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Tennessee Knife Laws

Tennessee Knife Laws

Tennessee 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.

Either way, it looks as though it is legal to own a butterfly knife and to carry it openly or concealed so long as you have no intent to commit a crime.  If you commit a crime while carrying it, you’re on your own and I can’t really offer any further insight!

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.  So, in other words – it’s legal to own anything.

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.  In other words, you can carry nearly anything open or not.

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!


  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1302 (2018)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307 (2018)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308 (2018)
  • 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 (2018)


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

    • My son is 16 about to turn 17 and works late nights. Can he carry a switchblade? If the intent is for protection?

  12. 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

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

  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

      • Hey James;
        Thanks for checking out knifeup.com. As far as we can tell, you may carry any kind of knife open or concealed in Tennessee. The focus of Tennessee law is on “your intent”. Were you caught in a situation that looked like your intent was to commit a crime? If so, then you’d be charged with carrying a weapon. Otherwise, it’s not illegal to carry any type of knife.
        Officially I have to tell you that I’m not allowed to offer you this advice as serious, binding offical advice (talk to a lawyer in Tennessee about that) but that’s what my research tells me.

  17. 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.

    • Well Spencer, back when you asked this question, the answer would have been a NO! However, it now being 2019 and seeing that the state of Tennessee issued a statute back in 2017 that and and all bladed weapons could be considered legal to carry. According to Knifeup.com website, all bladed weapons are legal to carry aside from butterfly knives, straight razors and swords. Those three ARE NOT specifically mentioned as being considered legal for carry. That is open carry or concealed. Me personally, I carry a Karambit blade on me all the time and I have had absolutely no trouble. However if asked, you have to give a good reason for carrying. One not with a MALITIOUS intent.

  18. @Spencer

    I carry my karambit all the time and ive never run into any issues. Dont go looking for trouble and you should be fine.

  19. Thank you to those that have noted updates to the law. I plan to visit for business soon and usually carry a folding pocket knife. I was looking to find the information you have provided.

  20. What about full length swords? I’m trying to get into HEMA(historical European martial arts) and I was wondering if there were any specific bans on swords lengths approximately between 36″overall and 56″overall

  21. In 2012, it was illegal to carry a blade over 4 inches. Doesn’t matter what type or how sharp or dull it happened to be. At that time, it was illegal period. Just because you are dressed a certain way doesn’t mean you get away with disobeying the law. Otherwise people would dress in costume anytime they wanted to carry an illegal weapon. A Dirk is over four inches. I’m sure it was dropped because they knew he came from the Highland games and while they had full right to prosecute, they chose not to do so because they knew he meant no harm. A lawsuit against them would have been pointless and fruitless as he did in fact commit a crime whether he intended to do so or not.
    Thankfully, the law has changed and your friend may carry whatever blade he chooses no matter what attire he may be wearing at the time.

  22. What’s the laws on Swords? We own a lot of swords, and while we’d never carry them around with the intent of hurting someone, if someone broke into our house they’d be faced with a battle ready McLoud (Highlander!) Broadsword and a very sharp Bat’Leth

  23. 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.

  24. So carring a 3.5″ blade knife anywhere in TN is legal even open carry or concealed as well, right? So if I carry my 3.5″ knife in public open carry & I won’t get trouble with the law on carring it on my belt.

  25. This is totally and completely out of date and incorrect. As of July 1 2014 all switchblades and automatic knives are totally 100% legal to carry and to conceal in the state of Tennessee. Finally some legislation that makes sense! Any size of fixed blade is also legal to carry. Important note: brass knuckles are still illegal to carry or posess in tn but if you live in Georgia, you can carry brass knucks all day long

  26. Unless something has changed since July 1, 2014, this article is totally incorrect. My understanding (from the legislators who worked on the bill) is that we have no knife restrictions in Tennessee anymore.

  27. What about carring a bowie style knife in plain sight in a city park walking path where there are no restriction signs posted for personal protrction?

  28. If in America muslims are going to be cutting peoples’ heads off,it is kind of dumb for government to deprive US citizens of a right to carry the most basic weapon of self defense,a knife.

  29. Irresponsible to keep this outdated and inaccurate page up. Knives are now legal in TN for most law abiding people and thank God, given the influx of people who follow bronze age murder religion/cults.

  30. This is out of date. In 2014 to gov signed into law the knife rights bill sb1771. As of now, no knives are illegal to own or carry in Tennessee. They changed it because the law was vague and subject to abuse by police and officials

  31. This still answer my question…. Is it illegal to carry a sword blade like a naruto cosplay. 40 inch blade?

  32. Again, to quote DC.com….

    Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed SB1771, Knife Rights’ bill repealing the state’s antiquated ban on switchblade (automatic) knives and possession of knives over four inches in length “with intent to go armed.” a vague law subject to abusive interpretation. As of July 1, 2014, there are no longer any per se illegal knives in Tennessee.

    …3 years later now. …is this site being maintained by anyone? This is misinformation, and undeserved ad revenue. You are the first result in a Google search on the subject, have some integrity.

  33. I have cwp and carry pistol i just bought a otf knife want to know if you carry a otf knife how much of knife has to be showing?can you have it in your pocket with the knives clip showing on the outside,or does knife have to be open all the way,completely? Would like to know,like i said i have an cwp so i can carry both ways,i think would really like to know tenn. Law on carrying auto knives. Thank you

  34. “It is illegal to own or carry (either openly or concealed) a switchblade knife.”

    No that IS NOT the law. Switchblade knives are 100% legal to carry in TN. I carry one every day.

  35. September 10, 2018

    From the information I have found, concerning being able to carry a cane with a sword concealed inside, isn’t really clear. It is not specifically spelled out.

  36. 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.

    • Unfortunately, just personally knowing how lawenforcement officers think and act, they would almost for sure consider that reason that you have as MALITIOUS intent and not only take your knife, but would also attempt to charge you my brother. As a husband and a father/dad, I completely understand and I agree with your reason for carrying. However, living here in the great state of Tennessee, I can tell you that is not a good reason to give any law enforcement official. Best of luck to you. Have a blessed day. You and your family.

    • According to the Tennessee State Statute passed in 2017, YES! Neither a closed bladed, fixed blade, switch blade or dagger: according to this Statute, it IS NOT ILLEGAL to carry or conceal any bladed weapon! AS LONG AS YOUR INTENT TO CARRY IS NOT MALITIOUS! That is when it becomes ILLIGAL!

      As far as a butterfly knife goes, the law in Tennessee is inconclusive.

    • I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve gathered over time, you can carry a dagger pretty much anywhere in tennessee.

      PROHIBITED PLACES: schools, government buildings, banks, Hospitals.

      Allowed places: home/your property, parks, stores, businesses, pretty much everywhere else.

      Businesses have the right to ask you to leave the premises if you have a dagger, but walking into a Walmart with a dagger is not a crime.

      You don’t need a permit, though I recommend concealed carry to avoid freaking out spineless folks.

      Hope that helps!

      I am a random 17 year old, nothing I saw is legal advice.

  37. Is it legal to carry a polearm? Not even for self defense or attacking but for the sake of an outfit for example?

    • My guess is that most authorities would not consider polearms as being legitimate other than during a medieval festival. Even in that case, there would be rules (as there are typical with medieval festival swords). You can only wear the sword during a performance in the festival and when you transport it home, it has to be properly covered, sheathed, hidden and not easily deployable. Yes, lots of rules. That’s just my opinion!

  38. I’m still finding some things unclear. While the article says it’s legal to carry almost any knife it also says you can’t with malicious intent.
    The problem is that any knife that’s basically not a pocket knife (one that wouldn’t Be considered malicious) so the police could say there isint any use for lets say a 4.5″ blade length fixed blade boot knife (carried concealed on your belt) except for use of malicious intent as they would claim it has no other purpose and it would
    be hard to prove otherwise.
    I’m afraid the court will leave it up to the policeman to define malicious intent. It’s all so confusing.

    • Hey Jack;
      Thanks for commenting. Yes, it can be confusing and I’ll tell you why. Police officers are given the power to use their judgement, so it’s true that you may be charged/arrested while someone else may not be and the only difference is in subtle things like how you look, where you are confronted, the time of day, your attitude, the current situation/scenario, the policeman’s demeanor and about 50 other variable factors! Such is life my friend!

  39. I carry my pocket knife everywhere. I mainly carry it for protection for myself and my family in case of an attacker. Would this be considered “intent to go armed”?

  40. Hello, my name is Chris, I am from Tennessee. I also happen to own three (5”) bladed throwing knives. They all fit in a single holster and typically are consealed in the trunk of my car out of sight. (Not for throwing off cops more for throwing off burglars,) I don’t exactly live on the safest side of town but riding with them in my trunk is more of a safety thing. My question is, is carrying these in my vehicle illegal? As far as providing intent my only liable reason is “If I want to throw knives at trees” and honestly I just don’t see that getting me out of a ticket.

    • Hey Chris;
      Thanks for the question. I don’t see anything in the Tennessee State statutes that would make it illegal to have a knife in your car. While I can’t tell you officially what’s legal or not, I can tell you that I would have no problem throwing a set of knives (throwing knives) in my trunk permanently while having a very clear conscience.


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