Virginia knife laws are long and quite wordy, making it almost impossible to determine what is legal and what is not legal when it comes to owning and carrying knives in the state of Virginia. This article summarizes the law in easy to understand language so anyone can tell what is legal and what is not.
What is Legal to Own
- It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knife
- It is legal to own a bowie knife
- It is legal to own a switchblade
- It is legal to own a ballistic knife
- It is legal to own throwing stars or other throwing knives
- It is legal to own a stiletto
- It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife
What is Illegal to Own
- It is legal to own any type of knife in Virginia.
Restrictions on Carry
- It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk
- It is illegal to conceal carry a bowie knife
- It is illegal to conceal carry a switchblade knife
- It is illegal to conceal carry a machete
- It is illegal to conceal carry a ballistic knife
- It is illegal to conceal carry throwing stars or oriental darts
- It is illegal to conceal carry any knife of a like kind to one of the above listed knives
What the Law States
The conceal carry law in Virginia states, in relevant part:
§ 18.2-308. Personal protection; carrying concealed weapons; when lawful to carry; penalty
A. If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation……(ii) any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack…..
Definitions of Various Knives
Virginia statute defines a ballistic knife as a knife with a detachable blade, which is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism. The statue does not define any other type of knife, and in 2000, the Supreme Court of Virginia, in Delcid v. Commonwealth, held that the determination of whether any knife fell within the meaning of a word used in the statute was for the jury, or in the case of a bench trial, the Judge. The court also ruled that the instrument that is carried concealed must be a weapon, carrying a non-weapon is not a violation of the statute. It stated that the purpose for which an instrument is carried should be considered in determining whether it is a weapon or a non-weapon.
Definition of the Phrase “of a like kind”
The phrase ‘of a like kind’ is used in the conceal carry statute to make it illegal to conceal carry any knife of a like kind to one of the knives listed in the statute. In an unpublished opinion in Kingrey v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Court of Appeals, in upholding Mr. Kingrey’s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, found that Mr. Kingrey’s butterfly knife, when opened, closely resembled a dirk. The knife was therefore ‘of a like kind’ to a dirk, which is specifically listed in the statute as a knife that is illegal to conceal carry. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia held, in Thompson v. Commonwealth, that in order to prove that a weapon is of a like kind to one of the listed weapons, the state must prove that it is substantially similar to the listed weapon.
Definition of Concealed
Virginia statute defines concealed as hidden from common observation. The Courts have interpreted the phrase “hidden from common observation” in several cases.
In 1995, in Main v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court found that a weapon carried in a person’s back pocket, when he or she is carrying a duffle bag which covers the handle of the weapon, the only visible part, the weapon is concealed for the purposes of the conceal carry statute.
In 2000, in Clarke v. Commonwealth, the Court held that a weapon is hidden from common view when it is hidden from all except those with an unusual or exceptional opportunity to view it. It found that a gun in the pocket on the back of the seat in which Mr. Clarke was sitting was concealed because it only became visible to the investigating officer only when he approached the front passenger seat close enough for him to peer down into the seat’s pocket compartment from directly above.
Also in 2000, in an unpublished opinion in Barley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Appellate Court upheld Mr. Barley’s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, finding that a weapon hidden beneath a jacket on the front passenger seat of the vehicle Mr. Barley was driving was concealed.
Definition of the phrase “About the Person”
The code that prohibits the conceal carry of certain weapons says in part, “If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation…. any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete…”
The Supreme Court of Virginia weighed in on what “about the person” means in 1994, in Leith v. Commonwealth, when it found that a pistol located in a console beside where Mr. Leith was sitting, was concealed ‘about his person’ because it was within close proximity to Mr. Leith. The Court also held that whether a weapon was about the person or readily accessible, was for the jury, or the in the case of a bench trial, the Judge, to decide on a case-by-case basis. It further defined ‘readily accessible’ as available for ‘prompt and immediate use’.
Following the Leith decision, in 2000, in the case of Barley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Appellate Court held that a readily movable windbreaker covering a weapon concealed the weapon, because the statute required only that the weapon be hidden from common observation, not that it be covered by something, which was difficult to move. It further found that accessibility of the weapon was the evil the statue sought to regulate, and the fact that the windbreaker was readily movable supported rather than weakened the defendant’s conviction.
In 2007, in Pruitt v. Commonwealth the Supreme Court of Virginia found that a weapon Mr. Pruitt carried concealed in the car’s center console was no longer ‘about his person’ once he exited the vehicle and shut the door. His conviction for carrying a concealed weapon was thus overturned. However, in 2010, in an unpublished opinion in Johnson v. Commonwealth, in upholding Mr. Johnson’s conviction, the Virginia Court of Appeals found that a weapon inside the vehicle in which Mr. Johnson was riding was concealed about his person, even though he was standing outside of the car when the weapon was discovered. It stated that since no one had returned to the vehicle since Mr. Johnson had exited it, that it was reasonable to assume that the weapon had been concealed in the vehicle while Mr. Johnson sat in close proximity to it.
In 2010, in Hunter v. Commonwealth, the Appellate Court in Virginia found that a gun locked in the glove compartment of a vehicle in which Mr. Hunter was a passenger, was not concealed about his person because he did not possess a key to the glove compartment.
Conclusion on Virginia Knife Law
It is legal to own any type of knife in Virginia.
It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk, bowie knife, switchblade, machete, ballistic knife, throwing starts or oriental darts, or any knife of a like kind.
It is legal to open carry any type of knife.
- Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308 (2013)
- Delcid v. Commonwealth, 526 S.E.2d 273 (2000)
- Clarke v. Commonwealth, 527 S.E.2d 484 (2000 Va. App.)
- Leith v. Commonwealth, 440 S.E.2d 152 (1994)
- Barley v. Commonwealth, No. 0117-00-3, (2000 Va. App.)
- Pruitt v. Commonwealth, 650 S.E.2d 684 (2007)
- Johnson v. Commonwealth, 2010 Va. App. LEXIS 475 (Dec. 14, 2010)
- Main v. Commonwealth, 457 S.E.2d 400 (1995)
- Barley v. Commonwealth, 2000 Va. App. LEXIS 765 (Ct. of Appeals Nov. 28, 2000).
- Hunter v. Commonwealth, 690 S.E.2d 792 (2010 Va. App.)
- Kingrey v. Commonwealth, No. 2202-97-2 (Ct. of Appeals July 13, 1999)
- Thompson v. Commonwealth, 673 S.E.2d 469 (2009).