Knife Laws in California


Knife Laws In California

California’s Knife Laws are complex and hard to understand by common men. Nevertheless, there is little effort made to rescue people who are caught in handcuffs due to the ignorance of the state’s law regarding knives. Moreover, a lack of awareness can land you in serious trouble. Laws regarding knives vary from state to state in the US, nevertheless, there is no misperception about using survival knives for self-defense.

California’s knife laws can be baffling and sometimes erratic. So, if you are intended to own or carry certain types of knives, a better understanding of the laws is mandatory. It is always good to have a bit of legal advice to avoid the aggravation and cost of a weapons charge.

Knives that are explicitly legal to carry in California

There are two imperative factors when it comes to possessing and carrying knives in California:

  • Type of knife (legal or restricted)
  • The open carry law states,

“It is legal to buy, own, transport, and carry any knife that is not restricted. The hilt or handle of a knife cannot be hidden (or concealed), even by clothing or the knife’s sheath.”        

The open carry law ensures people to save from surprise attacks.

California’s knife law is mainly subject to three common types of knives:

  • Switchblades
  • Folding knives

Fixed blade knives (also known as dirks and daggers)


A switchblade knife is known by several names, for instance, a pushbutton knife or ejector knife has a blade that is placed in the handle and is opened automatically by a spring by pushing a button or switch on the handle. Switchblades with blades longer than 2” are illegal to carry in California.

Folding knives

Folding knives are opened by putting pressure on the blade(s) of the knife and have a mechanism that provides an opening struggle. This type of knife includes,

  • Pocketknife
  • Swiss army knife
  • Box cutter
  • Utility knife

 According to California Penal Code Section 17235,

“All folding knives are legal in the state and maybe concealed as long as they are in the folded position. There is also no restriction on the blade length of a folding knife.”

Fixed blade knives (dirks and daggers)

A fixed blade knife is a straight knife and does not allow it to get folded. A kitchen knife is a common example. Ice picks and other kitchen utensils may also be included in this category.

In terms of California law,

“The words “dirk” and “dagger” mean the same thing: a knife that can be readily used as a stabbing weapon.”

In California, Dirks and daggers, and other sheath survival knives must be carried openly and cannot be concealed to keep peace and to avoid ambiguity.

Knife types that are illegal to carry in California

In California, certain knives are declared banned and it is illegal to carry, particularly if they are ambiguous or imperceptible. In general, knives that are marked as illegal are the same that are forbidden in other states too and are mostly used to commit crimes. There is no confusion about the deadly weapons that are called illegal because the law does not presume any utilitarian purpose for these knives.

Knives that are illegal to possess in California include:

  • Cane knives
  • Air gauge knives
  • Lipstick knives
  • Bet buckle knives
  • Writing pen knives
  • Switchblades with a blade longer than 2”
  • Ballistic knives

Law regarding open carry or concealed knives

It is not illegal to carry dirks and daggers as long as they are carried openly. California law is strict on concealed knives; it is to keep people safe and secure. Although they may not be carried in a briefcase, purse, or any hidden place. The law communicates in this manner that knives should be carried openly in a sheath worn on the waist to let anyone or the police officials know that you are carrying a knife.

Restricted areas

There are specific restrictions on carrying knives into particular venues. For instance,

  • Public buildings
  • Properties owned by the US government
  • Schools
  • College
  • Universities

Knives in public buildings – penal code 171b PC

According to Penal Code 171b,            

“Certain knives are illegal to have in your possession when you are in a state or local public building. Switchblades, a fixed blade knife with a blade longer than 4’’

626.10(a)(1) and (2), call knife possession illegal in these areas

It is illegal to have certain knives in your possession on the following California school premises:

  • California State University
  • University of California
  • Any private university
  • California Community Colleges
  • Any school that instructs grades K-12

Knives that are prohibited on the aforementioned premises

  • Dirks and daggers
  • Knives with blades longer than 2 ½”
  • Folding knives with locking blades
  • Ice picks
  • Razors with unguarded blades
  • Razor blades or box cutters

Possession of restricted knives on the above-listed grounds may result in a felony charge and 1-3 years in county jail.

Switchblades on federal property

The crimes committed in the state of California are disciplined under California law, crimes committed on federal properties are punished under federal law.

The federal switchblade law—15 USC 1241-44—states,

“Illegal to possess a switchblade on federal lands or properties or to transport a switchblade in interstate commerce.”

Exceptions to this law

According to the law,

“Active duty members of the armed forces or persons with only one arm carrying a switchblade with a blade that is 3 inches or shorter in length.”

California knife laws, offenses, and penalties

Laws and penalties vary depending on the type of knife, whether or not it is restricted, and whether or not it is permissible to conceal it.

Concealed dirk and dagger laws states,

“Penal Code 21310 makes it illegal to carry a concealed dirk or dagger, including knives concealed by clothing (e.g. tucked into a waistband). In California, carrying a concealed dirk or dagger is a “wobbler” offense. A wobbler offense is one that the prosecutor can decide to charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony.”

Penalties for carrying a concealed dirk or dagger

  • Up to 1 year in county jail and/or up-to a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor
  • 16 months to 3 years in county jail and/or up-to a $10,000 fine for a felony

Under California Penal Code 21510,

“Possession of a switchblade is a misdemeanor and its penalties are up to 6 months in county jail and/or up-to a $1,000 fine. Penalties may vary for the possession of other restricted knives.”

Possible charges and penalties regarding knife lawn in California

  • Possession, sale, manufacture, or import of an untraceable knife: up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000
  • Possession, sale, manufacture, or import of another type of prohibited knife (a wobbler charge): up to 1 year in county jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor; 16 months to 3 years in county jail and/or up-to a $10,000 fine.

California’s brandishing a weapon law states,

California Penal Code 417,

“Otherwise known as the “brandishing a weapon” law makes it illegal to brandish a knife in a manner that is threatening, angry, or aggressive, or to brandish a knife during a fight. Brandishing a knife is an additional charge that could be added to other knife-related offenses. It could charge ranging from 30 days in county jail to 3 years in California state prison.”

California’s law on assault with a deadly weapon

California Penal Code 245(a)(1),

“Otherwise known as the “assault with a deadly weapon” law denotes an offense that may be added to other knife-related offenses. ADW means that an assault was committed with a deadly weapon or some other means of deadly force. And could sentence of 4 years in California state prison for a felony conviction.”

Sentencing enhancement for use of a deadly weapon

Penal Code 12022 PC states,

“You may receive a sentencing enhancement of 1 year in state prison in addition to the penalty you are sentenced to for illegal possession of a knife. This sentencing enhancement cannot be added to penalties for brandishing a weapon or assault with a deadly weapon.”

Final thoughts

You always consider and comprehend the laws of your state, unknowingly carrying a prohibited knife can cause misfortune. It is suggested to get a qualified, competent attorney for a bit of legal advice or in case stuck in a knife offense. California’s knife laws can be difficult to navigate on your own. So, professional advice can save you from a baffling situation.

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