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Knife Laws in Washington D.C.

Knife Laws in Washington D.C.
District of Columbia Seal

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.



  1. “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”…

  2. @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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. “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?

  6. 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…

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

    • Cops frequently do not know the law, and believe myths. MD has no size limit on knifes, other than no concealing fixed blades or switchblades (you CAN carry one so long as the end shows out your pocket with the clip). I have had PG Cops tell me there i a 3 3/4″ limit on pocket knives in MD. COMAR says otherwise.

  9. .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.

    • Ieshia,
      Weigh all of your options –
      Avoid this area again if possible
      Change your lane randomly
      Obtain a concealed weapons permit
      Obtain a high caliber pistol with good penetration and stopping power
      Obtain plenty of ammunition
      Go to the range and practice accurate fire
      Practice drawing your weapon in a variety of positions (prone, kneeling, grappling)
      Practice reloading your weapon in a variety of positions
      Practice aiming your weapon in a variety of positions
      Simulate stress always during practice; get your heart rate high by incorporating exercise into your practice
      Train and practice throwing a jab, and a straight, elbows, knees, and slipping and countering punches
      Perform cardio
      Strengthen your upper body with pushups and pullups
      Buy a book and learn about lethal self defense for quickly ending fights and commit the knowledge to memory
      Make a plan of what you and your family will do in the event of a home invasion and rehearse the plan
      Make a plan of what you are your family will do in the event of an assault in a public place in a variety of settings (car, street, shopping mall, etc) and rehearse the plan

  10. 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!!

    • Very helpful article, also very helpful response. I can get by with a 3″ blade. Mine flips out with a spring, but it’s flipped by my thumb. The only button on it unlocks the spring to close it. Seems like an ideal pocket knife for the DMV.

    • I work on Cell Sites. I had a job on the roof of the Homeland Security on 1st St NE. I sent my pocket knife, a Microtech SOCOM Elite II through the X-ray, the security guard (a lady), picked it up, asked “A tool you use for work, right?” I said, yes indeed! (and I do use a knife A LOT at work). Good to go.

  11. On the recommendation of the security guard at the Air and Space Museum in D.C. last week, I left my beautiful Cold Steel Recon 1 Tanto with Cayote brown handle in a bush outside. Well, I thought I hid it well, but I was being watched and it was gone when I came back out. I was only in there 20 minutes. I have a feeling it was the guard, as he asked to see my knife and when he saw it, he fell in love. He called his buddy over and both were in awe. I looked like a crazy man searching through every bush. I did find a rusty credit card knife that I threw back in. I then walked inside and looked dead straight in the eyes of the guard telling him what happened and he said some other guy behind me had a knife and he placed it in the bushes too. Who knows, it may have been the owner of that credit card knife or the guard. Oh well. I just received my CS Recon1 Tanto XL. Karma is a bitch and that guy may end up with no fingers.

  12. So I carry a CKRT Obake knife, it’s a Kaiken style knife bought at Walmart for about $35, if y’all are here you know the one I’m talking about. I use it to do everything like cutting tags off of things I buy for the kids or whatever, the blade is 4″ from plunge line to tip (the width of my hand) so if I’m seeing the sights of our Capitol will I be stopped like say I go to the Smithsonian.
    FYI: I carry it on the back of my belt like “The Hunted” because that’s how the clip is made.

  13. Rent a locker somewhere and put a bag with anything you don’t feel like carrying and pick it up at the end of the day. I once left a knife in some bushes to go see a movie and when I came out it was gone…I lost a knife.

  14. These laws have been updated since 2012. Minor additions, omissions and revisions have been made that change the meaning of the law; I recommend reading the full text of both D.C. Code § 22-4504 and D.C. Code § 22-4514.

    That said, in my experience as long as you do not cause a scene or wear it on Federal property, you will not have trouble on account of your EDC. If you clip it to your pocket, expect harassment but be prepared to explain that it is a tool. DC Police do not like the self-defense explanation and will see this as intent to use the knife as a weapon.

  15. If I carry a folding box cutter as a tool unrelated to my trade but still use on a daily basis, does that qualify as a tool and not a weapon?

  16. Germantown, I would not push it in DC, they get stupid-fast. Just ask the attorney whose house was searched by the cops. They found a spent shot gun shell and a .50 cal round from a Civil War musket. It was bought at a souvenir store. It can only be shot from a primed musket with gun powder. Other than that, it’s a paper weight.
    The judge found he was in possession of ammunition which is against D.C. Law.

  17. Even though you were attacked which is unfortunate and i am very glad you and your daughter survived the ordeal the fact is that if you carry a weapon concealed or open with the intent of self defense of yourself and your daughter the federal courts in DC will misconstrue the facts and say you had the intent of causing bodily harm or even death to your attacker they will say premeditation was there and that you went looking for your attacker to seek revenge for the previous attack. I hope you never have to defend yourself because our justice system is so fouled up the innocent are the ones who suffer and the bad guys go free. You would be the one to be arrested and sent to prison even in maryland there is no self defense law you are not allowed to defend yourself if you do you go to jail we live in a slowly changing communist country where the bad flourish and the righteous good God fearing citizens are trampled under

  18. I will be going to D.C. With my wife for one week we are from ky where we can carry a gun in the open with no license and concealed with a permit what can I carry leagaly in D.C. Can I carey a big stick

  19. I have a couple of Kershaw Spring assisted knives. Are those legal to carry? And will the muesums there generally all you to check them, so you can retrieve them on the way out?

  20. I work at night in the middle of the city around drug addicts and psychopathic people. Im carrying my tactical knife no matter what. The second amendment shall not be infringed.

    • Technically, yes. But keep in mind that “intent” is everything (or the appearance of intent). If your knife is not a “pocket” knife used for “normal, everyday” tasks, then you could be in some trouble. If it’s a knife that is meant to kill or mame (karambit, switchblade, dagger, etc.) then you’ll have some “‘splaining to do!” to the cop!

  21. I always carry a flip knife but I just purchased a couple of auto knives. From reading this I am assuming that it is legal in D.C. As long as it is 3″ or less. Hope i do not run into law that interprets the law differently.

    • Hey Roberto;
      As far as I know my information is correct. However, you can always check out The American Knife and Tool Institute website for another view of the laws.

  22. I carry a katana and wakizashi everywhere I go! Planning on visiting DC attired as such, hope they don’t have an issue with that?

  23. You say that the only Federal knife law is the switchblade act. How then can DC have laws that are more restricted and also how does it not allow switchblades since federally they are now legal.

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