Knife owners in Michigan who question the legality of their daily carry find themselves navigating a veritable labyrinth of statutes and case law. Many of the laws differentiate between open carry and concealed carry, folding and non folding knives, and single-edged and double-edged knives. They also explore exceptions for hunting knives and indigenous weapons.
Most knife owner's express concern about carrying a concealed, foldable pocket knife and transporting knives in vehicles. The uncertainty of Michigan’s knife laws creates considerable consternation for residents who own knives and carry them every day. Section 750.227 of The Michigan Penal Code sheds a little light on the subject. Subsection (1) reads as follows:
A person shall not carry a dagger, dirk, stiletto, a double-edged non-folding stabbing instrument of any length, or any other dangerous weapon, except a hunting knife adapted and carried as such, concealed on or about his or her person, or whether concealed or otherwise in any vehicle operated or occupied by the person, except in his or her dwelling house, place of business or on other land possessed by the person.
As you can see, the Michigan State Legislature has bundled up many prohibitions and exceptions into one very long sentence found in the penal code. Let’s break it down into something more meaningful and understandable based on the type of knife you might carry. We’ll also discuss how to transport various kinds of knives legally.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The following discussion covers Michigan state law, which does not preempt local law. Large cities like Detroit, Lansing, and others have enacted municipal codes that more strictly control the use, transport, and possession of certain knives.
Michigan Pocket Knife Laws
The daily carry of most knife owners is a foldable, single-edged pocket knife. Thus, it would seemingly fall outside of the purview of Section 750.227(1). It is not a dagger, dirk, stiletto, or double-edged non-folding stabbing instrument. Therefore, you can own and concealed carry any folding pocket knife, even if it has two cutting edges, despite the impracticality.
But, what about the catch-all phrase, “any other dangerous weapon”? This 4-word phrase has served as the basis for several criminal court cases. In the state supreme court case of People v. Vaines, 310 Mich. 500 (1945), the defendant had been convicted in the lower courts under Section 750.227(1) for carrying a concealed jackknife.
The Michigan Supreme Court found that “the legislature intended the words ‘other dangerous weapon,’ as used in section 227, to mean any concealed article or instrument which the carrier used, or carried for the purpose of using, as a weapon for bodily assault or defense,” overturning the defendant’s conviction. In other words, you can conceal carry a foldable pocket knife in Michigan.
Michigan Knife Blade Length Laws
The Michigan Penal Code makes almost no mention of blade length. However, the longer the length of a blade, the more likely a court will find it to be a “dangerous weapon” if concealed or carried in a vehicle.
One Michigan penal statute that does mention blade length is Section 226(1), which reads, “A person shall not, with intent to use the same unlawfully against the person of another, go armed with a...dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife having a blade over 3 inches in length, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument.” But, this only pertains to people who intend to do harm.
Michigan Knife Length Laws
If the Michigan State Legislature gives little guidance on blade-length, it provides even less clarity regarding the overall knife length. As the laws currently stand, a person could legally open carry two or more sheathed swords; although, one could expect that to draw a lot of attention.
All fixed-blade knives can be open-carried, irrespective of their length or whether they are double-edged. However, according to Section 750.227(1) of The Michigan Penal Code, no knife owner can concealed carry a fixed-blade knife, with exceptions.
One such exception exists in the language of Section 750.227, which states, “except a hunting knife adapted and carried as such.” A resident of Michigan can concealed carry a hunting knife as long as that person carries it as a hunting knife and not a weapon.
Another exception emerged from Michigan case law that involves machetes. In People v. Brown, 406 Mich. 215 (1979), the court ruled that “the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the instrument carried by the defendant is a dangerous weapon per se or that the instrument was used, or intended for use, as a weapon for bodily assault or defense.”
Because cutting trees, bushes, and vines represents a machete’s primary purpose, the court determined it not to be a dangerous weapon per se. Because the prosecution provided no evidence to suggest that the defendant carried the machete in his car for use as a weapon, it did not meet the standards for a dangerous weapon, and the court acquitted the defendant.
Michigan Automatic Knife Laws
For decades, automatic knives, like switchblades and ballistic knives, remained illegal to possess in Michigan. In 2017, the Michigan State Legislature repealed Section 750.226a of The Michigan Penal Code, effective October 11th of that year. As of this article’s date, a Michigan resident can own and open carry, but not concealed carry, a double-edged, out-the-front switchblade.
Walking around Michigan with a switchblade strapped to your chest or shoulder represents the very edge of legality under the law. Should you forget about the blade and put on a jacket that covers it, you would then stand in violation of Section 750.227 because it is a “double-edged non-folding stabbing instrument.”
Michigan Concealed Knife Laws
Michigan’s knife open carry laws are clear—you can openly display anything from a butter knife to a sheathed longsword. Which knives a person can conceal becomes a little trickier. Under Section 750.227, you can not concealed carry a dagger, dirk, stiletto, a double-edged non-folding stabbing instrument of any length, or any other dangerous weapon.
A double-edged non-folding stabbing instrument means any fixed-blade with two cutting edges and a point. One can not legally concealed carry such knives. But, if the non-folding knife has one edge and/or no point, you can concealed carry it.
Misleading knives, like cane knives, penknives, and lipstick knives, are legal to concealed carry.
Michigan Legal Knife Age
In Michigan, no age-based restrictions exist regarding the possession or transportation of a knife.
Butterfly Knife Laws
Many knife enthusiasts in Michigan ask, “Why are butterfly knives illegal?” The truth is that butterfly knives, fan knives, and balisongs are all legal to possess in Michigan. You can also open carry them. However, concealed carrying them may present a legal issue because it remains unclear whether butterfly knives’ primary purpose is combat.
The courts could consider butterfly knives a “dangerous weapon” per se if they find that their primary purpose is to intimidate and stab other people.
Where You Can’t Bring Your Knife
By statute, one cannot carry legal knives onto specific properties. For example, you cannot bring a knife inside public buildings, airports, courts, public parks, or schools. Section 750.237a of The Michigan Penal Code establishes weapon-free school zones. Brandishing a weapon, including a knife, on a school bus or the property of any public or private school that instructs students in kindergarten through 12th grade represents a violation. The law does not cover colleges, which promulgate their own rules.