Illinois is a state that is rightly infamous for its oppressive laws concerning weapons and its rampant intrusion into every single aspect of its citizens lives. Illinois in many ways represents the pinnacle of government bloat and excess gone completely out of control.
Naturally their laws governing the use and ownership of knives are extraordinarily difficult to understand, often contradictory and highly repressive.
To add insult to injury there is no statewide preemption and so many cities and towns across Illinois have their own equally outlandish laws governing knives. Chief among these cities is Chicago which needs little introduction.
Even worse, sentencing for incidental and minor knife crimes is complicated and often harsh. The bottom line is that Illinois is completely hostile to knife owners and the carry of knives.
You’ll need to be on your toes, and if you are wise you will consult a veteran self-defense instructor or a competent attorney with a thorough understanding of the law before choosing to carry anything more offensive than a set of nail clippers in the state.
What You Need to Know
- Types of Knives Illegal to Possess or Carry with Unlawful Intent: “Dangerous” knives, Dagger, Dirk, Stiletto, Razor, Broken Bottle, Glass shard, “any other dangerous weapon”.
- Illegal to Possess with Unlawful Intent: Shuriken, Ballistic Knife, Switchblade
- Illegal to Possess or Carry on Public Property without Special Authorization: Any knife with blade over 3”, Dagger, Dirk, Stiletto, Axe, Hatchet, Switchblade, “any other dangerous weapon”.
Illinois knife laws are an absolute mess, and that is by design either through action or omission of action.
Several entire categories of knife are banned depending on what they are and where you intend to carry them. Some of them are banned if you carry them or own them with criminal intent.
Broadly, Illinois classifies restricted knives into two categories, with the first being called “Category 2” weapons or “per se” weapons, and the others being weapons that fall under the Deadly Weapons Act, sometimes called “UUW” weapons.
Illinois constantly uses such broad and nebulous terms as “dangerous or deadly weapon” throughout the statutes, which aside from being extremely difficult to define consistently are also open to interpretation by law enforcement officials and judges.
This is further complicated by the enormous amount of precedent and case law already on the books governing the ownership and carry of knives in the state.
The only thing that I can tell you with certainty is that you can carry no knife of any kind with a blade over 3 inches on public property, nor can you carry any dagger, dirk, stiletto, switchblade, axe or hatchet without special authority. Additionally keep in mind that the state law of Illinois measures blade length based on the entirety of the “non-handle” part of the knife.
Depending on the proclivities of the person doing the measuring, this could add a considerable length to the blade length beyond what the blade actually is, and it will be no challenge at all to fudge the results to put your knife over the legal limit.
As always in such places it is in your best interest to undercut considerably your chosen knife’s blade length to beneath the legal limit.
Concealed Carry, No Permit
Illinois makes no distinction between carrying a knife concealed with or without a permit. See the next section or the relevant details regarding concealed carry of knives in the state.
Concealed Carry, With Permit
Generally, concealing a legal knife, specifically a knife that is legal under the circumstances in a specific location throughout the state is not an issue.
However, Illinois lacks entirely any statewide pre-emption concerning knife laws, and that means you will be dealing with a nasty jigsaw puzzle of city and county laws wherever you go, and there are plenty of them that are far more stringent than the state laws. Chicago, for instance, is first among them.
I cannot impress upon you how likely it is that you will run afoul of local laws taking any kind of knife almost anywhere in the state.
This is a place that does not want you to be armed in any meaningful way! Illinois’ extremely vague and slippery wording regarding the carry of weapons, and the carry of weapons for self-defense in particular, is a disaster waiting to happen.
Consider for instance the carrying any kind of weapon to proactively defend oneself from an attack that might occur is an extremely flimsy defense in the state of Illinois. Said another way, you are not allowed, necessarily, to carry any kind of knife just because the possibility exists that an evildoer might attack you!
For anyone with a reasonable cell left in their brains, this is the summit of doublethink: if you were able to say definitively that you would be attacked any particular time in a particular place chances are you will not be attacked at all because you would avoid it.
Going armed as a reasonable precaution is not a reasonable precaution under the law and may in fact be construed as criminal intent!
Illinois makes no distinction between open and concealed carry of knives based on type or category; knives that are restricted under specific circumstances or in specific places are not necessarily legal just because they are carried openly.
There is a laundry list of places where you cannot carry a knife in the state of Illinois, and you may not specifically carry any UUW-classified knife on the grounds of a school or in a school building, at any school activity or gathering, on any public transportation including subways, buses and monorails, into any penal institution or attendant facility, into any courthouse or into any public housing.
Illinois is a terrible state for the ownership and carry of knives thanks to abundant restrictions on type and length, a total lack of statewide preemption and an affirmative history of punitive measures against anyone who carries any kind of weapon even approximating something that they don’t think the peasantry should have.
Additionally, county and city laws throughout the state are equally onerous and staying on top of them will require a considerable amount of mental bandwidth. If you’re going to carry any kind of knife in the state it should be tiny, as inoffensive and innocuous as possible
This article is not to be treated as legal advice. The author is not an attorney. Neither this website, its principals, owners, operators, contractors or employees, or the author of this article, claim any criminal or civil liability resulting from injury, death or legal action resulting from the use or misuse of the information contained in this article. Any comprehensive self defense plan will include preparing for the legal aftermath of any self-defense encounter. The reader should hire and consult with a competent attorney as part of your preparations.
Important Illinois State Statutes
720 ILCS 5/24-1
(a) A person commits the offense of unlawful use of weapons when he knowingly:
(1) Sells, manufactures, purchases, possesses or carries any […] metal knuckles or other knuckle weapon regardless of its composition, throwing star, or any knife, commonly referred to as a switchblade knife, which has a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in the handle of the knife, or a ballistic knife, which is a device that propels a knifelike blade as a projectile by means of a coil spring, elastic material or compressed gas; or
(2) Carries or possesses with intent to use the same unlawfully against another, a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto, broken bottle or other piece of glass, stun gun or taser or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument of like character; or
(9) Carries or possesses in a vehicle or on or about his person any pistol, revolver, stun gun or taser or firearm or ballistic knife, when he is hooded, robed or masked in such manner as to conceal his identity;
(b) Sentence. A person convicted of a violation of subsection 24-1(a)(1) through (5) […] commits a Class A misdemeanor. A person convicted of a violation of subsection […] 24-1(a)(9) commits a Class 4 felony; […] A person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of subsection […] 24-1(a)(9) commits a Class 3 felony. The possession of each weapon in violation of this Section constitutes a single and separate violation.
(720 ILCS 5/21-6) (from Ch. 38, par. 21-6)
Sec. 21-6. Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons.
(a) Whoever possesses or stores any weapon enumerated in Section 33A-1 in any building or on land supported in whole or in part with public funds or in any building on such land without prior written permission from the chief security officer for such land or building commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(b) The chief security officer must grant any reasonable request for permission under paragraph (a).
(720 ILCS 5/33A-1) (from Ch. 38, par. 33A-1)
Sec. 33A-1. Legislative intent and definitions.
(a) Legislative findings. The legislature finds and declares the following:
(1) The use of a dangerous weapon in the commission of a felony offense poses a much greater threat to the public health, safety, and general welfare, than when a weapon is not used in the commission of the offense.
(1) “Armed with a dangerous weapon”. A person is considered armed with a dangerous weapon for purposes of this Article, when he or she carries on or about his or her person or is otherwise armed with a Category I, Category II, or Category III weapon.
(2) A Category I weapon is a handgun, sawed-off shotgun, sawed-off rifle, any other firearm small enough to be concealed upon the person, semiautomatic firearm, or machine gun. A Category II weapon is any other rifle, shotgun, spring gun, other firearm, stun gun or taser as defined in paragraph (a) of Section 24-1 of this Code, knife with a blade of at least 3 inches in length, dagger, dirk, switchblade knife, stiletto, axe, hatchet, or other deadly or dangerous weapon or instrument of like character. As used in this subsection (b) “semiautomatic firearm” means a repeating firearm that utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round and that requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.
(3) A Category III weapon is a bludgeon, black-jack, slungshot, sand-bag, sand-club, metal knuckles, billy, or other dangerous weapon of like character.
8-24-020. Sale or possession of deadly weapons.
(a) No person shall sell, offer for sale, keep, possess, purchase, loan or give to any person any bludgeon, blackjack, slung shot, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, or other knuckle weapon regardless of its composition, throwing star, switchblade knife or ballistic knife; provided that this subsection shall not apply to the purchase, possession or carrying of a black- jack or slung shot by a peace officer.
(b) No person shall sell, offer for sale, loan or give to any person 18 years of age or under any type or kind of knife with a blade which is two inches in length or longer.
(c) No person 18 years of age or under shall carry, possess or conceal on or about his person, any knife, the blade of which is two inches in length or longer.
(d) No person shall carry or possess with intent to use unlawfully against another, or carry in a threatening or menacing manner, without authority of law, a dagger, billy, dangerous knife, razor, broken bottle or other piece or glass, stun gun, taser, or other dangerous or deadly weapon of like character.
(f) No person shall carry concealed on or about his person a dagger, any knife with a blade more than two and one-half inches in length, or other dangerous weapon. Provided, however, that this provision shall not apply to the following officers while engaged in the discharge of their official duties: sheriffs, peace officers, and corrections officers; nor to the following employees or agents while engaged in the discharge of the duties of their employment: conductors, baggagemen, messengers, drivers, watchmen, special agents and policemen employed by railroads or express companies; nor to persons lawfully summoned by an officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace, while so engaged in assisting such officer.
(g) Unless the enhanced penalty imposed by subsection 8-4-350(b)(3) or subsection 8-4-355(b)(3) of this Code applies, any person violating this section shall be fined $200.00 for each offense, or shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
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