Amerian flag with knife

Wisconsin Knife Law

wisconsinWisconsin knife laws are long, wordy, and difficult to understand, even for someone trained in the law. This article takes the law and puts into clear and concise, plain English, so that anyone can understand what is legal and what is not when it comes to owning and carrying knives in the state of Wisconsin.

What is Illegal to Own

Not much as far as we can tell by reviewing all Wisconsin State laws pertaining to restricted weapons.  Knives are not on the list of “dangerous weapons” and so they do not fall under the laws pertaining to dangerous weapons.

Definition of Carry

Carry is defined as going “armed” by Wisconsin statute. Case law has further defined going armed, and in State v. Caprice S.I., the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that “went armed” meant that a weapon was either on a defendant’s person or that the weapon was within the defendant’s reach.

Restrictions on Carry

It is illegal in Wisconsin to carry a concealed and dangerous weapon (including a knife) by anyone who is PROHIBITED from possessing a firearm.

Further, it is illegal to carry any knife to any school or public building owned by the state.  Otherwise, the restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon are pretty liberal.

 

Definition of Various Knives

A switchblade is defined as any knife having a blade which opens by pressing a button, spring or other device in the handle or by gravity or by a thrust or movement. In State v. Krause, the Appellate Court upheld Mr. Krause’s conviction for carrying a concealed dangerous weapon, finding that his knife, which had a blade that was serrated on one side, sharp on the other, and had a point at the end, was a switchblade. The blade was contained in two casings: the serrated blade fit into one of the casings and the cutting edge in the other. The casings were secured by a clasp, that when removed, allowed one casing to fall away from the other by the force of gravity, exposing the blade.

Neither the Wisconsin code nor its case law offers a definition of any other type of knife. When words or terms are not defined by the legislature, in the state code, Court’s use the ‘plain English meaning’ of the word, or that meaning provided in Webster’s dictionary.

What the Law States

941.23. Carrying concealed weapon.941.231. Carrying a concealed knife. Any person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under s. 941.29 who goes armed with a concealed knife that is a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

However, “knife” has been taken off the list of dangerous weapons, so as long as you haven’t been legally prohibited from possession a gun, you’re golden!

 

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a disguised knife such as a lipstick or belt buckle
  • It is legal to own a ballistic knife
  • It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knives

Definition of Carry

Carry is defined as going “armed” by Wisconsin statute. Case law has further defined going armed, and in State v. Caprice S.I., the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that “went armed” meant that a weapon was either on a defendant’s person or that the weapon was within the defendant’s reach.

Definition of Concealed

In 1993, in State v. Keith, the Court of Appeals for Wisconsin found that there were three elements to carrying a concealed dangerous weapon.

  • a dangerous weapon is on the defendant’s person or within reach
  • the defendant is aware of the weapon’s presence
  • the weapon is hidden

In State v. Walls, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that a person was guilty of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon in an automobile where all of the following are true:

  • the weapon was located inside a vehicle and is within the defendant’s reach
  • the defendant was aware of the presence of the weapon
  • the weapon was concealed, or hidden from ordinary view, meaning it was indiscernible from the ordinary observation of a person located outside and within the immediate vicinity of the vehicle

Definition of Dangerous Weapon

(ap) Notwithstanding s. 939.22 (10), “dangerous weapon” does not include a knife.  The definition of a dangerous weapon is outlined below;

939-22(10) “Dangerous weapon” means any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded; any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm; any ligature or other instrumentality used on the throat, neck, nose, or mouth of another person to impede, partially or completely, breathing or circulation of blood; any electric weapon, as defined in s. 941.295 (1c) (a); or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm.

Sources

  • Wis. Stat. § 941.24 (2018)
  • Wis. Stat. § 941.23  (2018)
  • State v. Walls, 526 N.W.2d 765 (1994 Wisc. App.)
  • State v. Keith, 498 N.W.2d 865 (Ct. App. 1993)
  • State v. Caprice S.I., 751 N.W.2d 903 (2008 Wisc. App.)
  • State v. Malloy, 698 N.W.2d 133 (2005 Wisc. App.)
  • State v. Krause, 468 N.W.2d 31 (1990 Wisc. App.)
  • State v. Summer, 778 N.W.2d 173 (2009 Wisc. App.)

*updated May 2018

Comments

  1. I am under the age of eighteen, and live in the city. Is it legal under updated/current laws for me to carry a folding & locking blade knife, folding serrated/saw blade knife under 3 inches long with a pointed tip, in my pocket?

  2. Hi I’m 14 and was wondering it I am able to carry a non folding knive with a 4 inche blade

  3. Can i carry my folding knife? Im from canada and ill be in wisconsin dells for the weekend.

    1. It went into effect as soon as Walker signed it. All knives are now legal to carry or conceal anywhere in the state.

    2. Wisconsin, like most states, has a procedure for laws to become effective. In Wisconsin, the law must be published, then it goes into effect the next day. Act 149 was signed on the 6th, published on the 7th, and went into effect on the 8th. I did not think public servants would act so fast, but they did!

    3. Ah, that explains why I didn’t get notified by the legislature’s automated system until two days after he signed it. Thanks for the clarification. B)

    4. “Anywhere” is an overstatement as Act 149 does not seem to allow knives in schools. It also does allow a political subdivision to ban carry of knives in buildings owned by the political subdivision. Still, a lot better than I expected to pass.

    5. You’re correct ─ you probably still won’t be able to bring a blade into most city halls and county court buildings.

      I see nothing explicitly prohibiting knives in schools at this point. Wis. Stat. § 948.61(1)(a) deals with that sort of thing, going by the “dangerous weapon” designation in § 939.22(10). Neither of them mention knives, though the latter does include “any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm.”

      With the changes Act 149 makes to § 175.60(1)(j), there does not seem to be any place left in Wisconsin law where knives in general are considered to be weapons. § 941.23(1)(ap) even specifically excludes knives from § 939.22(10)’s definition of “weapon” for concealed carry purposes.

      I guess what it comes down to is that under § 939.22(10) it would usually depend on the design of the knife. If it’s just a swiss army knife or other typical pocketknife, it would be hard to argue that it was “designed as a weapon,” but a Bowie knife or big military tanto would be hard to defend.

      Hunting knives and machetes would probably be challenged under a different standard, as while they are not designed as weapons, carrying one into a school may easily be construed as evidence of malicious intent under § 66.0409(6), unless you have some other valid reason for doing so.

      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/948.61(1)(a)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/939.22(10)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/175.60(1)(j)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/941.23(1)(ap)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/66.0409(6)

    6. You may be right, but given the hysteria over weapons and schools, I’d rather not be found carrying a knife of any kind in a school. I hope that we keep moving in the right direction on this — I remember carrying pocket knives all through high school without any risk of trouble. ‘Course, even that doesn’t compare with my father’s high school experiences. He and his buddies would go duck hunting after school. During school they kept their shotguns in their lockers.

    7. Nope. Just make sure to stay away from schools with them. As Dean points out below, the Justice Department is still treating them as weapons if they’re on school property.

      We might not agree with them, but that won’t stop them from arresting and prosecuting us if we defy them, and with an unprecedented amount of school violence going on right now a jury is much more likely to see things their way than ours.

      But yeah, everywhere else aside from a local governement building that’s banned it—you’re in the clear. ⦂B)

  4. What about a 599 fox karmabit trainer knife? It’s more of an impact knife that can’t stab or slash.

    1. Yes, a karambit is legal to own in WI. Training knife included.

    2. No length restrictions on any knife. All knives are now legal to own, carry and even conceal.

    3. Yes, legal to carry. Regular Karambits are also legal to carry

  5. The way this reads even a person carrying a standard jack knife in their pocket that can be used for a multitude of things could be considered a weapon if some one really presses the issue of a person having one on them.

    1. Yeah, that’s exactly why knife law reform was pushed through. All done now. You can do what you want here. シ

  6. This needs to be updated the law has changed since Wisconsin passed concealed carry and the castle law

    1. Yes, assisted opening knives are legal to carry as long as the blade is 3 inches or shorter. If you have a concealed weapons permit, there is no blade length restriction.

    2. Go read Act 149 — there is no blade length restriction without a permit.

  7. Is it OK for me to were a knife on my belt that has a blade length of 4 inches or over.

    1. As long as it is in the open and not concealed. However, this may cause problems for you because people will probably call the police if they see you.

  8. Last winter I ordered a 28 inch Foreign Legion Machete and was taking it from my friend’s house to my house, walking of course. I was stopped by an officer who drove me home, it wasn’t particularly cold, I wasn’t particularly far from home, but he still stopped me and drove me home after I showed him my ID. He never explained to me whether what I did was illegal or he was just feeling charitable. The handle was sticking out of my bag, he didn’t search me or call in my name or anything. Thoughts?

  9. My KA-BAR is also stamped USMC, as is the leather sheath. It is: 7 & 1/16″ from blade tip to hilt, one pound, full tang, and black coated metal. It’s also very sharp and I bought it at Gander Mt. in Baraboo, WI. Does that description mean it is not a Bowie?

    1. I think that you should be wary of carrying it around, since it is a combat knife (USMC being the United States Marine Corps), but you should be able to explain yourself out of a situation where someone calls you out for it. Getting a leather handle wrap instead of the black handle might help, too, unless you got the wood handled version, in which case I would just leave it.

    2. Haha it is not illegal. You can open carry it, however I would recommend against it. People are likely to call the cops over it. Depends what kind of area you live in. It will cause more trouble than its worth. I would recommend getting your concealed carry permit and getting a knife that you can conceal. There is no blade length restriction if you have a concealed weapons permit. Otherwise, the largest blade you can carry concealed must be 3 inches or shorter.

    3. Ka-Bars are technically a push tang design. Not quite a full tang. Well sort of, but usually a full tang involves the handle being of similar width to the blade and then having slabs or “scales” fastened to the sides. The Ka-Bar is designed the way it is for the best point of balance. If it was a traditional full tang design, it would be way too back heavy. I love how the Ka-Bar design has stayed the same for so long. This means it was just done right the first time! I’ve owned my USMC Ka-Bar for quite a while now, and I’ve used it for just about everything. Too bad the company is owned by Cut-Co now.

  10. Its sad to me that the balisong (butterfly knife) is not legal in wisconsin, i believe i should be able to at least OWN anything i want weather i can carry it in public i dont care, ive been flipping for years and its a great pass time it just disappoints me that we cant get past a stigma created by media and movies that makes this knife look so much more dangerous than many others.

    1. You can own one, just not carry it. You won’t get in trouble for owning one. I’ve bought at least 15 Balisongs since living in WI.

  11. same, i carry my knife just so I feel safe when I’m alone.
    And yes I am very skilled with a knife, I have learned six marcail arts I probebly spelled that wrong.

  12. Spring assisted knives are not illegal in WI ok so maybe a bitcy cop would just get on your case about it but a “Switchblade” wether out of the front versions or side flip, it has to have a button or other leavers on the HANDLE OF THE KNIFE.
    THE MECHANISM THAT OPENS IT IS NOT ATTACHED TO THE KNIFE AND THEREFORE ILLEGAL. I carry a new type of spting assisted knife that shoots out of the front. It falls under the spring assisted category because you must push a knob ON THE SIDE OF THE KNIFE THAT IS DIRECTLY ATTACHED TO THE BLADE AND IF YOU PUSH WITH A LITTLE AMONT OF PRESSURE IT MOVES THE KNIFE OUT OF THE LOCKED POSITION ACTIVATING THE SPRING AND COMING OUT. Now like I said before technically it is close to a switchblade but that’s the law there is a difference. I have owned both illegal switchblades ( that I didnt carry around) and legal spring assisted knives. I have never had a problem spring assisted knives were made for fast easy and fun use for a practical reason. They are great for the disabled and can be opened with one hand with no problem. I just suggest like sith anything else don’t go flashing it around and don’t use it in an illegal matter. Women are especially people to avoid with any kind of knife or and thing sharp or dangerous. Case closed

  13. Is there a certain age for open carry? I’m used to Illinois laws where anyone can carry 3 inch or under knives.

    1. I believe it’s 4 and under on your blade length anand I to want to know the age limits

    2. 16 is the age at which you can legally carry a pocket knife.

  14. Well put Brian im with you on that.I carry one everyday not just for selfdefense but feel more comfortable knowing that if the situation arises I will not hesitate to defend myself and family.

  15. Hello,

    I am a firm believer in defending yourself and/ or others. I carry a survival/bowie knife strapped on my side just about everywhere I go and I know how to use a knife very very well.

    Prior to carrying, I researched the knife laws and blade length laws for WI. Trust me when I say.that if someone attempts to rob me or my wife or if I see it about to happen to others, or let’s say someone threatens me or mine or anyone near me with bodily harm, I’m not going to sit idly by and watch it happen and then wait for an hour for a sissy little Barney Fife-looking cop with a bullet in his pocket to show up. No Sir!

    But what I will do in defending me, mine, or those near me, is I will yank out tht big sharp blade I have on my side. And I will definitely filet me some criminal/ robber/ bully!! And that is No Joke!!! I do Not believe in the BS philosophy of, “if it happens, then it was meant to happen…nothing we can do about it!” That is a crock statement made up by pittiful bleeding hearts that have sympathy for the criminals!!

    And I am sure I’m not the only one who feels this way and is just sick and tired of crazed gunmen and loser coward bullies. It’s time for us innocent, peace-loving people to get a little “crazec” too…and Fight Back!! Thanks for reading!!

  16. Assisted open knifes ARE leagl to carry with weapons permit in the State of Wi. Assisted Open knifes are NOT considered” switch blades” go to kniferights.com

    1. Too many prosecutors do not believe in self defense( vigilante), be a victim and wait for the cops to make a report over your dead body. Notice the worst anti-self defense liberals have police protection or personal body guards.

  17. According to Wisconsin state statues there is no difference between a knife that is 1/2 inch and a knife that is 6 inches.

    According to Langston v. State, 61 Wis. 2d 288, 212 N.W.2d 113 (1973) even a plastic soft drink bottle can be considered a weapon actual injury from the victim is not required.
    An unloaded pellet gun qualified as a “dangerous weapon” under sub. (10) in that
    it was designed as a weapon and, when used as a bludgeon, was capable of producing
    great bodily harm. State v. Antes, 74 Wis. 2d 317, 246 N.W.2d 671 (1976).

  18. is it illegal to carry a folding knife[blade2andahalfinch]clipped on your pocket?

  19. It’s legal to open carry a knife in wisconsin how does wisconsin law define open carry?

  20. Jordan, spring-assisted knives fall into the switch blade category lol. ik from getting charged for having one i think it was around a $600 or $700 don’t quite remember

  21. What about spring-assisted knives? There is no button or movement that opens the knife. Could those be classified as switch blades?

  22. Wisconsin now allows concealed carry permits for firearm, edge weapon, and baton.

  23. IS THERE A SIZE RESTRICTION ON THE SIZE OF FOLDING KNIFE THAT WE ARE ALLOWED TO CARRY WITHOUT A CCW, OR DOES THE CCW COVER ALL KNIVES EXCEPT THE SITCHBLADES, BUTTERFLY?

  24. Just a correction to what you have stated. In the state of Wisconsin you may carry a concealed knife, either on your person or in your vehicle, if you possess a valid CCW permit. While going through the training and paying the fee may seem a bit much if you intend to only carry a concealed knife and not a concealed firearm, a CCW allows you to carry a knife other than those illegal by type (switchblade, etc.), firearm, billy club, or electric weapon.

    http://www.doj.state.wi.us/sites/default/files/dles/ccw/ccw-faq.pdf

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