California Knife Laws

For many people, carrying a knife for utility purposes or self-defense is nothing out of the ordinary. However, in certain cities, states, and counties, certain knives are illegal to carry. To help our friends and customers on the west coast, we put together some helpful information on California knife laws for you to reference before buying a knife. 

It’s not uncommon for someone to unintentionally get a felony or misdemeanor charge because they were unaware of California’s laws governing knife possession. Carrying any weapon will likely increase your chances for an unfortunate encounter with law enforcement, but when you know the rules and abide by them, you’ll have a much easier time steering clear of trouble.

Understanding California’s knife laws can be confusing. If you are considering carrying a knife for utility, protection, or tactical purposes, make sure to read this first.

What Are California’s Laws for Knives?

In California, knives fall into three categories:

  • Knives you can wear openly but not concealed: According to California Penal Code 21310 PC, you can’t carry concealed dirks and dagger, which are fixed blade knives without a folding mechanism that can act as a stabbing weapon. An example is a chef’s knife. You cannot carry the knife hidden under your clothing or within purses or other bags.
  • Knives you can carry both openly and concealed: Penal Code Section 17235 allows people to carry all folding knives openly or concealed as long as they are in a closed position. Blades that fit this category may include pocket knives and specific utility knives.
  • Knives that are always illegal: It is unlawful to possess, sell, or manufacture the following knives in California:
      1. Cane swords (Penal Code 20710 PC)
      2. Writing pen knives (Penal Code 20910 PC)
      3. Spring-blade knives (Penal Code 21510 PC)
      4. Non-metal knives (Penal Code 20810 PC)
      5. Ballistic knives (Penal Code 21110 PC)

    In addition to specific types of knives being allowable in certain scenarios, there are also laws that govern blade length and knife operation.

    For instance, knives with a button operation for opening the blade cannot be longer than two inches in length. However, in Los Angeles, the laws state that any knife with a blade longer than three inches is considered illegal.

    Are Switchblades Illegal in California?

    The legality of switchblade knives in California is based on the blade length. A switchblade is legal as long as the blade is 2” or less. Any switchblade with a blade longer than 2” is illegal. 

    The rule qualifies for any spring-loaded knife that automatically produces a blade with the push of a button or applying pressure on the handle and flicking your wrist. However, manual pocket knives are legal to carry as long as there is a mechanism to provide resistance to open the blade.

    You cannot have a switchblade on your body, in your pocket, or within a personal bag in California. It is also illegal to keep it in your car. If you have a switchblade and want to get rid of it, you cannot legally sell, loan, or give it away. 

    Are Butterfly Knives Illegal in California?

    Yes, butterfly knives are illegal in California, however, the rules are a bit more trickky. While there are no specific rules that state butterfly knives are not legal to carry, butterfly knives fall under the switchblade category within California knife laws. 

    This knife style may not have an automatic spring-load mechanism to expose the blade, but the state’s statutes forbid the possession or sale of any knife with no resistance to the blade’s exposure. The laws also say that any knife that can expose the blade with the flip of a wrist is illegal, and unfortunately, that is the action users make to open butterfly knives.

    What Other California Knife Laws Are On The Books?

    California knife laws have specific requirements for the types of blades that are allowed for open and concealed carry. However, in addition to these laws, there are also laws that dictate where you can and can’t carry a knife. 

    School Grounds

    According to Penal Code 626.10(a)(1) and (2), it is illegal to carry the following knives on any California school grounds. This includes private universities, California State University, the University of California, California Community Colleges, and all schools teaching grades K-12:

    • Ice picks
    • Box cutters
    • Knives with blades exceeding two and a half inches in length
    • Folding knives with blades that lock in an open position
    • Razors without guarded blades

    Public Buildings

    Penal Code 171b states that it is illegal to possess specific knives while in state and local public buildings. You cannot have:

    • Any knife that is always illegal
    • Switchblades
    • Fixed-blade knives with blades exceeding four inches in length

    What Charges Can You Face for Illegal Knife Possession in California?

    Illegal knives in California fall under a “dangerous weapon” classification. Anyone convicted of unlawful possession could receive a misdemeanor or felony charge.

    Misdemeanors carry fines up to $1,000, or the convicted person can spend up to a year in county jail or state prison. Felony offenses come with a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to three years in county jail or state prison.

    It is not uncommon for someone with either charge to have a sentence consisting of both a monetary penalty and jail time. You could have more severe penalties and extra charges for possessing an illegal weapon and brandishing it or harming someone.

    Brandishing a weapon is an act where someone appears to wave or display a knife in an angry or threatening manner. You can also receive a brandishing charge for pulling out a knife during a physical fight. If you have illegal knife possession and brandishing charges, you could have an additional 30 days in county jail or up to three more years in California state prison. 

    Get Familiar With Your Local Knife Laws Before You Buy

    Knives are an excellent and widely used tool for a wide variety of uses including construction, utiltiy use, self-defense, and much more.  However, no matter what your intended use for a knife is, it’s still important for you to understand your local knife laws to be sure you’re in compliance.

    Every state has its laws about the types of knives residents can carry and to what capacity they can use them. California knife laws have specific requirements for the possession, selling, and concealment of all manner of knives, from butterfly knives to switchblades. 

    Before you make a purchase, educate yourself on local and state laws to protect yourself from law enforcement issues and serious legal charges.  If you are unsure whether a specific knife, sword, or other blade is allowed in your area, feel free to contact our customer support team for more information.