Just like life in New York, with its skyscrapers, crowds and around-the-clock access to almost anything imaginable, knife laws in the Empire State are relatively confusing. New York, like many states, outlaws ownership of knives that are adapted for use as a weapon.
Additionally, ballistic knives, metal knuckle knives, cane swords, and throwing stars are also illegal to own. Much discussion about knives in New York revolves around switchblades and the distinction between a folding knife and a fixed blade knife.
The bulk of confusion revolves around very recent developments and case law that compounds issues of intended use with a strict reading of the law.
Overview of New York Knife Laws
While it is legal to own a hunting knife, dirk, dagger or stiletto, it is illegal to own the following knives in New York:
- Ballistic knives
- Metal Knuckles or metal knuckle knifes
- Cane Swords
- Throwing stars
It is illegal to own any knife if you are not a U.S. Citizen in New York. Additionally, it is illegal to own any knife adapted for use primarily as a weapon.
The pertinent law reads, in part: “A person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree when: (1) He or she possesses any firearm, electronic dart gun, electronic stun gun, gravity knife, switchblade knife, pilum ballistic knife, metal knuckle knife, cane sword, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, plastic knuckles, metal knuckles, chuka stick, sandbag, sandclub, wrist-brace type slingshot or slungshot, shirken or “Kung Fu star”; or (2) He possesses any dagger, dangerous knife, dirk, razor, stiletto, imitation pistol, or any other dangerous or deadly instrument or weapon with intent to use the same unlawfully against another…”[i] (emphasis added)
Recent Developments in the Carry of Switchblades
On June 7, 2018, the highest court in New York upheld the conviction of a man found in unlawful possession of a knife at a subway station after finding that the knife met the definition of a switchblade in People v. Berrezueta, 2018 NY Slip Op 04032. Penal Law 265.00(4) defines a switchblade knife as “any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or the device in the handle of the knife.”
This case is worth reading because the defendant was a mailroom worker who testified he used that he used the knife exclusively for work to open packages. In arriving at its decision, the Court stated:
“[The] police officer’s allegation that he identified the knife recovered from the defendant as a switchblade …[was] based upon his ‘training and experience as a police officer and because, when [he] applied hand pressure to a spring-loaded portion of the blade of the knife protruding from the handle of the knife, the blade swung open automatically,’ sufficed to show the basis for the officer’s conclusion that defendant’s knife was a switchblade.
Although the officer failed to specifically state that the ‘button, spring or other devices [was] in the handle of the knife’, the weapon described possessed general features common to a switchblade…”
The dissent, written by Justice Rivera, notes:
In the case of a switchblade, the statute requires that the “button, spring or other devices” be located “in the handle of the knife” (Penal Law § 265.00 ). The Legislature has thus specified this category of a prohibited weapon by the physical mechanism that triggers the manner in which the knife open, and “[t]he line is so drawn” (see People v Case, 42 NY2d 98, 102-103 ).
If the Legislature intended to exclude this definitional limitation on what constitutes a switchblade it knew how to do so, demonstrated by the fact that other definitions do not specify where an opening device must be located (see e.g. Penal Law § 265.06 [banning “spring-gun or other instrument or weapon in which the propelling force is a spring” on school grounds]; §§ 265.01, .00  [prohibiting gravity knives, which lock into place by a “button, spring, lever or other devices” in an unspecified location]).[ii]
In sum, knife owners should be cognizant that New York does not recognize a difference in automatic or assisted-openers. The intended use or reason for possession of the knife is also immaterial.
Imputation of Possession in New York
It is well-settled law in New York that, absent certain exceptions, the presence of a firearm in an automobile is presumptive evidence of its illegal possession by all occupying the vehicle. New York Penal Law 265.15(3) states: “The presence in an automobile, other than a stolen one or a public omnibus, of any firearm, defaced firearm, firearm silencer, bomb, bombshell, gravity knife, switchblade knife, dagger, dirk, stiletto, billy, blackjack, metal knuckles, sandbag, sandclub or slungshot is presumptive evidence of its possession by all persons occupying such automobile at the time such weapon, instrument or appliance is found…” (emphasis added) The exceptions include weapons found in a vehicle for hire – the weapon wouldn’t apply to the driver – and those with a permit to conceal carry.[iii]
New York is much larger than Manhattan and knife laws differ in New York city than in the rest of the state. It is important to note that even in the People v. Berrezueta case mentioned above, the defendant was found with a knife in the subway thereby subjecting him to regulations specified by the Transit Authority.
The Court even noted that “Defendant was initially charged by misdemeanor complaint with criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree (Penal Law § 265.01 ), and subsequently additionally charged by superseding information with possession of a knife worn outside of clothing (Administrative Code § 10-133 [c]) and possession of a weapon or other dangerous instrument within the Transit Authority (21 NYCRR 1050.8 [a])”
In sum, New York does not have concealed carry laws. Therefore, it is legal to open or conceal carry any knife that is legal to own in the first place. However, knife owners should be cognizant of the vast amount of grey area in New York laws, specifically surrounding intended use and display and take precautions by carrying any permits on their person at all times when traveling through New York.
[i] § 265.01. Criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree
[ii] For more information, see: https://kniferights.org/wpcontent/uploads/2018/06/People_v_Berrezueta_06072018.pdf
[iii] County Court of Ulster Country, New York et al. v. Allen et al., 442 U.S. 140 (1979)
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.