Beginner’s Guide to California Knife Laws

Whether you’re a knife collector, a camping enthusiast, or just someone who likes to be prepared, understanding the California knife laws is super important. Let’s break down these laws in an easy way for you.

In this light, considering the laws before stepping out with a knife is about more than just compliance. It’s about respect—respect for the law, for the safety of others, and for the blade you carry.

After all, carrying a knife is a practice rooted in responsibility and preparedness, traits that are best demonstrated by a thorough understanding and respect for the laws of the land.

So you can carry on with your day worry-free and within the bounds of the law. Here’s everything you need to know, backed by the California Penal Code.

Why Do You Need to Consider Laws Before Stepping Out with a Knife?

Stepping outside with a knife, whether it’s for a camping trip, a work task, or just as a personal preference, might seem straightforward. However, what many don’t realize is that carrying a knife, a tool as old as civilization itself, is wrapped in a complex web of legal considerations.

Meanwhile, this isn’t about dampening your spirit or restricting your rights. But about ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you. Laws are in place to draw a line between personal freedom and public safety.

California Knife Laws

Below are the knife types you can carry and what knives are illegal in California :

Knife TypeLegal (✅) / Illegal (❌)Blade Length / Additional Notes

Folding Knives

No blade length limit as long as the blade folds into the handle

Switchblades

Illegal if blade > 2 inches and opens automatically
Butterfly Knives

Illegal if blade > 2 inches

Automatic Knives

Illegal if blade > 2 inches and opens automatically
Dirks and Daggers

Must be carried openly in a sheath

Belt Buckle Knives

Concealed carry illegal
Lipstick Case Knives

Concealed carry illegal

Cane Swords

Concealed carry illegal
Air Gauge Knives

Concealed carry illegal

Writing Pen Knives

Concealed carry illegal
Camouflaged Knives

Concealed carry illegal

1. California Folding Knife Laws – Carry Confidently

Good news for folding knife fans!

In California, folding knives are pretty chill in the eyes of the law. You can possess and carry them concealed as long as they’re folded and closed ([CA Penal Code § 21310]). And guess what? There’s no limit on the legal blade length in California as per ([CA Penal Code § 16470]). But remember, switchblades with blades over 2 inches? They’re a no-go ([CA Penal Code § 20400]).

2. Fixed-Blade Knives – Know the Limits

If you’re into fixed-blade knives, like dirks or daggers, the rules get a bit tighter. Carrying them concealed on your person is a big no ([CA Penal Code § 21310]). However, you can openly carry them if the blade is under 4 inches and you hang it from your waist in a sheath ([CA Penal Code § 16470]).

Planning to visit a government building or catch a flight?

Leave any blade over 4 inches at home, as carrying them in these places is off-limits ([CA Penal Code § 171b]).

3. Off-Limits Knives – Just Don’t Go There

California draws a clear line with some more exotic or concealed types of knives. It’s generally illegal to own things like undetectable knives, belt buckle knives, lipstick case knives, ballistic knives, and shobi-zue (that’s a sword hidden in a cane, by the way) ([CA Penal Code § 20400]). It’s best to steer clear of these to avoid any legal trouble.

Is it Legal to Carry a Knife in California? – Nitty-Gritty

Even for the knives that are okay to carry, remember that California has an open carry law. This means you can’t have the handle of your knife hidden by your clothing or its sheath ([CA Penal Code § 12031]).

And no matter how legal your knife is, waving it around in a threatening way is definitely out of bounds ([CA Penal Code § 417]).

Local Laws Might Tighten the Noose

One last tip: keep in mind that some local areas in California might have their own set of rules that are stricter than the state’s.

So, it’s always a good idea to double-check the local ordinances wherever you are.

Guilty Consequences

Here’s how these laws could affect you, detailed with the associated penal codes:

  • Carrying Concealed Dirk or Dagger: Penal Code 21310 categorizes carrying a concealed dirk or dagger as a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Penalties include:
  • Misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.
  • Felony: 16 months to 3 years in county jail and/or a fine up to $10,000.
  • Possession of a Switchblade: Penal Code 21510 states that possession of a Switchblade is a misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to 6 months in county jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.
  • Restricted Knife Laws: Violations involving undetectable knives, cane knives, lipstick knives, and other prohibited items can result in:
  • Misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000 for possession, sale, manufacture, or import.
  • Felony (for certain types): 16 months to 3 years in county jail and/or a fine up to $10,000 for possession, sale, manufacture, or import of certain prohibited knives.
  • Brandishing a Weapon (Penal Code 417): This offense involves displaying a knife in a threatening manner and can lead to additional penalties, including 30 days to 3 years in jail, depending on the circumstances.
  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon (Penal Code 245(a)(1)): This “wobbler” offense involves assaulting someone with a knife or another deadly weapon. Penalties can be severe, with a felony conviction leading to up to 4 years in California state prison.
  • Sentencing Enhancement (Penal Code 12022): If you use a knife in the commission of a crime, you could face a sentencing enhancement of 1 year in state prison, in addition to the penalties for the underlying offense and illegal possession of the knife. This enhancement cannot be applied to penalties for brandishing a weapon or assault with a deadly weapon.
  • Restrictions on Carrying Knives in Public Buildings and Schools (Penal Code 171b and 626.10): Bringing certain knives into public buildings or school premises can lead to charges, with penalties ranging from misdemeanor charges and fines to felony charges with potential jail time.

Stay Informed, Stay Legal

All in all, California knife laws are not much complicated. When you keep these points in mind, you can enjoy your knives within the law’s boundaries. Always remember, when in doubt, play it safe, and consult with a legal expert if you need more detailed advice.

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