Pennsylvania knife statutes are short and lacking in clear definitions. In order to determine what the law is, one must look at Court decisions, or case law. This article takes the statutes and the case law and puts it in a clear and organized manner that anyone can understand.
What is Legal to Own
- It is legal to own Bowie knife
- It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife
- It is legal to own a penknife
- It is legal to own a concealed knife, such as in a lipstick or belt buckle
- It is legal to own any kind of hunting knife
What is Illegal to Own
- It is illegal to own a dagger that opens automatically (spring, gravity, etc.)
- It is illegal to own any automatic knife (though “assisted opening” is not classified as a prohibited offensive weapon)
- It is illegal to own any implement for the infliction of bodily injury, which serves no “common lawful purpose”
Limits on Carry
- It is legal to open or conceal carry any hunting knife
- It is legal to open or conceal carry any knife that does not open automatically and has a lawful purpose
- It is ILLEGAL to open or conceal carry any knife fitting the definition of “Prohibited offensive weapons”
What the Law States
§ 908. Prohibited offensive weapons.
(a) Offense defined. –A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized by law, he makes repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in, uses, or possesses any offensive weapon….
“Offensive weapons.” –Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed- off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise…… or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose…..
Implements to Inflict Bodily Injury and Common Lawful Purpose Defined
In 1975, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, set forth a “circumstances-of-the-possession” test, in Commonwealth v. Gatto, in order to determine if a weapon had a common lawful purpose. Mr. Gatto was arrested for having a thirty-inch knife during the early morning hours in the downtown area of Scranton. The Court held that the knife was an implement for the infliction of bodily injury, which served no common lawful purpose. In its ruling, the Court stated: “Had appellant been on a journey through the tropical rain forests of South America, attempting to travel by foot from Bogota, Colombia to Caracas, Venezuela it could then be reasonably concluded that a thirty inch knife had a common lawful purpose; but appellant was in a high crime urban area of Scranton.”
Four years later, in Commonwealth v. Ashford, the Court state that Gatto should not be construed as setting forth a circumstances-of-the-possession test for determining whether an weapon served a common lawful purpose, saying the test had no place in determining whether there had been a violation of weapons possession code. Shortly after Ashford, in Commonwealth v. Fisher, the Supreme Court held that on a charge possessing or carrying a prohibited offensive weapon, the circumstances-of-the-possession test was inappropriate in determining whether the weapon served a common lawful purpose.
In 1980, in Commonwealth v. Artis, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed Mr Artis’ conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon was reversed because the trial court improperly applied the circumstances of the possession test when determining whether the knife served a common lawful purpose. The knife was a folding knife, which Mr. Artis testified he purchased at a sporting goods store, to use for hunting and fishing. Therefore, it did not matter under what circumstances he possessed it, as it had a common lawful purpose.
More recently, in 1996, in the case of Commonwealth v. Karlson, the Court concluded that Mr. Karlson did not violate the prohibited offensive weapon statute when he sold four “Cobra” knives to an undercover police officer. The Court held that in order to convict Mr. Karlson, the state was required to offer evidence that the knives served no common lawful purpose. It said that unless they were specifically outlawed, knives were not objects of a criminal nature that were prohibited under the prohibited weapons statute.
Conversely, in 2007, in Commonwealth v. Alvarez, Mr. Alvarez’s possession of a two and a half foot long medieval-type battle-axe with a blade that was almost 10-inches long was held to be within the definition of a weapon that did not have a common lawful purpose.
Conclusion on Pennsylvania Knife Law
It is legal to open or conceal carry any type of knife in Pennsylvania other than those which fall into the category of “prohibited offensive weapon”.
- 18 P.S. § 4416 (2013)
- Commonwealth v. Gatto, 344 A.2d 566 (1975)
- Commonwealth v. Ashford, 397 A.2d 420 (1979)
- Commonwealth v. Fisher, 400 A.2d 1284 (1979)
- Commonwealth v. Karlson, 674 A.2d 249 (1996)
- Commonwealth v. Artis, 418 A.2d 644, (1980)
- Commonwealth v. Alvarez, 935 A.2d 3, (2007)
*updated August 2018