Amerian flag with knife

Tennessee Knife Laws

tnTennessee knife laws can be difficult to understand, due to the legislature’s vague language and the Court’s reluctance to offer definitions of the terms used in the statutes. This article will track down the law and explain it with clear language that makes sense to everyone.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a Bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knife
  • It is legal to own a disguised knife such as in a belt buckle or lipstick
  • It is legal to own a stiletto

It may be legal to own a butterfly knife, however, one should check with an attorney first, as Tennessee’s definition of a switchblade could include a butterfly knife. Courts in most states would call a butterfly knife one that opens by “gravity or inertia”, which is how Tennessee defines a switchblade knife. However, other Courts have viewed butterfly knives, not as automatic or gravity knives, but as a type of pocketknife. As of June 2013, Tennessee’s Courts have yet to weigh in.

What is Illegal to Own

Here’s some good news for the great citizens of Tennessee!  There really are no prohibited knives under new Tennessee Statutes Laws.  The switchblade prohibition was struck down in July of 2014.

Restrictions on Carry

I’ll cut to the chase!  The issue of open carry vs. concealed is a bit unclear.  The latest Tennessee Statutes in 2017 focus more on the issue of the intent of the carrier (see more on that below).  In a nutshell, neither open nor concealed is illegal if your intention is not malicious.

Definitions of Various Types of Knives

Tennessee statute defines a knife as any bladed hand instrument that is capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by cutting or stabbing a person with the instrument. Switchblade is defined as any knife with a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle or by operation of gravity or inertia. No other knives are defined by Tennessee statute or case law. Butterfly knives are mentioned in several Appellate and Supreme Court cases in Tennessee; however, the Court does not offer any type of definition for a butterfly knife.

Intent to go Armed Defined

Tennessee statutes do not define “intent to go armed”, however, the phrase has been the subject of several appeals. As early as 1889, the Supreme Court of Tennessee recognized, in Moorefield v. State, that carrying a pistol to and from a hunting trip, was not intending to go armed. In 1957, in the case of Hill v. State, the Tennessee Supreme Court stated, “We gather the purpose of going armed from the facts of each particular case.” In 1976, the Court of Criminal Appeals followed the Hill decision, in Cole V. State, holding that the necessary intent to support a conviction for carrying a weapon, the intent to go armed, may be proven by the circumstances surrounding the carrying of the weapon. The Court also stated that the mere carrying of a weapon did not deprive a person of the right to presumed innocent. In 2002, in State v. Neely, the jury found that Mr. Neely was guilty of possession of an illegal knife with the intent to go armed after a knife was found in his car, which contained various items of personal property. While Mr. Neely argued that the knife was simply kept in his car, along with other items he owned, the jury found that because Mr. Neely had recently threatened his girlfriend, he could have been carrying the knife in order to make good on his threats. The Court, agreeing with the jury, upheld the conviction.

Defenses to Unlawful Possession or Carry

It is a defense to unlawful possession or carry of a knife if the possession or carrying of the knife was:

  • Incident to a lawful hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, sport shooting, or other lawful activity
  • Incident to using the weapon in a manner reasonably related to a lawful dramatic performance or scientific research
  • Incident to displaying the weapon in a public museum or exhibition
  • In the person’s own home, property, or place of business

Certain government employees may also have a defense to the unlawful carry or possession of a weapon.

Penalties for Unlawful Possession or Carry

A first offense of unlawful possession or carry of a knife is a Class C Misdemeanor, which carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days, and a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500). A second offense is a Class B Misdemeanor, which carries a jail sentence of up to six (6) months and a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500).

Conclusion on Tennessee Knife Law

It is legal to carry any weapon if the use is not malicious.  If you want to inflict damage (or worse) on someone, then there’s a whole slew of prohibited weapons, so behave!

Sources

  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1302 (2013)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307 (2013)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308 (2013)
  • Moorefield v. State, 73 Tenn. 348, (1880 Tenn.)
  • Hill v. State, 298 S.W.2d 799 (1957)
  • Cole v. State, 539 S.W.2d 46 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1976)
  • State v. Neely, No. E2001-02243-CCA-R3-CD, Tenn. Crim. App.
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111 (2013)

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Comments

  1. If you are just used to carrying a Bowie knife and really can’t think of anything off hand except to defend yourself. I open carry so that wouldn’t be a problem on that part but when asked why I carry it, my answer is that I would like to protect myself and my family in case someone attacks or has ill-intentions toward us. Is this the extent to go are thing you was talking about. I’m 54 and my wife and I are going on our first honeymoon (“we’ve been married 30yrs.”) So I’m a little bothered about that. Any help I’ve tried other sites but I’m still confused.

    1. Hey John;
      I’m not totally sure what you’re asking, but I want to help! If you can explain a bit, I’ll see if I have any thoughts.
      Take care my friend!
      J.

  2. Your page on Tennessee Knife laws are out of date as of 2014 the swithblade and blade length laws have been repealed when the Gov signed SB1771. There are no illegal knives in Tennessee.

  3. Does This Mean If I Have A Karambit On My Belt It Is Legal? I havent seen anything talking about karambits or gut knives so.

  4. I am involved in Scottish highland events. A friend related to me an incident in 2012 when he was arrested by a police officer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for carrying a dirk in a sheath. He was in full scottish attire, including a kilt. The dirk is a part of traditional scottish attire, and I always understood that it was legal because it was part of a costume, or ceremonial uniform. The cop said he was “going armed” because the dirk was sharp. The DA declined to prosecute, without commenting why, and the charges were dropped. I am sure they were dropped this way because the cop was wrong, and the city feared a lawsuit. Beware idiot cops who don’t know the law.

  5. This article is now out of date by 2 years.
    This page should now only read:
    There are no restrictions on ownership or length of knives in TN.
    As of July 2014 due to senate bill 1774 all knives over 4 inches blade length are now legal to own and carry.
    Switchblade and gravity assisted knives are also now legal to own and carry.
    Any lawful citizen wishing to carry any of the affore mentioned knives “with the intent to go armed” with out an order of protection or simmilar court statute (mandated requirement limiting their ability to own or use weapons) has the right to go armed with said knives.

  6. if someone has an assault charge (misdemeanor) or a felony charge, how does that affect the persons ability to openly carry a knife? This would pertain to a person living in Tennessee. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

    1. If you aren’t on probation or parole it won’t have any effect. If you are just ask your PO about carrying pocket knives. If there are any restrictions they will tell you pretty bluntly.

    1. As of 2014 there are NO restrictions on any knife. This page is woefully out of date. See the links below.

  7. This article needs to be updated as it is now legal to carry blades over 4 inches and automatics (switchblades).

  8. All of the above was very insightful. Tn says 4 inch carry. New Mexico says you can open carry a Bowie. Now with all the above said, as long as you can see it ( openly), I say sport it. From defense to cleaning under your nails. Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it

    1. Realistically, for defense, carry a gun if you aren’t a restricted person. Everything else, yeah a knife is good.

  9. Thank you for clearing up the open assisted knife question. i was wondering how is blade length measured? is it just the length of the honable edge or is it the total overall lengh of the blade (say from the hingepin to the tip)? again thank you for posting this artical. I live in TN and wish to carry a knife as far as LEO is concerned as a tool. do you know if it is legal anywhere to carry a knife solely for going armed.

  10. Ok, we have some rational people here and some fanatics.

    1. I agree that having a gun permit but not a knife permit is silly. By that I mean, obviously super long knives or swords, not utility ones.

    2. Agree or disagree with someone’s interpretation of the 2nd amendment with respect to bear arms, it is silly that a gun would be allowed and a long knife not.

    3. “God given right” does not even factor into it, this is supposed to be a logical discussion not one of secular beliefs. ‘God’ surely doesn’t give out rights in the human world, nor does it advocate violence or being armed.

    4. If you feel that to be a manly man, you need to fight an uneven contest (e.g. be more armed than everyone else), you are actually a small scared little child. Man up.

    5. Who cares what the laws are somewhere else? You could do A in place A, you can’t in place B. In place B you have other great things you couldn’t do in place A. Btw, not all places have the same laws, and you are an idiot if you think they should, just to make you happy.

    6. No, TN law actually states that a switchblade needs a button.

    7. Off topic: Carrying a baton is also illegal. E.g., a stick.

    8. I think if my wife can carry a gun, I should be able to carry a sword or baton.

    9. The whole “if you can see it it is menacing” thing is bull shit. What, you can’t see that gun on that guy with the CCW permit? How is a sword or stick more menacing than a gun?

    1. As it relates to item #3, it depends on which god. Some very popular gods advocate violence frequently.

  11. I bought a switch blade at a gas station. Im not military or any type of police
    I use it at work and fishing. I live in memphis
    This is illegal?

  12. And I thought we in America lived in a free society but yet it is illegal to carry a knife. It seems that today you could get arrested for just about anything but yet the people who are committing real crimes get away with it and people who are trying to defend themselves get the shaft.

  13. Any law that violates one’s ability to go armed for self defense is unconstitutional. The right to self defense, and being armed for self defense cannot be taken away, or abridged by any law, considering the amount of street crime that the state cannot stop with current enforceable law.
    If I carry a knife that is 5″ long because it was my carry blade in another state, why should I not be allowed to continue to carry it here in TN? It is my right to carry as I please to defend myself, and my family as I see fit when my state can only show up after an event to take a report. When the state cannot protect me, I MUST protect myself and my family. Screw your unconstitutional law

  14. Why is self defense NOT “any other lawful activity”? is self defense illegal? I’m not going armed I’m defending my self. and self defense is legal?

    some help here?

  15. I was told by a Deputy that a knife that you use your finger to open aka “open assist” or “spring assist” was a switchblade per Tennessee legal definition. I contacted my State Representative to purpose a Bill to clarify the definition but he would not. Said they are only allowed to purpose a set number of Bills per year. I guess this wasnt important enough for him.

  16. I carry multiple weapons every day, everywhere i go, SPECIFICALLY with the intent to be armed. I have a God given RIGHT to be able to defend myself. I would prefer to open carry my weapons lawfully as a deterrant. But make no mistake, if i cant go about armed legally, than i WILL go armed illegally. No one will stop me from being able to defend myself and/or others. I have been armed since the age of 12. I have never brandished or threatened with my weapons except in my own defense. So far i have pulled weapons twice. Both times it saved my life. Both times just being armed, ready, willing, and able to defend myself sent the bad guts into retreat

  17. I always carry with the intent to be armed. Why wouldent i??? Sure, i also carry for tool or survival purposes as well. Why is it more legal for me to carry a gun? Why can i get a permit for my gun but not a blades?

  18. CZMAN…..Read the section on defenses to the law. Last time I checked “working” would fall under “any other lawful activity” as would your “place of business”. If you stop off at the bar on the way home you should probably leave it in the car. The law says they are illegal to carry with the intent to go armed, not illegal to own therefore Walmart or bubba or anybody can sell knives over 4 inches. To sell an automatic knife or switchblade the purchaser must be military, LE, emergency services, etc. and use it on the job.

  19. I carry, by Tennessee definition, an illegal knife bought legally in Walmart. If this knife is legal to sell, how can it be illegal to carry? Wouldn’t Walmart be at risk for legal action by the state for selling an illegal to carry knife? I do not carry it with the “intent to go armed” (I use it at work), however, it was needed to defend my self at some point, would that become an issue of “intent to go armed”?
    I think the laws of this state need to further clarified so that its citizens are not a risk of (il)legal action.

  20. I believe it is also illegal to carry a dirk or dagger even if the blade is less than four inches. I think it has been determined that any blade with a double edge is illegal. The “push” knife or dagger, most of which have a short three inch blade, is likewise illegal. Understand my information is old. I was an LEO many years ago and that was the interpretation at that time (25+ years ago.

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