Perhaps the only way I can describe Pennsylvania’s knife laws is disappointing. Upon cursory review, you might want to congratulate the state for being so pro-knife: you can own virtually any kind of knife except automatics and switchblades, and may legally carry pretty much any other kind of knife you want, to include such common legal targets as daggers, dirks, bowies, machetes and others.
But there is a dark side to Pennsylvania’s law and it is not immediately apparent after a casual read through. Pennsylvania knife laws frankly make prosecuting on the grounds of a violation or assumed violation of the knife law entirely too common and too easy.
This is another state that relies heavily on legal precedent and a working knowledge of the state’s history when it comes to knives. Learning both is essential for knowing exactly where you fall when carrying a knife concealed or openly in the state.
To complicate matters Pennsylvania lacks statewide preemption on knives, and one of its cities, Philadelphia (among others) is home to the absolute most restrictive knife laws in the entire country. This is a state where you will be quite literally on edge the entire time you’re carrying a knife outside your home. We will try and unravel this complex puzzle below.
What You Need to Know
- What Kind of Knives Can I Own?: Any kind of knife except switchblades/automatics. Assisted-opening knives potentially included. Exceptions exist.
- Can I Carry a Knife Concealed Without a Permit?: Yes,Any kind of knife except a switchblade.
- Can I Carry a Knife Concealed With a Permit?: Yes,Any kind of knife except a switchblade.
- Can I Carry a Knife Openly?: Yes,Any kind of knife except a switchblade.
The only category of knife that Pennsylvania explicitly bans from ownership are switchblades and any knife that is designed for the infliction of bodily injury with no “common lawful purpose”.
Specifically, the statutes also specify that one may own a switchblade so long as it is in a collector context, meaning at your home and specifically in place as part of a collection, not ready to be used as a weapon for defense.
Unfortunately, the nebulous language used to define switchblade in the state of Pennsylvania puts assisted opening knives on perilous ground. Many otherwise entirely common and pedestrian knives make use of spring-assisted operation to open, even though they are not opened by a locking button or lever release mechanism. You should possess and especially carry assisted-opening knives with the utmost caution.
Also understand that Pennsylvania explicitly bans any kind of knife that is designed for the infliction of bodily injury with no common, lawful purpose.
A common and lawful purpose is not defined in the state statutes, and this makes it extraordinarily likely there will be interpreted to mean whatever the police, the prosecution and the judge want it to mean.
Know that Pennsylvania’s total lack of preemption concerning knives has made several cities and other localities fertile ground for insanely restrictive knife laws.
Probably the crown jewel of knife lunacy in America is dubiously granted to Philadelphia, a place where you are completely forbidden from possessing any knife of any kind whatsoever outside of your home unless it is directly related to work or a task that you are currently engaged in.
Philadelphia defines a cutting weapon as any tool with an edge capable of inflicting a cutting wound.
Be careful out there…
Concealed Carry, No Permit
One may be in possession of any knife so long as it is not an offensive weapon. Pennsylvania defines an offensive weapon as a dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument with a blade that is exposed in an automatic way via switch, push button, spring mechanism or otherwise.
Though this sounds very much like the language typically encountered in other states that ban these types of knives from various circumstances specifically, it is referring only to knives that open automatically, i.e. a switchblade.
Be warned that Pennsylvania has made it very easy for the state to prosecute people for weapons violations or presumed weapons violations, and you should carry any knife more threatening than the smallest, most pedestrian folding knife with extreme discretion.
Concealed Carry, With Permit
Pennsylvania makes no distinction when it comes to carrying a knife with a permit as opposed to without a permit. The only way you should ever carry a knife concealed in Pennsylvania is with great and deliberate care.
The open carry of any legal knife is permitted in Pennsylvania.
You cannot carry any knife of any kind into a school building or onto school property, be it public or private. You also cannot carry your knife into any courthouse or courtroom.
Pennsylvania has the potential to be a fine state when it comes to knife ownership and knife carry, but currently it only has one half of the equation down pat.
You may own nearly any kind of knife except a switchblade but when it comes to carrying a knife you’re only one mistake away from being charged with weapons possession thanks to some questionable statutes and a history of prosecuting against civilian carry and ownership of knives.
The whole thing is made worse by the state’s total lack of preemption law.
Important Pennsylvania State Statutes
§ 907. Possessing instruments of crime.
(a) Criminal instruments generally.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses any instrument of crime with intent to employ it criminally.
(b) Possession of weapon.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses a firearm or other weapon concealed upon his person with intent to employ it criminally.
(d) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:
“Instrument of crime.” Any of the following:
(1) Anything specially made or specially adapted for criminal use.
(2) Anything used for criminal purposes and possessed by the actor under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses it may have.
“Weapon.” Anything readily capable of lethal use and possessed under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses which it may have. The term includes a firearm which is not loaded or lacks a clip or other component to render it immediately operable, and components which can readily be assembled into a weapon.
§ 908. Prohibited offensive weapons.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized by law, he makes repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in, uses, or possesses any offensive weapon.
(1) It is a defense under this section for the defendant to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he possessed or dealt with the weapon solely as a curio or in a dramatic performance, or that, with the exception of a bomb, grenade or incendiary device, he complied with the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. § 5801 et seq.), or that he possessed it briefly in consequence of having found it or taken it from an aggressor, or under circumstances similarly negativing any intent or likelihood that the weapon would be used unlawfully.
(2) This section does not apply to police forensic firearms experts or police forensic firearms laboratories. Also exempt from this section are forensic firearms experts or forensic firearms laboratories operating in the ordinary course of business and engaged in lawful operation who notify in writing, on an annual basis, the chief or head of any police force or police department of a city, and, elsewhere, the sheriff of a county in which they are located, of the possession, type and use of offensive weapons.
(3) This section shall not apply to any person who makes, repairs, sells or otherwise deals in, uses or possesses any firearm for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.
(c) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:
“Firearm.” Any weapon which is designed to or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive or the frame or receiver of any such weapon.
“Offensive weapons.” Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise, any stun gun, stun baton, taser or other electronic or electric weapon or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.
§ 912. Possession of weapon on school property.
(a) Definition.–Notwithstanding the definition of “weapon” in section 907 (relating to possessing instruments of crime), “weapon” for purposes of this section shall include but not be limited to any knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nun-chuck stick, firearm, shotgun, rifle and any other tool, instrument or implement capable of inflicting serious bodily injury.
(b) Offense defined.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses a weapon in the buildings of, on the grounds of, or in any conveyance providing transportation to or from any elementary or secondary publicly-funded educational institution, any elementary or secondary private school licensed by the Department of Education or any elementary or secondary parochial school.
(c) Defense.–It shall be a defense that the weapon is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.
§ 913. Possession of firearm or other dangerous weapon in court facility.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits an offense if he:
(1) knowingly possesses a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a court facility or knowingly causes a firearm or other dangerous weapon to be present in a court facility; or
(2) knowingly possesses a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a court facility with the intent that the firearm or other dangerous weapon be used in the commission of a crime or knowingly causes a firearm or other dangerous weapon to be present in a court facility with the intent that the firearm or other dangerous weapon be used in the commission of a crime.
(1) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (3), an offense under subsection (a)(1) is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
(2) An offense under subsection (a)(2) is a misdemeanor of the first degree.
(3) An offense under subsection (a)(1) is a summary offense if the person was carrying a firearm under section 6106(b) (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license) or 6109 (relating to licenses) and failed to check the firearm under subsection (e) prior to entering the court facility.
(f) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:
“Court facility.” The courtroom of a court of record; a courtroom of a community court; the courtroom of a magisterial district judge; a courtroom of the Philadelphia Municipal Court; a courtroom of the Pittsburgh Magistrates Court; a courtroom of the Traffic Court of Philadelphia; judge’s chambers; witness rooms; jury deliberation rooms; attorney conference rooms; prisoner holding cells; offices of court clerks, the district attorney, the sheriff and probation and parole officers; and any adjoining corridors.
“Dangerous weapon.” A bomb, any explosive or incendiary device or material when possessed with intent to use or to provide such material to commit any offense, graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree or higher, grenade, blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife (the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism or otherwise) or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.