Maryland Knife Laws

Maryland’s knife laws are somewhat archaic and cryptic. This article will clear the matter for you in everyday English. It gives you an outline of what is allowed and what is not allowed along with law citations and case examples. It than goes into detail about how the law works so that you can understand Maryland knife law inside and out.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a balisong knife, also called butterfly knife.
  • it is legal to own dirks, daggers, stilettos, and other slim knives.
  • It is legal to own switchblades, gravity knives, and automatic knives.
  • It is legal to own ballistic knives.
  • It is legal to own disguised knives like belt knives and lipstick knives.
  • It is legal to own throwing stars and throwing knives.
  • It is legal to own undetectable knives.
  • It is legal to own Bowie knives and other large knives.

There are no limitation on the type of knife you can own in Maryland.

Limits on Carry

  • You can not conceal carry a throwing star, dirk, switchblade, gravity knife, or bowie knife.
  • You can not open carry a throwing star, dirk, switchblade, gravity knife, or bowie knife with the intent to harm someone.
  • You can open or conceal carry any sized pocket knife you wish.

If a knife is not listed above, it is most likely to be legal for concealed or open carry. Read on to see why.

What the Law States

Dangerous Weapons Defined

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-101 (2012)

§ 4-101. Dangerous weapons

(a) Definitions. —

(4) “Star knife” means a device used as a throwing weapon, consisting of several sharp or pointed blades arrayed as radially disposed arms about a central disk.

(5) (i) “Weapon” includes a dirk knife, bowie knife, switchblade knife, star knife, sandclub, metal knuckles, razor, and nunchaku.

(ii) “Weapon” does not include: 1. a handgun; or 2. a penknife without a switchblade.

(c) Prohibited. —

(1) A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person.

(2) A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon, chemical mace, pepper mace, or a tear gas device openly with the intent or purpose of injuring an individual in an unlawful manner.

(3) (i) This paragraph applies in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, Cecil County, Harford County, Kent County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, St. Mary’s County, Talbot County, Washington County, and Worcester County.

(ii) A minor may not carry a dangerous weapon between 1 hour after sunset and 1 hour before sunrise, whether concealed or not, except while:

1. on a bona fide hunting trip; or

2. engaged in or on the way to or returning from a bona fide trap shoot, sport shooting event, or any organized civic or military activity.

(d) Penalties. —

(1) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.

(2) For a person convicted under subsection (c)(1) or (2) of this section, if it appears from the evidence that the weapon was carried, concealed or openly, with the deliberate purpose of injuring or killing another, the court shall impose the highest sentence of imprisonment prescribed.

This law bans the concealed carry of dangerous weapons and the open carry of dangerous weapons with intent to harm. The law states that dirks, Bowies, throwing stars, and switchblades are types of knives considered to be dangerous weapons per se. The law also says that a penknife without a switchblade can never be a dangerous weapon.

What is a penknife? Penknives are similar to modern day pocket knives. A penknife is an archaic term that is rarely heard of outside knife collecting circles. Back in the day when people wrote letters with feathers, they needed pen knives to sharpen the quills. Originally pen knives looked kind of like old-fashioned x-acto knives but, after time, they transformed into folding knives.

The case of Bacon v. State in 1991 found that a penknife is still a penknife even if it is huge or small, open or closed, has a lock or not, and carried concealed or in the open. Bacon was found not guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon when he was carrying a Buck knife. A Buck knife is a folding knife that locks into place in the open position.

What this means is that you can carry any sized pocket knife you want as long as it does not have a switch that automatically opens it (or you have the intent to harm someone). Stanley v. State in 1997 also stated that the it is the state’s job to prove that the knife is not a penknife. If the opposite was true, it would be the convicted’s job to prove that his/her knife is a penknife. By placing the burden of proof on the state, the category of “penknife without a switchblade” would include more knives than if the burden of proof was on the defendant. This also reduces the defendant’s lawyer fees as well.

From here, we know that dirks, switchblades, Bowies, and throwing stars are always illegal to carry concealed. We also know that pocket knives of any size (“penkives”) are always legal to carry. What does that mean for knives that are not in either of these categories? Case precedence clarifies the issue.

How a Knife is Determined to be a Dangerous Weapon

The case of Savoy v. State in 1964 found that a gravity knife is similar enough to a switchblade that it is a dangerous weapon per se. A switchblade is a knife that opens when the user presses a button. The button releases a spring and the blade extends. A gravity knife is a knife that opens when a user presses the button as well. Instead of a spring, the gravity knife uses the force of gravity to extend the blade. Because of this case, gravity knives are banned in Maryland as well.

Now we know that gravity knives, switchblades, dirks, and Bowies are always illegal to carry concealed. However, there are still more knife types (read about all the types of knives that exist) in the market than that. The law doesn’t state exactly what other types are dangerous per se but case law gives us an outline of the legal process of determining if a knife is a dangerous weapon or not.

First off, the state must prove that the item is a weapon. The case of Anderson v. State (1992) found that, if an item is not listed as a weapon per se in the law, the state has the burden of proof to show that the item falls in the category of weapons. The burden of proof required is beyond a reasonable doubt (Mackall v. State 2978). We’ve also stated earlier that the state must also prove, even if the item is a weapon, that it is not a weapon that would be considered a “penknife without a switchblade.”

What this means is that a frying pan is never a weapon and, if you hit someone on the head with a frying pan, you will not be guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon in an unlawful manner (but you’ll probably be guilty of something else). This would also mean that most knives designed for a utility purpose would never be considered weapons.

Once the state proves that the item is in fact a weapon, it must prove that the item is a dangerous weapon. The state must show that the item is capable of being deadly or dangerous and that the item was used in a way that would make it deadly and dangerous (Handy v. State 2000).

The state must go on to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was intent to use the knife to harm others (Anderson v. State 1992). Just merely having a knife on you is not a crime no matter how large or menacing the knife looks. However, if you are carrying a knife when you are duct behind a bush with gloves and a mask on, it might be a different story.

No Knives at School

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-102 (2012)

§ 4-102. Deadly weapons on school property

(a) Exceptions. — This section does not apply to:

(1) a law enforcement officer in the regular course of the officer’s duty;

(2) a person hired by a county board of education specifically for the purpose of guarding public school property;

(3) a person engaged in organized shooting activity for educational purposes; or

(4) a person who, with a written invitation from the school principal, displays or engages in a historical demonstration using a weapon or a replica of a weapon for educational purposes.

(b) Prohibited. — A person may not carry or possess a firearm, knife, or deadly weapon of any kind on public school property.

(c) Penalty. —

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.

(2) A person who is convicted of carrying or possessing a handgun in violation of this section shall be sentenced under Subtitle 2 of this title.

This law makes it illegal to bring a knife to school. If you are in school and are reading this, don’t do it!

Can Not Sell Switchblades or Ballistic Knives

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-105 (2012)

§ 4-105. Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife

(a) Prohibited. — A person may not sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter:

(1) a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife; or

(2) a device that is designed to propel a knife from a metal sheath by means of a high-compression ejector spring, commonly called a shooting knife.

(b) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or a fine of not less than $ 50 and not exceeding $ 500 or both.

This law bans the sale of switchblades and ballistic knives in the state of Maryland. From case law discussed earlier, we know that gravity knives are considered switchblades as well and, therefore, banned from being sold.

Notice that the law does not say you can not own these types of knives. Ownership is legal, selling is not. Therefore, you can buy a switchblade online in Maryland and be OK as long as you leave it at home.


All knives are banned from Maryland schools. Dirks, Bowies, switchblades and gravity knives are banned from being carried concealed. Dirks, Bowies, switchblades and gravity knives are banned from being carried in the open when you have the intent to harm someone. Penknives without switchblades and most other knives are legal to carry concealed. There are no limits to how large your pocket knife can be in Maryland and, as long as you don’t use it to hurt people, you should be fine.

Note that there are also county laws that come into play as well. Look up the law of your county to get an even clearer idea of what is allowed and what is not. This is not legal advice and there is no client-attorney relationship therefore talk to an attorney in your area if you need assistance.


  • Anderson v. State. 328 Md. 426, 614 A.2d 963 (1992). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Bacon v. State, 322 Md. 140, 586 A.2d 18 (1991). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Dangerous weapons. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-101  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Deadly weapons on school property. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-102  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Handy v. State, 357 Md. 685, 745 A.2d 1107 (2000). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Savoy v. State, 236 Md. 36, 202 A.2d 324 (1964). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-105  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.

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  1. I just bought a trench knife off the internet, could I conceal carry or open carry that?

    1. As you know, we can’t give you “official” advice (you can only get that from a legal professional in Maryland), but I can give you some unofficial direction. In most states, steel knuckles are illegal (even when not attached to a blade), so I’d be careful. My first thought is to say they are illegal (which they are in most places) but there are all kinds of local/municipal laws which come into play. To be on the safe side, I would not carry a trench knife open or concealed if there’s even the smallest chance of being confronted by a cop. For me, I would never carry one anyway since that type of knife was specifically designed as a weapon against other humans especially during WW1. I’m not interested in hurting anyone, so I’d have no issue.
      Thanks for the question Peter,

  2. I have two “Bowie” knives. One of them has a 5″ blade and the other has a 10″ blade. Are these considered equivalent?

    It doesn’t make sense.

  3. I have purchased a number of mixed lots of items online and a couple of “switchblades” came with them. They are small, with blades under 2.75″ I know I cannot sell them in Maryland, but can I sell them online so long as I do not ship to Maryland and warn buyers to check their laws before purchasing? I just want to get rid of them ethically.


  4. so, if i open carry a switchblade (idek how to do that) and someone attacks me how do they know it wasnt my intent to hurt them?

  5. I was recently charged with deadly weapons charges for possing a 10 inch combat knife in open view after contacting police for help with an intruder that had verbally threatened myself and 2 others with a gun that the person said that they had what can i do aboutthis

  6. figured id add one more, when i lived i WV, i could open carry a firearm? somethings just dont add up to me, lol! please E mail me back if u feel like it or have the time. been confusing the heck outta me for a while now. god night everythin.

  7. i have a bear grill knife that i carry exposed while fishing and camping, along w/ a hatchet for firewood. i contacted several presincts and they all agreed. my first day comein back to load my car, i fealt the wrath of statn. and thay said if everythin was exposed by the dimensions… im so confues, i cant get a straight answer. my bear grills know has a fires tarted, reliable blade etc. The woman that was explaining this to me, undesntandly seems like she had no idea what she was talkin about it. that got i printed a few pages, and i was off a/ a warning. i was never back talkin r anything, i just wanted a better undertsnading. it would be amazing if someone here could hep me out. ive been camping and playin in the woods since a kid… they way i look at it, i could be runnin around w/ two dangerous weapons in Baltimore city as opposed to taking my daught on ficking, camping and kihing rips. im i read wrong or misunderstood, i get it… she just seemed in awe after readin what i presented, got off on a warning but sto not sure y i got that :/ any input would be greatly appreciated, thnk you all in advance 🙂

  8. Is it legal to buy knives or is there a age limit like buying from amazon from other states?

  9. Is it unlawful if I open carry a katana (as part of a cosplay) if I don’t use it in an unlawful or menacing manner? (i.e. Slicing things in the middle of the street, attacking someone, ect.)

  10. I have an automatic opening knife that I carry on me every day in Indiana. I am going on a work-related trip to Maryland next week and am wondering if having it in my pocket with a pocket clip is the same thing as concealing it.

    1. yes that is can still probably get away with it since a lot of people carry knives here but, if they catch you with a button knife their will be trouble (they act like it is a handgun with the serial number scratched off its ridiculous) truthfully it will be easier for you to just keep that knife at home and bring different knife to save you from the trouble

  11. How old do I have to be to carry a folding knife. Ive looked all around but can’t find an answer. I have a spyderco ambitious…

    1. As i understand it. Any knife with a blade longer than 3″ must be exposed. I guess that would include a sword.

    2. Depends if it is a fixed blade or a folder. if its a folder go nuts! but if it is a fixed blade you can not conceal carry it. you technically can open carry it on a hunting or camping trip also if you no intent to harm someone police might still hassle you if they catch you with it. {PRO-TIP} Just make sure when they ask you why you have it DO NOT SAY for defense since this is intent to harm Say its a tool and you use it for utility or cutting boxes.

  12. I read a law that it is legal for a gentleman to wear a sword in Baltimore. This was in Towson law library. It has been years ago does anyone have the actual text of this law. It is an old law that is or was still on the books in the 1990’s.

    1. As i understand if a blade is longer than 3″ it must be exposed. I guess that would include a sword. (Not double edged)

  13. Is it legal for a person in Maryland to purchase a knife, bayonet or sword through the internet? I have my eyes on a couple of hunting knives being sold on the internet and I would like to know if I can order them or do I have to buy them at a knife store?

    1. Knives are not controlled like guns. You can own any kind of knife at home.

    1. There is no length limit by the state, however, you will want to check on your county, because they may limit the length of the blade. (I believe Baltimore county limits folding knives to 3″, but I’m not sure).

    2. Baltimore does not have a size limit for knives. Only three counties in Maryland have size restrictions for folders (Cambridge{3}, Cheverly {2.5},Fredrick{3}).

    3. More than 3″ of blade must be exposed no straight knives.

  14. So you can carry a Butterfly Knife openly as long as you do not have the intent to harm someone?

  15. BBresee: Pepper spray is LEGAL to carry and use for self-defense purposes in Maryland. I carry it when walking my dog due to people walking the dog without a leash and I’ve used over two cans in the last 9 months and the police just asked for my side of the story, no confiscation, fines or jail involved for me (as long as the intended purpose is not to use it as an offensive weapon).

    It is illegal to carry in DC without notifying the local police that you are carrying, or so I have understood it.

  16. So, I am trying to research alternative self defense weapons since getting a permit in MD (or so I’ve heard) is nearly impossible. It looks like it said pepper spray is illegal to carry? Or am I misunderstanding? More info pls on this and any other thoughts on what LEGAL options I have for carrying and owning, if you dont mind. I’d really appreciate it.

  17. William, yes, you can do pretty much anything in self-defense, including hurting people with a knife.

  18. Is “school property” defined as both public and private schools?

  19. My Question Is, If I Am Carrying My Folding Pen Knife In My Pocket, And I Am Attacked By Someone With A Club Or Baseball Bat, Or Multiple Attackers, Is It Legal To Use My Pen Knife For Self Defense?

    1. Sorry for the delay in answering, William. I would imagine that you can use a pen for self defense, but I think a type writer or word processor would be a effective option. Judges can get picky about how they receive a written case.

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