Can you Legally Carry a Knife in California?

Can you Legally Carry a Knife in California?

California has a reputation for having some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. The intensity of the laws combined with the legal consequences if you’re caught breaking any of the laws while carrying a firearm has prompted many people to leave their firearms at home and explore other means of self-protection while they are out and about. 

A desire to stay out of jail and also have a means of self-protection at their fingertips has prompted many people to wonder if they can legally carry a knife in California?

If you’re considering carrying a knife, the first thing you should know is that California lawmakers have already divided knives into three different categories. These categories are:

• Knives you can’t legally carry
• Knives that you can carry as either an open carry or concealed weapon
• Knives that you’re only allowed to open carry

The general rule of thumb is that if you’re carrying a folding knife, you can openly carry or carry it concealed it provided it’s in the folded position. The blade length isn’t an issue. The only exception to this is switchblades.

Dirk and dagger-style knives fall into the category of knives that you’re allowed to openly carry but not carry concealed. These have blades that are fixed to the handle. They can’t be folded. The law surrounding open carry of dirks and daggers is that if you do have one on your person, it must be properly sheathed.

There are three types of knives you’re not allowed to legally carry (or even own) in California. These knives are:

• Belt Buckle knives
• Switchblade knives
• Ballistic knives

Exactly how much trouble you’ll get in for illegally carrying a knife depends on the circumstances surrounding your arrest. For example, you’re not allowed to legally carry a switchblade knife in California. If you’re caught with one, you’ll be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, the maximum sentence includes six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. However, if you were carrying the switchblade while also committing a crime or if you actually threatened someone with the switchblade additional charges will be filed against you and the eventual sentence will be considerably more severe.

In addition to gaining a criminal record and potentially paying a hefty fine and/or spending time in jail, you’ll also have to forfeit the switchblade knife. Since you can’t legally own the knife in California, the court does not have to return it to you.

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What to Know about Carrying Knives in California

What to Know about Carrying Knives in California


Some states have incredibly strict laws when it comes to carrying knives. California isn’t one of them. The state actually has a surprisingly permissive attitude when it comes to both open carry and concealed knives. 

The general rule of thumb is that yes, you’re free to carry a knife while you’re out and about. Things don’t start to get sticky until it comes to the number of knives you own.

California’s Laws Regarding Carrying Knives

It’s common knowledge that California states you can carry a knife either open or concealed. What is less well known is that there are some knives you can carry concealed and others that must be open carry. If you have a dirk or a dagger, you’re allowed to keep the knife on you, but you’ll have to make sure it’s visible. The same is true if you have a pocketknife or utility knife that’s blade is stuck in the open position.

The list of knives you’re allowed to carry either as open carry or concealed includes box cutters, pocket knives, and utility knife. Remember, in order to meet the requirement, the blade must be less than 2” and it can’t be stuck in an open position.

You’re never allowed to carry a misleading or undetectable knife while you’re in California. Misleading knives are knives that are designed to look like something else. Examples of this include knives concealed in a cane, a belt, or built into a lipstick tube. Undetectable knives are knives that are made out material that doesn’t set off metal detectors.

What Happens When you Break one of California’s Knife Laws

The broad nature of California’s knives laws means that few people are arrested for simply having a knife on them. The bulk of knife-related arrests in California stem from using a knife while committing a crime or for carrying a knife into a weapons-free zone. That being said, some people have been arrested for carrying exactly the type of knife California prohibits, such as getting caught with an undetectable knife.

If you’re caught doing something you’re not supposed to, such as carrying a concealed switchblade knife, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. In most cases, the defendant gets charged a fine and assigned community service, though you could face up to 3-years imprisonment.

Something to Keep in Mind

While you are allowed to carry a concealed knife in California, you do have to be mindful of where you are. Certain places are deemed “weapons-free zones.” Both open and concealed knife carrying is prohibited in these areas. Schools are a perfect example of weapons-free areas. The same is true for any building that’s owned/rented by the U.S. government and most state-owned/operated properties.

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