Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Kinds of Knives are Legal to Carry in California?

Everybody knows that California has some of the most complicated, restrictive gun laws in the country.  Our knife laws are slightly less complicated, but still pretty asinine.  Here's a quick overview of the rules regarding knives in California.

Folding vs. Fixed Blade

California distinguishes between fixed-blade knives and folding knives.  If the knife folds, it may generally be carried concealed, as long as the blade is not extended and locked into place while concealed.

If a blade is fixed, the knife is considered a "dirk or dagger".  In fact, any non-folding weapon that is capable of inflicting injury by stabbing is considered a "dirk or dagger", even if the object itself is not technically a "knife" (a hay hook, a sharpened toothbrush, etc.).  Dirks / daggers are legal to own, possess and carry, but they may not be concealed upon your person.  A knife is not considered "concealed" if it is worn openly in a sheath suspended from a belt.

In short: you may carry a folding knife in your pocket as long as the blade is closed.  If you want to carry a fixed-blade knife or any other stabbing weapon on your person, it must be visible and worn in a sheath attached to your belt.

Size Limits on Knives

There is no statewide size restriction on knives under California law, but some municipalities may have more restrictive local ordinances.  The City of Los Angeles, for instance, prohibits any person from carrying a knife in plain view.  The law includes any knife with a blade of three or more inches in length, any switchblade, and any other sharp stabbing tool affixed to a handle, regardless of length.  The Los Angeles law does not prohibit the concealed possession of knives in public, only their display in plain view.  The precise definition of "in plain view" is probably up for debate.

Check your local municipal code to determine whether or not your town imposes restrictions on knives that are more stringent than the statewide law.

Prohibited Knives

California prohibits the possession of any weapon that is disguised or not immediately recognizable as a weapon.  This includes knives that are hidden inside hairbrushes, lipstick tubes, writing pens, air gauges, belt buckles, canes, etc.

Californians may own switchblade knives in their homes, but they may not carry switchblades on their persons in public or in the passenger area of any car.  They also may not transfer them to any other person.  The same is true for gravity knives and butterfly knives, AKA "balisongs", AKA "batangas".

What Counts as a "Switchblade"?

Until a few years ago, there was a real debate among criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors regarding what actually constituted a "switchblade" knife.  The way the law was previously written, it seemed to prohibit public possession of common "assisted openers".  Assisted openers are pocket knives with spring-loaded blades that pop fully open once the user starts the process and overcomes some initial resistance.  There is no button or release lever, just a thumb stud on the front or on the side of the blade.  Assisted openers are a hugely popular "everyday carry" option for many people because of their ease and convenience, especially when working with one hand (on a ladder, for instance).

To clarify all the confusion regarding what did and didn't qualify as a "switchblade" in California, the legislature revamped section 17235 of the Penal Code by adding one sentence to the law.  The addition, in italics, was intended to clarify that assisted openers are legal to carry in the State of California.  Today, that code section reads as follows:

"A 'switchblade knife' means a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a
spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife, or any other similar type knife, the blade or blades of which are two or more inches in length and which can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or is released by the weight of the blade or by any type of mechanism whatsoever. 'Switchblade knife' does not include a knife that opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position."


If you or a loved one have questions regarding knives or other weapons in California, call our office for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John. We have extensive experience in defending against all types of criminal and weapons-related charges. 

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Weapons Lawyer