes, but it varies by state.”  To be on the safe side, you should be aware of federal, state, and local knife laws before choosing a knife.

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  1. Really good post. I have wondered about the knife laws in Tennessee and now I think I will get off my butt and find out what is legal in my state… Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Make sure you look it up but as of July 2014, there is no legal limit to the type of knife (length, auto-opener, concealed or not) you may carry in Tennessee. I am a TN resident as well and try to keep up on these laws as a handgun carry permit holder.

  2. The part of Texas where I am, it is common for police to arrest someone even when the officer knows the person is not breaking the law. They will claim ignorance of the law and say “let the court figure it out”.

    1. Hey Steven-that’s just pure laziness and arrogance “let the courts figure it out” excuse, while the arrested party still has to go through the ordeal and costs to pay lawyer fees to try to fight the charges. Thanks for the comment!

  3. You forgot to mention- the huge variation in attitudes and even moods, of the person in authority you are dealing with. Many years ago, I was flying cross country with my eight month old son. They ran my carry-on and diaper bag through the x-ray machine, and the young guy on the machine spotted something in the diaper bag, and pulled out a Buck 110!
    “Why are you bringing this onto a plane?) I held up my infant son, and said: “Is this a good enough reason?” He placed the knife back in the diaper bag, and waved me through! (Somehow- I would not want to try that, today). Ya know what I’m saying?
    I got stopped by the heat while riding my motorcycle, and the cop searched me without asking permission. “Why are you carrying this weapon?”
    I pulled a multi-bit screwdriver and a small adjustable wrench out of another pocket, and I replied: “This knife is a basic tool- just like these other tools?”
    He gave the knife back and there was no hassle- that time.
    I ain’t no gangsta- anybody can see that. But times have sure changed- and not for the better.
    Am now packing a ‘mechanical assist’ Kershaw; with a short paracord fob on it, (just so I know which end is which). We are now getting into a grey area- these things are not officially illegal- YET.
    But yeah- good informative article! (Good advice- too!)

    1. Hi Kinky, You’re right, the attitudes and moods of the authorities do make a huge difference. Unfortunately we don’t have control over that. The Buck 110 sure wouldn’t go over very well these days! It’s unfortunate if somehow tools can also get mistaken for weapons. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I appreciate hearing about them.

      1. Thanks,Aptprepper! (I live in an apartment myself, (So we are on the same page! (‘cept I got 70 more apartments and close to 200 residences to wet-nurse! ) You would not believe! I got tenants here, who sneaked into this country over 30 years ago. They don’t speak English and they don’t know how to use garbage cans! You think I wanna be around these- when the poop hits the fan?
        Not bloody likely!
        (Keep up the good work- lotsa interesting stuff here!)

  4. We have several knives, the one we carry in each car is a 5 inch double bladed from United cutlery, it is a military type knife w/sheath and not sold in several states. Have been carrying in car for several years. This company has had military contracts for some of their products. Some ladies carry a 2 1/2 inch paring knife (yellow with sheath) in purses from Zyliss, these knives come in all sizes and all have sheaths and full tang, sold in many stores reasonable priced..

    1. Hi Laura M, The 2 1/2 in knives are great, they don’t violate any laws, and are handy to have. Of course the 5 in ones are good too provided the car never gets searched in a state that doesn’t allow them. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Also check local knife rules. Some cities have specific laws that are even stricter.

    I think the city of San Antonio has a law against lock back knives. ANY size. Thats just crazy – a lock back is safer to use because it won’t collapse on the user when cutting.

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