Friday, February 14, 2014

What Kinds of Weapons Can I Legally Possess in California?

Updated 8/10/23:  Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that butterfly knives are protected by the Second Amendment and that law-abiding adults have the right to carry them in public for self-defense.  Read my post about it here

Ever since the Supreme Court delivered its historic ruling in Bruen earlier this year, laws regarding weapons have been changing quickly.  Check back often for updates as they become available.  

The laws regarding weapons in California are (like most of our laws), complicated, nuanced, counter-intuitive and not entirely rational.  We have specific rules to govern all sorts of weapons, including some you've probably never even heard of (I had to look it up, but a "sandclub" is exactly what it sounds like).

Today, I want to talk specifically about knives, striking weapons (like clubs and batons), martial arts weapons, and a few other favorites.  I'll reserve firearms for another day because guns probably deserve their own post. 

For the sake of easily understanding how all the laws on this subject work together, I've created my own handy 4-tier classification system.  This is an over-simplified glance at a few common weapons and the restrictions regarding their possession and use.  Since I invented this chart, you won't find it in any law book.  Don't cite to this chart in court or when you're dealing with police.  Nobody will know what you're talking about if you argue that your folding knife is a "Class-4 pocket knife" and not a "Class-2 switchblade".  The chart is just a simple way to wrap your head around a complicated and poorly-organized series of laws.

My 4 tiers are as follows:

-Class 1:  Weapons that are illegal to own, possess, manufacture, import, sell, loan, give away, offer for sale, etc.  Put simply, these weapons are ILLEGAL in California for any purpose.  You could be arrested just for having them in your own home for self-defense (with a few exceptions).  
  • Any weapon that is disguised or not immediately recognizable as a weapon (any type of knife that is designed to look like an air gauge, lipstick case, writing pen, walking cane, belt buckle, hair brush, etc.)
  • Any type of hardened knuckles (wooden, metal or composite / plastic)
  • Any type of billy club, blackjack, sap, sandbag, sandclub, sap or slungshot (this is not a typo.  A "slungshot", also called a "monkey fist", is a weighted ball on a rope).  Courts have determined that "billy club" includes any type of bat, stick, club or baton if it's intended use is a weapon, even for home defense.  Wait, that can't be right.  But it is.  Keeping a baseball bat under your bed as a weapon for home defense is arguably illegal in California.  That's right, a loaded shotgun under the bed = legal.  Baseball bat under the bed = illegal.  Of course, it would be virtually impossible for police to enforce this absurd law unless the bat were used to commit some sort of crime.  In the absence of some other criminal activity, I would argue that the 2nd Amendment's Right to Keep & Bear Arms trumps California's nonsensical rule against club-type weapons in the home for self-defense.  I've never heard of a law-abiding person being prosecuted for possession of a baseball bat in his own home. 
  • Class 1 also includes "nunchaku" (nunchucks), throwing stars and other "martial arts-type" weapons, with exceptions for martial arts schools and instructors.  

-Class 2:  Weapons that may be owned or possessed at home, but may not be carried in public or within the passenger area of any vehicle.  Class 2 weapons may be manufactured and / or imported into the state, but may not be sold, loaned, transferred or given away in California.
  • Switchblades and butterfly knives with blades longer than 2 inches fall within this class -- they may be owned and possessed at home, but not in public or in the passenger area of your car.  You may not sell them, loan them to a friend, give them away, or transfer them to any other person.  Note: This is all up in the air since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Teter v. Lopez.  In that case, the court invalidated a Hawaii law that prohibited the possession of butterfly knives.  

-Class 3:  Weapons that may be carried openly upon the person or within the passenger area of a vehicle, but may not be concealed upon the person.  
  • Any dirk or dagger.  "Dirk" and "dagger" are both synonymous terms for stabbing weapons. This includes anything with a fixed blade, capable of being used to inflict death or serious injury by stabbing.  Folding knifes don't count, no matter how big they are, as long as the blade is not extended and locked into place while concealed.  Section 20200 of the California Penal Code reads, "A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer is not concealed within the meaning of [this code]".  
  • When it comes to knives, size really doesn't matter in California.  A few local codes prohibit concealed knives of various lengths, but the state Penal Code makes no distinction between giant knives and tiny ones.  If the knife folds, it may be carried concealed, even if the blade is a foot long.  If the blade is fixed, it may NOT be worn concealed, even if the blade is only 3 inches.  And there is no maximum length for blades that are worn openly.  That means swords are legal, but small neck knives are not.  I didn't make up these rules.  

-Class 4:  Weapons that may be carried and concealed upon the person, subject to some restrictions.  Generally, law-abiding adults may possess weapons in this category for self-defense.  Felons, addicts, minors, people on probation, and people with certain misdemeanor convictions may be prohibited from carrying even class-4 weapons.  Class-4 weapons include:
  • Tear gas / pepper spray
  • Stun guns
  • Folding knifes, as long as the blade is not open and locked into place while concealed.

There are many possible defenses to weapons charges in California.  Often, illegal weapons are discovered by police during illegal searches of your property.  If a search is performed without your permission, without probable cause and without a warrant, there may be grounds to suppress anything discovered as a result of that search.  Only a qualified criminal defense attorney can tell you whether or not you might have a defense based on an illegal search or a violation of your right to privacy.  

Even if you are found to be in possession of an item that fits the legal description of a prohibited weapon, you might have a compelling argument that the item itself is not actually a "weapon".  If it's an antique, an heirloom, a movie prop, a piece of art, or if the possessor has some innocent explanation for the item (i.e. grandpa brought it home from the war, etc.), then the item might not be a "weapon" within the meaning of the law.  For example, a baseball bat could be used to play baseball or it could be used to break the knees of a rival bookie.  If a person is found in possession of a baseball bat, a baseball glove, a bucket of baseballs and a pair of baseball cleats, then the bat itself is clearly a piece of sporting equipment and not a weapon.  Of course, baseball bats may be used to legally play baseball in California.  On the other hand, if a person is found with a baseball bat behind the seat of his car, with no other sporting goods in the vehicle, he's going to be arrested on suspicion of carrying an illegal baton.  Keep in mind also that "self defense" is not considered to be an "innocent explanation", and it is not a defense if you are charged with possessing an illegal weapon. 

If you or a loved one is accused of possessing an illegal weapon in California, call our office for a free attorney consultation.  (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John. 

For more information visit our website.  Orange County Weapons Attorney.

Thanks for reading.  


  1. Hi, I enjoyed your blog post on illegal weapons in California. I would be very interested in an expansion of this post to address air travel to other states.

    I am a black belt in karate living in California. I have a photo ID showing that I am advanced practitioner and belong to the international association. I practice at a school, but don’t run that school.

    In two weeks I will be traveling to Albuquerque NM for a karate seminar. The host school just announced last night that the seminar will include classes on sai, a pair of traditional defensive weapons, sword-like, each about 15 inches long. They come to a point but are not sharp. Here is an image:

    Are items such as sai allowed into checked luggage? And what are the rules in other states, such as New Mexico, for possession and transport of such weapons?

    If you are not inclined to update your very useful blog post, I am sure that readers would be interested even in a pointer to relevant information.

    Thanks for any insight you can provide.

  2. Thanks for reading, Gail.

    I'm not licensed to practice law in New Mexico, so I don't want to give you bad advice that might get you into trouble out there.

    You should post that question on They have a free forum where you can ask questions to attorneys around the country. You'll probably get 5 responses within an hour.

    Good luck at your seminar.

  3. This is stupid! CA bans keeping baseball bats as "weapons"!? What if that's all you have and you had no intention of using it as a weapon!? And even so, how are we supposed to defend ourselves then!? "Buy a gun!?" No one is obligated to purchase a firearm and firearms are NOT the solution!? Don't get me wrong, I do like guns and would like to own one, but the fact that it's okay to have a loaded firearm next to you but not a baseball bat is absurd. We have the right to defend ourselves the best we can in OUR OWN OBLIGATIONS. No innocent people should be treated like a criminal for just trying to defend themselves PERIOD!

    1. What is worse is that owning a gun isn't even really a right in California. Unlike other states you can be denied if they don't think you 'need' one.

    2. RJ, you're half right. California is a "may issue" state with respect to issuance of licenses to carry concealed weapons. That means your local sheriff may exercise discretion in deciding whether or not to issue a CCW license to an individual applicant, based on that applicant's "need".

      Individuals do not, however, need to show any "good cause" to purchase firearms in California. The 2nd Amendment still applies here, and your right to keep and to bear arms cannot be denied simply because someone thinks you don't "need" them.

  4. Brandon, I agree that the laws regarding weapons in California are a little absurd. That's the point I was trying to make with this post. Thanks for reading.

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  8. I wonder if efforts have been made to change these laws, and introduce sane ones.

    1. Unfortunately, the trend has gone the opposite direction in California. Statutory laws against weapons get less and less rational every year. Most of the relief has come from the courts, not the legislature.

    2. Imagine this! About 20 years ago when my Dad was about 65 years old, he was punched in the face at a car dealership while waiting in line inside of his vehicle for the service department to open. The person who punched him was a young guy who thought he could cut the line and get in front of my Dad. When my Dad said some thing to the guy, he approached my Dads car and gave him a black eye. My Dad got out of the car with his car club telling the guy to back off. He never struck the guy but the police were called and my Dad was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. He didn't even touch the guy. Luckily, the judge at the Malibu court house saw what a respectable citizen my Dad was and found that the guy who initially assaulted my Dad was a liar and a punk. So yes, no matter what, you will be arrested if your weapon of defense is illegal in your state! Especially California (Gee! a car club)

    3. Glad to hear everything worked out for your dad in the end. Sounds like a stressful, expensive, frustrating, unnecessary experience.

  9. Tennis racquets as self defense weapon?

  10. Jim, check out the article that I recently wrote about the "innocent use" defense.

    If the racquet's intended use is a weapon, then it's illegal. Of course, that would be hard for the DA to prove since tennis racquets obviously have a perfectly legal use (to play tennis).

    And if an innocent person was walking home from the park and he was forced to his tennis racquet in self-defense, I can't imagine any prosecutor on the planet would file charges. I'd be happy to defend the case, though.

  11. Okay I have to ask, If I were to fashion a sword cane with clear acrylic so that the blade is clearly visible through the structure of the cane, would that be legal in California?

    I need a cane due to a knee injury and this seems like a perfect solution...

    Also how would law enforcement react to open carry of a small sword or cutlass? I don’t have the peg leg to go with it

    1. That's a great question.

      It is actually legal to openly carry a sword in CA, but cane swords are specifically prohibited. PC 20510 simply says that possession of a cane sword is illegal. It doesn't say anything about "the blade being concealed", or "plainly visible", etc., it just prohibits cane swords entirely.

      That being said, PC 20510 falls within a chapter of the Penal Code entitled "Weapons - Disguised or Misleading Appearance". That makes me think that the law was obviously intended to prohibit concealed swords.

      If a sword in embedded in a cane, but the blade is plainly visible, does that count as a "cane sword"? As far as I know, courts have never specifically answered this. All of the case law I can find involves situations where the defendant argues that he did not know there was a blade inside his cane.

      I suspect the police would probably issue a citation, seize your cane, and let the courts work it out. I can't guess whether or not your local DA has the time and energy to take it up, though. Give me a call if that happens.

  12. We are in a sad state of affairs in CA. I carry two 23" long one inch diameter hardwood sticks in my car. BUT, I also carry my certificate as a 2 degree black belt WITH AN INSTRUCTOR ENDORSEMENT on it too. An arrest unless I am the perpetrator of some other crime would be illegal and I would not voluntarily submit to arrest. Therefore, any call to your office would be made from the jail AFTER I got all munched up in the fight which I would lose as you can imagine ... and of course after my charge of 245 and a 148 PC Enough is enough - good grief! I am 65 with no criminal history, a CCW holder and I do not drink. But I do drive a Porsche like a madman and I know that pisses the cops off somewhat ... Craig

  13. I would say that most of California's laws should fail on 2A grounds alone, but who's going to argue for a man's "right" to carry a set of nunchucks or a swtichblade on his person? Most of these ridiculous "Nanny State" laws are designed to give Dummycrat politicians the APPEARANCE that they're "doing something" about violent street crimes. It's akin to the (lack thereof) justification to ban AK pattern rifles, the SKS (because it fires the same 7.62x39 mm round and there's a mistaken belief that an SKS semi-automatic carbine can be readily converted to a select-fire AK rifle), so-called "cop killer" bullets (and where is there evidence that significant harm is posed to LEOs from persons not already prohibited from firearms ownership, regardless of ammo type used, e.g., FELONS?), and fairly much any firearm that is useful and/or "fun".

    I could just see mine own home being invaded by the cops under a bogus pretense and a brouhaha being made of not only firearms, but also melee weaponry owned by yours truly. To date, I've not shot, stabbed, bashed, battered, cudgeled, or speared anyone, nor have I ever threatened such. Whatever reason(s) I have to own any weapons are mine own and I owe no one an explanation, the Second Amendment is supposed to protect my right to own, and where appropriate, BEAR, any arms of my choosing.

  14. Hello, I have a question regarding self defense wepon but before that let me tell you the reason why I need to buy a wepon desperately. I am currently here in Bay Area and I am Asian and also I'm a Lady. While I was shopping for my monthly necessities I have been attacked by some random racist here due to CV19 and me being asian (by the way im not chinese), but good thing I know Taekwondo and some kendo to protect myself and I didn't sustain any major injury but only some minor bruises and some swollen in my legs. You see since I used my leg to defend my self I couldn't come to work (I'm a caregiver for elderly facility & a direct support for Autistic Elderly facility) for 1.5 week and because of that I decided to buy a concealed weapon such as a Kuba Kickz and Fast Strike Whip so that I can protect my self more from the upcoming dangers. Now my question, is kuba kickz and whip legal here in CA or is it illegal? PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS QUESTION because I don't want to go outside anymore without it. Me and my fellow colleagues dont feel safe to go outside anymore and my two boss, who is a man, is now telling us that they will buy our monthly necessities but we can't ask them forever. So please
    & Thank you very much!

    1. Rizza, thank you for reading. Those are great questions.

      I don't see any legal problem with kuba kickz (other than their questionable utility). I was concerned that they might fall within the definition of "illegal baton" or "composite knuckles", but they do not. Possession of kuba kicks should not be illegal in itself, but you could be accused of assault with a deadly weapon (PC 245) if you use them to commit a crime.

      The Fast Strike Whip is a little trickier, though. It does appear that this weapon could arguably fall under the definition an illegal baton. It would really depend on the discretion of your local police and DA.

      If you are concerned about complying with the law while defending yourself, you should consider mace and / or an electric stun gun. You can also legally carry a large knife if the it's worn openly (on your belt, etc.).

      Stay safe.

  15. I keep a .45 under the bed, 15 inch 20 oz bowie in the night stand. And a 12g in the closet. Welcome to California.