Knives laws in the Golden State are not as complicated as they initially seem. California is a big state and there is no state law preemption. Surprisingly, however, California is relatively relaxed in terms of ownership. Broadly speaking, carrying knives whether open or concealed is legal in California.
However, it is illegal to own many knives which are detailed below. It is also important to note that California, unlike many other states, has a very clear and strict definition of switchblades. While knife owners should always be cognizant of the jurisdiction in which they are carrying, California is more welcome than most. Open and concealed carry of many knives is completely legal.
Restrictions on Knife Ownership in California
California is an open carry state. Rather than a list of the knives are that legal to own, it may be easier to list the knives that bear restrictions. It is illegal to own the following types of knives in California:
- Cane knives, lipstick knives, belt knives and any other knife that can be classified as misleading is illegal to own in California;
- Undetectable knives, like misleading knives, are also outlawed
- Ballistic knives
Switchblades in California
It is legal to own a switchblade that is less than two inches or shorter. The relevant law reads: “Every person who does any of the following with a switchblade knife having a blade or two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor: (a) possesses the knife in the passenger or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public (b) carries the knifes upon the person (c) Sellers, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers or gives the knife to any person.”[i]
This statute begs the question of whether it is legal or not to carry a switchblade in one’s personal vehicle. The plain reading of this statute suggests that it is legal to carry a switchblade in one’s car as long as the blade of the knife is less than two inches long. However, California defines switchblade in great detail stating that a switchblade is:
“[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.”[ii] (emphasis added)
Knife owners should be cognizant of whether their particular knife fulfills all of the criterion outlined by this definition.
Open and Concealed Carry in Calfornia
The law also notes that all legal fixed blades knives must be worn in plain sight. Dirks and daggers are exempted from this law. There is no langugage in the law that prevent openly carrying a sword or similar knife.
Any blade that is concealed that is found to be locked in the open position cannot be conceal carried. The law, in relevant part, reads: “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.” (emphasis added)[iii]
California is one of the friendlier states for knife owners. Following a “two-inch” rule, however, is prudent. If the blade of the knife is longer than two inches, it is not wise to conceal carry. There are additional rules for Los Angeles County specifically, which outlaw openly carrying a knife with a blade over three inches long.
It is important, as always, for knife owners to be cognizant of their surroundings and take appropriate precautions when carrying in a public place.
None of the material in this article should be interpreted as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. Never take any action with legal consequences without first consulting with a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. This article should not be relied upon for making legal decisions. This information is provided for scholarship and general information only.