California State Knife Laws

California flag
  • 1
    Share

California is an often derided and rightly feared state when it comes to its weapons laws for civilians. Host to a massive and swollen bureaucracy that seems to delight in inflicting ever-greater and increasingly draconian restrictions on its residents, California does nothing to make your life easy when it comes to the carry of a knife.

California flag

At first glance, it might not seem so bad since there is not any proscription on the general ownership or daily carry of various knives, but if you look a little deeper you will start to run into issues.

For starters, a long and detailed list of restricted categories and features for knives makes finding safe ground for an EDC knife difficult. Worse yet, the California court system seems to take on an especially despicable glee in throwing the book at people who violate its Byzantine statutes. You must be cautious of running afoul of the knife laws in California.

What You Need to Know

  • What Kind of Knives Can I Own?: Typically common folding knives or fixed blade knives. See restrictions below.
  • Can I Carry a Knife Concealed Without a Permit?: Yes, so long as it is a common and legal type of knife.
  • Can I Carry a Knife Concealed With a Permit?: Yes, with restrictions. Fixed blades are forbidden, and any authorized knife must be a common and legal type of knife.
  • Can I Carry a Knife Openly?: Any non-restricted knife, including fixed blades, that is not a switchblade with a blade measuring 2 inches or longer.

General Ownership

It is entirely legal within the law to own most common knives in the state of California, but you must know that California has a lengthy list of prohibited classes or types of knives.

Many of these knives are archaic or endemic to other countries and martial arts systems, not knives you are liable to encounter unless you go looking for them.

However, if you stop to consider how aggressive and how greedy California’s legal system is, it’s far from out of the question that they might easily construe a feature on your knife to count it as a restricted class of knife if it serves their purposes.

The following categories of knives are completely forbidden in California:

  • ✘ Switchblade 2” or longer (blade length)
  • ✘ Ballistic knife
  • ✘ Dagger (folding or fixed)
  • ✘ Dirk (Folding or fixed)
  • ✘ Sword Cane
  • ✘ Disguised knives (Pen, lipstick, belt buckle, etc.)
  • ✘ Air gauge knife
  • ✘ Shuriken (Throwing star/Ninja star)
  • ✘ Shobi-zue
  • ✘ Undetectable knife (Any knife or stabbing tool that can defeat scanners or detectors)

Also note that California has absolutely no statewide preemption of local laws. This means that you will be bound and governed by any additional regulations in any city, county or municipality while traveling in the state.

Larger cities have knife laws that are significantly more restrictive than the state at large, particularly Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Remember that ignorance of the law is no excuse for violating it, even at the local level, and as odious as it is you’ll need to do your homework if you want to carry a knife without running afoul of the law throughout the state.

Concealed Carry, No Permit

California does allow you to carry concealed on or about your person a knife so long as it is not a forbidden type of knife according to the state statutes and all other laws and regulations are followed.

Also pay great attention to the state statutes included at the end of this article, particularly the definitions of the various types of knives themselves.

You must always be alert to the aggressive and overreaching California legal system that could see you charge for carry-on an illegal weapon just because your otherwise mundane and innocuous pocket knife has a feature consistent with a restricted category of knife.

Note that dirks and daggers and any other fixed blade knife that is “readily” used as a stabbing weapon is forbidden from being carried concealed.

Concealed Carry, With Permit

A concealed carry permit does not allow you to carry concealed any type of knife that is otherwise forbidden, specifically dirks, daggers, and other fixed blade knives. Also, the restricted classes of knife mentioned above are not especially allowed just because you have a concealed weapons permit.

Stick with common, folding knives that are normally allowed, and you should be okay.

Open Carry

California does allow the open carry of knives, including fixed blade knives which otherwise cannot be carried concealed. Once again, the specially forbidden classes of knives are illegal to carry in any way or form or otherwise possess.

As mentioned above, you must be especially cautious with California’s knife laws regarding any kind of weapons charges, especially ones involving knives.

Several knife violations may be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies at the pleasure of the prosecutor, and since police officers in California are fairly notorious for making arrests over weapons of all kinds, that would be completely innocent in almost any other state, you could be rolling the dice when carrying even a small and relatively featureless fixed blade.

Prohibited Places

You cannot carry any kind of knife in any kind of school in the state of California unless you are in the military, a member of a state agency on official duty, an employee of said school who requires the knife for specific tasks or a law enforcement officer.

That’s pretty much it, full stop. If you carry a letter opener into any school in the state of California without official jurisdiction or other special permission in writing you are breaking the law, and it is a serious violation.

The laws concerning this prohibition are extremely lengthy and verbose, but that is all you need to know. You can read the full letter of the relevant sections in the snips taken directly from the California legislature at the end of this article.

Assessment

California allows its citizens to own and ostensibly carry more knives than you would think considering the state’s reputation, but as it turns out that reputation is probably well-earned.

Their knife regulations are difficult to interpret, often contradictory and there is no discernible consistent pattern as far as violation and prosecution of knife offenses go, meaning that the average citizen definitely has cause to be nervous when carrying anything more intricate than a box cutter in the state.

To compound matters, you will always have to contend with varying local laws on top of the state’s laws and they can be just as restrictive and just as intricate as anything the state whipped together.

Important California State Statutes

Make sure you read California’s state statutes concerning knives for yourself.

Digging into the letter of the law as it is written is usually a headache, but you had better concern yourself with the law before the law concerns itself with you! If you plan on carrying a knife in this increasingly draconian state, read on.

DIVISION 2 – DEFINITIONS Section 16590.

As used in this part, “generally prohibited weapon” means any of the following:

(a) An air gauge knife, as prohibited by Section 20310.

(b) Ammunition that contains or consists of a flechette dart, as prohibited by Section 30210.

(c) A ballistic knife, as prohibited by Section 21110.

(d) A belt buckle knife, as prohibited by Section 20410.

(h) A cane sword, as prohibited by Section 20510.

(i) A concealed dirk or dagger, as prohibited by Section 21310.

(m) A leaded cane or an instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a billy, blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap, or slungshot, as prohibited by Section 22210.

(n) A lipstick case knife, as prohibited by Section 20610.

(o) Metal knuckles, as prohibited by Section 21810.

(r) A nunchaku, as prohibited by Section 22010.

(s) A shobi-zue, as prohibited by Section 20710.

(u) A shuriken, as prohibited by Section 22410.

(y) A writing pen knife, as prohibited by Section 20910.

DIVISION 2 – DEFINITIONS Section 16470.

As used in this part, “dirk” or “dagger” means a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death. A nonlocking folding knife, a folding knife that is not prohibited by Section 21510, or a pocketknife is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.

CHAPTER 4 – Dirk or Dagger Section 21310.

Except as provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17700) of Division 2 of Title 2, any person in this state who carries concealed upon the person any dirk or dagger is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

CHAPTER 1 – General Provisions Section 20200.

A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer is not concealed within the meaning of Section 16140, 16340, 17350, or 21310.

DIVISION 2 – DEFINITIONS Section 17235.

As used in this part, “switchblade knife” means a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife, or any other similar type knife, the blade or blades of which are two or more inches in length and which can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or is released by the weight of the blade or by any type of mechanism whatsoever. “Switchblade knife” does not include a knife that opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position.

CHAPTER 5 – Switchblade Knife Section 21590.

The unlawful possession or carrying of any switchblade knife, as provided in Section 21510, is a nuisance and is subject to Sections 18000 and 18005.

CHAPTER 5 – Switchblade Knife Section 21510.

Every person who does any of the following with a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor:

(a) Possesses the knife in the passenger’s or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public.

(b) Carries the knife upon the person.

(c) Sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives the knife to any other person.

CHAPTER 3 – Ballistic Knife Section 21110.

Except as provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17700) of Division 2 of Title 2, any person in this state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses any ballistic knife is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

CHAPTER 3 – Ballistic Knife Section 21190.

Except as provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17700) of Division 2 of Title 2, any ballistic knife is a nuisance and is subject to Section 18010.

CHAPTER 1 – Schools Section 626.10.

(a) (1) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses any dirk, dagger, ice pick, knife having a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches, folding knife with a blade that locks into place, razor with an unguarded blade, taser, or stun gun, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 244.5, any instrument that expels a metallic projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO2 pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun, upon the grounds of, or within, any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

(2) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses a razor blade or a box cutter upon the grounds of, or within, any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year.

(b) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses any dirk, dagger, ice pick, or knife having a fixed blade longer than 2 1/2 inches upon the grounds of, or within, any private university, the University of California, the California State University, or the California Community Colleges is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.

(c) Subdivisions (a) and (b) do not apply to any person who brings or possesses a knife having a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches, a razor with an unguarded blade, a razor blade, or a box cutter upon the grounds of, or within, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or any private university, state university, or community college at the direction of a faculty member of the private university, state university, or community college, or a certificated or classified employee of the school for use in a private university, state university, community college, or school-sponsored activity or class.

(d) Subdivisions (a) and (b) do not apply to any person who brings or possesses an ice pick, a knife having a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches, a razor with an unguarded blade, a razor blade, or a box cutter upon the grounds of, or within, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or any private university, state university, or community college for a lawful purpose within the scope of the person’s employment.

(e) Subdivision (b) does not apply to any person who brings or possesses an ice pick or a knife having a fixed blade longer than 21/2 inches upon the grounds of, or within, any private university, state university, or community college for lawful use in or around a residence or residential facility located upon those grounds or for lawful use in food preparation or consumption.


20 survival items ebook cover

Like what you read?

Then you're gonna love my free PDF, 20 common survival items, 20 uncommon survival uses for each. That's 400 total uses for these innocent little items!

Just enter your primary e-mail below to get your link. This will also subscribe you to my newsletter so you stay up-to-date with everything: new articles, ebooks, products and more!



By entering your email, you agree to subscribe to the Modern Survival Online newsletter. We will not spam you.

  • 1
    Share

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*