Knife Laws in Washington D.C.

This article makes knife laws in the District of Columbia easy to understand. It is written in normal English with quotes from the code. Washington D.C. is a federal district and, because of that, only federal laws apply. There are no state or local laws in DC.

What is Legal to Own

  • Balisong knives are legal.
  • Belt knives, cane knives, lipstick knives and other disguised knives are legal.
  • Bowie knives and other large knives are legal.
  • Throwing knives and throwing stars are legal.
  • Swords are legal.
  • It is illegal to own a switchblade.

The law only bans switchblades. There are no other knives that are banned from possession.

What the Law Says

You Can Not Conceal Carry Dangerous Weapons

D.C. Code § 22-4504  (2012)

§ 22-4504. Carrying concealed weapons; possession of weapons during commission of crime of violence; penalty [Formerly § 22-3204]

(a) No person shall carry within the District of Columbia either openly or concealed on or about their person, a pistol, or any deadly or dangerous weapon capable of being so concealed.

Some knives can be dangerous weapons. In the case of Gorbey vs US in 2012, the court of appeals stated that the prosecution does not need to prove that a sword is a dangerous weapon because it has no other uses besides inflicting injury. This means that other knives with no utility use, like daggers, are dangerous weapons. Therefore, do not conceal carry a knife that has no utility uses. Knives that are used as tools are fine to carry concealed or open.

In the case of Mack vs. US in 2010, the court found that Mack was guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon even though he intended on using the weapon only in self defense. The take home point here is to not carry around a knife that can only be used as a weapon, even if you will only use it for good.

Ban on Switchblades and Unlawful Uses of Knives

D.C. Code § 22-4514  (2012)

§ 22-4514. Possession of certain dangerous weapons prohibited; exceptions [Formerly § 22-3214]

(a) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess any  […] knuckles, or […] switchblade knife[.]

(b) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess, with intent to use unlawfully against another, an imitation pistol, or a dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, or other dangerous weapon.

Switchblades, knives that have a blade that is released by a button, are banned from DC. Knuckles are referring to brass knuckles but this also applies to any knife with brass knuckle-like handles such as some WWI trench knives and certain push knives.

Balisong knives are not banned in Washington DC. Balisong knives do not open with a press of a button like a switchblade and use inertia instead of a spring or gravity to open. In fact, certain parts of a Balisong goes against gravity during a flip. Washington DC is federal property and federal courts have not banned butterfly knives.

The law also bans illegal uses of weapons. What this means is that if you rob a bank with a stiletto, not only will you be charged with robbery, you will also be charged with possession of a dangerous weapon.

Conclusion on Washington D.C. Knife Laws

In Washington DC, it is legal to own any knife as long as it is not a switchblade. This includes belt knives, Bowies, and any other knife you can think of. However, leave the knife at home and do not carry the knife if it does not have any utility purposes. This would mean that the knife is a deadly weapon and is a felony.

If you have any questions, type them in the comment box below. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice so ask an attorney in DC if you need legal help. We are also looking for federal attorneys to do a short interview about Washington D.C. knife laws.

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  1. I carry my knife in DC all the time! I live in Maryland and always carried my 5 inch gerber or 3 inch Kershaw. As long as your not going to museums and are not commiting crimes your good. Museums WILL not let you in with a knife and are usually cool if you tell them you have one. I just left my knife in a very concealed area of bush to pick up after the museum, or instead bring a credit card knife!!

  2. .Hello I’m 23 year old single mom, I want to protect my daughter to best of my abilities. Because there was a time I was walking from her daycare and we got attacked by man. I’m a small person so I wanted to know what exactly can I carry to protect us when a crisis comes our way without getting in trouble.

  3. My EM intern had her Swiss Tool, with a 1.5 inch “blade” confiscated by a police officer in MD! Even TSA doesn’t care about it, but the State Department cop at the Passport Officer would not let me in with it and I’m a Navy Commander.
    There is no way to give good advice for carrying a blade in the People’s Republic of DC.

  4. I EDC a Busse Ams, it’s a 3.5″ blade. It isn’t scare to look at, in NC it’s no big deal,but in DC will this get me hassled?

  5. Rescue knife?
    My EDC is the StatGear T3; folding blade, with a window punch, an led for checking pt pupil dilation, and a seat belt/clothes cutter.
    Both the blade and the cutter are on a liner lock.
    I’m heading to DC. Probably going to be walking around and going to the Spy Museum…
    Just want to know if it’ll be any trouble…

  6. So what if it’s a spring assisted knife and it’s also a bottle opener

  7. “Knives that are used as tools are fine to carry concealed or open.”

    Does that mean I can carry a karambit? I can easily find utility for it.

    What about fixed-blade vs. folding-blade?

  8. Do knives that have a hole for the index finger count as knuckle knives? Do knives that have an arrowhead like blade, but only one edge count as daggers?

  9. I travel from North Carolina to California back to Maryland and finish in North Carolina as a truck driver.

    Is it legal for me to carry openly a survival knife with 8 inch blade – For utility and emergency survival situations?

  10. I carry a SOG Trident. It has an emergency belt cutter that uses the folding blade. Legal as EDC in DC?

  11. I have my hunting knife fits in scabbard on my side. The blade is 6 inches long. I use it for skinning varmints. is it OK

  12. @tonto kowalski’s bigger brother
    i’ve lived in DC for 7 years and almost always carry my Leatherman Super Tool 300 with me (3.2″ blade). i’ve gone through metal detectors twice (museums) and been stopped by police (on the street and in my car). my answer has always been “i need it for work”, as an IT contractor I can use it for cutting cables and wire-ties. i haven’t had it confiscated yet. now a Virginia traffic court metal detector made me go put it in the car and TSA made me put it in checked baggage, but that’s the only time i’ve had any problems.

    1. I live in wash dc I have Buck 4″ work knife is this OK

  13. “Balisongs are not usually used as weapons or utility but more for show”


    PS wish the author delved more into the 3″ rule; if the knife is utilitarian or a common Buck style folder but is 3 and 1/4″ is it likely to be confiscated when put with your keys going through a metal detector in DC?

    Or is the key phrase “with intent”…

  14. Balisongs are not usually used as weapons or utility but more for show, can you still carry them?

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