California has relatively friendly knife laws, but as you can expect, with large urban centers like L.A. and others, there are some differences between urban laws and restrictions in other regions. Unlike other states who’s knife law is out of date, California’s is modern and up-to-date. This article will talk about what is legal, illegal, and in the gray area concerning knives in California.
Legal Knives in California
- Bowie knives are legal.
- Large knives are legal (no restrictions in size).
- Carrying knives in the open is legal in California.
- Carrying knives concealed is legal in California for most knives.
Illegal Knives under California Knife Law
- Misleading knives are illegal. These include cane knives (and shobi-zues), lipstick knives, belt knives, air gauge knives, and pen knives.
- All undetectable knives are illegal. These include knives that won’t set off metal detectors.
- Ballistic knives are illegal.
- Switchblades with a blade over 2 inches long are illegal to carry (see penal code section 21510)
What the law is trying to get at are knives usually used by criminals to commit crimes. These are knives that don’t look like knives or don’t have a use as a tool. For example, you typically don’t do much with a dagger other than stab things.
Here is an overview (non-exhaustive) of illegal knives as per the California Penal Code pertaining to knives:
- (c) A ballistic knife, as prohibited by Section 21110.
- (d) A belt buckle knife, as prohibited by Section 20410.
- (h) A cane sword, as prohibited by Section 20510.
- (i) A concealed dirk or dagger, as prohibited by Section 21310.
- (m) A leaded cane or an instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a billy, blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap, or slungshot, as prohibited by Section 22210.
- (n) A lipstick case knife, as prohibited by Section 20610.
- (o) Metal knuckles, as prohibited by Section 21810.
- (r) A nunchaku, as prohibited by Section 22010.
- (s) A shobi-zue, as prohibited by Section 20710.
- (y) A writing pen knife, as prohibited by Section 20910.
Sec. 21510. Every person who does any of the following with a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor: (a) Possesses the knife in the passenger’s or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public. (b) Carries the knife upon the person. (c) Sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives the knife to any other person.
It is legal to own, sell, buy, and transport a switchblade as long as it is less than 2 inches. The state of California has ruled that a Balisong knife is a switchblade because of how easily it can be opened. However, you can still buy Balisong knives that are over 2 inches if you do not carry it in the driver or passenger seat or on you. Simply put, if you buy Balisongs to collect and leave it at home, it is 100% OK.
Concealed weapons are seen as posing a significant danger to the general public and as such, they are heavily regulated. It is not legal to conceal carry a dagger or other double-edged knife. This is a per California Penal Code Sect. 21310 PC.
While it seems a bit foolish to us, the law allows someone to open carry a dagger. That means that if you carry a concealed dagger and intend NO harm (and even forget you have it), you are guilty of a crime. On the other hand, if you open carry a dagger and want to kill someone, you can legally walk right up to your intended target and put your hand on the handle ready to pull it out and stab them in the ribs, you’re good! No law is broken!
To prove someone is guilty of carrying a concealed illegal weapon like a dirk or dagger, the prosecutor has to establish the following elements:
- The accused was aware they were carrying the knife
- The accused did effectively conceal the knife on their person
- The accused actually carried the illegal dagger/knife
- The accused knew that the knife could be used for malicious purposes
A dirk or dagger is a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death. Most pocketknives and folding knives are not considered to be dirks or daggers unless the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.
It is not necessary that the accused intended to use the dagger as a weapon in order to be successfully convicted for carrying a concealed dirk or dagger under California Penal Code Section 21310 PC.
You can read more info on the California Penal Code as it pertains to legal/illegal knives HERE.
For specifics on knife laws in the city limits of LOS ANGELES, read our post HERE.
Conclusion on California Knife Law
If you are in California you can buy, own, transport, and carry any knife you want as long as it is not a forbidden knife. You can also collect Balisongs without worry.
Dirk knives and daggers are illegal to carry concealed. Switchblades with a blade 2” or longer are illegal to carry. A wide variety of unusual knives are also illegal to carry. Violation of the carry statute is a felony. Carrying a switchblade may be a misdemeanor (see Discussion for more).
Note that this is not legal advice and there is no client-attorney relationship. As always, I have to tell you that you’ll need to consult with an attorney or legal professional in the state of California for “official” advice on this topic. If you have a question, leave it in the comment below. Some cities and municipals might have their own knife laws so check with your city. We are also looking for an attorney to do a quick interview about California knife laws.