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.