One of the earliest records of butterfly knives dates back to 1710 in a French book with the title “Le Perret,” which calls them “Balisong knives.” The book mentions the knives were a utility tool used in the Philippines, dating them further back 200 years to the 1500s. The name Balisong comes from the Tagalog words “baling sungay,” which means “broken horn.”
Much to the chagrin of many knife enthusiasts, these controversial blades have restrictions in multiple countries across the world. While the legality of butterfly knives in the US varies from state to state, the USPS prohibits shipping this style of knife due to its association with crime and violence.
What Types of Knives Are Legal To Carry in the United States?
Knife laws in the United States can be complicated, particularly for those who often travel between states. Because knife laws between states have such significant variance, one should always check local knife laws when traveling to new places.
No one style of knife is legal across all 50 states. But as a general rule, those concerned about complying with knife laws across the board should stick to purchasing and carrying knives designed for utility, like Swiss Army knives. Additionally, most places that allow knives permit blades with a length no greater than 3 inches.
Keep in mind, some places require that blade lengths do not exceed 2 inches, and the extra-cautious might prefer to abide by this guideline instead.
Why Are Butterfly Knives Illegal?
Butterfly knives are illegal in many places because of their potential for use as a threatening weapon. A person with extensive practice can deploy butterfly knives with immense speed, which may be the knife’s most dangerous quality. The rapidity with which a person can draw and withdraw a butterfly knife has historically made them useful for criminals.
The legality of a knife depends on the type of knife and how specific states classify it. Some states classify butterfly knives as switchblades, daggers, or gravity knives, making them illegal to possess in those areas.
In Which States Are Butterfly Knives Illegal?
In the United States, butterfly knives are illegal in eight different states with varying degrees of legality. The states where a person cannot legally possess a butterfly knife include:
- Texas: considers the style of knife to be a switchblade, making them illegal
- Wisconsin: some legality, but only on your own property
- Utah: forbids the knives in the state of concealment
- Oregon: forbids the knives in the state of concealment
- Kansas: general legal restrictions against them
- New York: residents can own butterfly knives, but visitors cannot carry them
- Hawaii: no tolerance for them
- California: cannot possess knives longer than two inches, which rules out butterfly knives
What States Are Butterfly Knives Legal In?
The 42 other states besides those listed above do not have strict laws against butterfly knife possession. However, butterfly knife enthusiasts should stay current on knife laws in their area.
Specific Codes and Restrictions
Some other states also permit possession of butterfly knives as long as the knives are not concealed. Besides Utah and Oregon, visible butterfly knives are also allowed in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. Owners of butterfly knives in New York will also need to possess proper hunting or fishing permits to make their carry legal.
New Hampshire restricts possession of butterfly knives to certain citizens. Those convicted of crimes against people or property are not legally allowed to own or carry them.
Butterfly Knives on Federal Property
Even in states where knives are legal to own and carry, there are still locations where knife possession is strictly prohibited. All federal property falls in the category of these prohibited locations. Citizens may not carry butterfly knives on federal property, concealed or otherwise, unless that person is a federal agent.
The federal switchblade law prevents the use of blades considered switchblades on federal property, and some states consider butterfly knives to be switchblades. Other exceptions to this rule include the carrying of a switchblade by a person with a single arm. Breaking this law on federal property may result in punishment under federal law.
Knife Laws, Offenses, and Penalties
Offenses in conflict with knife laws along with their penalties can also differ between states, but violations of these laws may include:
- Concealing a weapon that is only allowed to be openly possessed
- Violating a state’s laws on restricted knife ownership
- Brandishing a weapon, which includes aggressively wielding a knife or drawing a knife during a fight.
- Assault with a deadly weapon is a similar charge to brandishing a weapon, but the knife needs to inflict damage against a victim.
- Sentencing enhancement for using a deadly weapon can add one year in state prison to an existing sentence for illegal knife possession.
Legal Defenses for Knife Charges
There are a few different legal defenses against knife charges. Those charged in violation of knife laws can speak to their legal representation about the following strategies to use as defense:
- The first, and perhaps most apparent, defense against a knife charge is that there was no violation. Those charged for possession of a knife over a certain threshold can’t receive a conviction for a possession charge if the knife was actually within regulation.
- Unknowingly carrying a prohibited knife may also prove to be a useful defense. The prosecutor in the trial would need proof that the person in possession of the knife in question knew the knife was in their possession and knew the knife’s prohibited status. If they cannot supply the burden of proof, the prosecution may have to drop the charges.
- Charges for concealing a weapon that must be in full view can also drop if the person in possession was abiding by the open carry law.
- Knives found in illegal searches may not serve as evidence against a person in their trial.
- Charged persons may also plead police misconduct if an arrest or confession resulted from some such misconduct.