California Knife Law

california state sealCalifornia has very friendly knife laws. Unlike other states who’s knife law is out of date, California’s is modern and up-to-date. This article will talk about what is legal, illegal, and in the gray area concerning knives in California.

Legal Knives in California

  • Bowie knives are legal.
  • Large knives are legal (no restrictions in size).
  • Carrying knives in the open is legal in California.
  • Carrying knives concealed is legal in California for most knives.

Illegal Knives under California Knife Law

  • Misleading knives are illegal. These include: cane knives (and shobi-zues), lipstick knives, belt knives, pen knives, air gauge knives, and pen knives.
  • All undetectable knives are illegal. These include knives that won’t set off metal detectors.
  • Dirks, daggers, and stilettos are illegal.
  • Ballistic knives are illegal.

What the law is trying to get at are knives usually used by criminals to commit crimes. These are knives that don’t look like knives or don’t have a use as a tool. For example, you can’t do much with a dagger besides stab things.

Legality of Balisong Knives and Swithblades

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.

It is legal to own, sell, buy, and transport a switchblade as long as it is less than 2 inches. The state of California has ruled that a Balisong knife is a switchblade because of how easily it can be opened. However, you can still buy Balisong knives that are over 2 inches if you do not carry it in the driver or passenger seat or on you. Simply put, if you buy Balisongs to collect and leave it at home, it is 100% OK.

Conclusion on California Knife Law

If you are in California you can buy, own, transport, and carry any knife you want as long as it is not a forbidden knife. You can also collect Balisongs without worry.

Note that this is not legal advice and there is no client-attorney relationship.  You should talk to a California lawyer if you want a real legal opinion. If you have a question, leave it in the comment below. Some cities and municipals might have their own knife laws so check with your city. We are also looking for an attorney to do a quick interview about California knife laws.

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23 comments on “California Knife Law
  1. Junior says:

    I just bought a 16 inch Bowie and I wanted to know if I can carry it around here in California?

  2. Jay says:

    While California has made headway in recent years in repealing or defeating some repressive laws, I believe it a reach to think that CA is “modern and up to date” in regards to it’s knife laws. Any state that restricts or forbids law abiding citizens from possessing a knife simply because of an antiquated “chicken-little” mindset cannot pretend to be a friendly state to knife owners. The length or style of a blade as a determining factor of legality, ie. switchblades limited to under 2″ or the determination that a dagger can only be used for nefarious purposes, is both repressive and moronic.
    If you wish to be a true Knife Friendly state maybe you should look to your eastern border. Arizona continues to prove itself as a true knife friendly progressive state. We have drastically lower violent crime rates for the simple fact that we allow our citizens to live as our forefathers intended; without redundant or repressive laws that restrict the rights of the people to own, possess or carry almost any weapon, including any knife, switchblade, out the front automatic knife, dirk, dagger, sword, swordcane or penknife they desire. Be it for self defense or collecting purposes.
    The point is, there should be no restrictions put upon the law abiding populace of a free state. The belief by most in California that you can reduce or eradicate crime by restricting ownership of an inanimate object by the law abiding populace is pure ignorance.
    I look forward to seeing California continue it’s fight against the repressive laws which you live under as well as those that continue to be brought against you every day. Good luck.

  3. J y says:

    Can I have a knife in my university dorm ?

  4. MedusaOblongata says:

    The only knives prohibited by state law at public universities that are legal elsewhere are fixed blades over 2.5″. Which means that, per state law, fixed blade knives under 2.5″ and folding knives (of any length) are legal on university property. Check your city/county laws for other restrictions. Violating university policy will get you kicked out, but not arrested. (The CSU system used to have a 5″ blade length limit, but that could have changed)

  5. MedusaOblongata says:

    The CA law info posted in the article above is not exactly accurate. State law prohibits concealing a “dirk or dagger,” and then goes on to define “dirk or dagger” as any fixed blade knife. So, other than the limit on autos and balisongs, the only thing state law prohibits is concealing a fixed blade. There are no length limits in state law (other than school grounds), and it doesn’t matter whether the knife has one edge or two.

  6. Joshua says:


    I point out that the violent crime rate and the murder rate of Arizona is about the same as California (murder rate was a little higher in Arizona in 2011, last year I have reliable stats for). Also, in AZ you are in trouble carrying any knife, even a pocket knife on a keychain, in a school. In California you can carry small blade knives in a school, at least. Also, CCW holders can carry guns in schools. And in bars. In fact, CCW holders have less restrictions in CA than AZ…it is just that it is harder to get a CCW, and you guys permit far broader unlicensed carry.

    One thing to bear in mind is that unlike firearms, where CA has preemption (one dying act of the GOP before we went blue), knife laws vary. There is a limit on length in some cities. LA, SF and Oakland limit blade length to 3″, e.g.

  7. says:

    Having spent several hours being searched, questioned,detained and terrorized by the CHP at the Cordillia Weigh Station I can assure you that the way CHP defines their law is different than what is presented here. I was pulled in for vehicle inspection as is quite common at all CA weigh stations.
    I had an M-7 bayonet in the map pocket in my truck which was clearly visible when I opened my door. The officer asked the obvious “What is that” My reply was “A knife” Next came “are there any more weapons in the truck” weeeeellll “Yep there is a pistol in the sleeper”
    Three hours later I’m free to go because…. The knife was in the vehicle Not on my person Had it been on my belt…BAD BAD BAD. Pistol was returned with industrial sized Zip tie through mag well/ejection port. Mag was emptied and ammo placed in stapled shut bag. I was told it was illegal to carry a loaded gun in a vehicle in CA. If the gun was in the passenger compartment then the ammo had to be in a separate compartment that could not be reached. I only got my gun back because where I lived and was licensed at the time I could carry exposed in any location. Ca has since changed their laws to prohibit that exception as well.

  8. jmtnvalley says:


    Not sure when this happened to you, but the courts have ruled that an unloaded gun is just that, unloaded. If there are no bullets in the gun, it is unloaded. You can have a loaded magazine next to the gun, but the magazine is not a gun. I have great respect for the CHP, but the commandant of the CHP often oversteps his authority on defining the law. Take the California motorcycle helmet law a number of years back. He decided that a certain helmet type was not safe and orders his officers to ticket them, even though the helmets met the requirement of the law. Another case that will come to a head is giving Ham radio operators tickets for not using hands free. Ham radios are NOT wireless telephones, as specified in the law. Same happened with the loaded gun law.

  9. Robert Sawtelle says:

    The issue with California, while the law may state one thing, and be the prevailing law, it doesn’t matter if the officer interprets it differently. And there are MANY officers who have ill-informed concepts of what the laws actually are! Then there are the various city & county laws to deal with. This resource, while nice is also misleading and can most certainly get people into trouble. As ignorance of the law is no excuse, and a cop being ignorant, can get you shot!

  10. Daryl says:

    Screw CA and it’s BS gun laws!

  11. Edward says:

    Might explore the medical implications of knife fightng, wounds, and real-life survival /wounding with various defense methods/ systems. Probably a lose-lose. And medical bills? Good luck.

  12. Woodbro Chillson says:

    So even owning a “switchblade” with a blade over 2 inches is forbidden in California? You cant even have one in a display case in your home?

  13. Truck says:

    What about ASP batons in CA? any good link to read up on those?

  14. Isaac says:

    How old do you have to be to carry a knife.

  15. Ossifer says:

    Under California law a concealed handgun can legally be transported with a motor vehicle without a permit only by carrying it: 1) unloaded; and 2) locked in the vehicle’s trunk or in a separate locked container other than the utility or glove compartment. If the vehicle does not have a trunk, it must be carried in a “locked container” separate from the utility or glove compartment.

    Ammunition cannot be attached to the handgun in any manner. Under most circumstances, a firearm is considered loaded when there is a live round of ammunition “…in, or attached in any manner to, the firearm, including, but not limited to: in the firing chamber, magazine or clip thereof attached to the firearm…” For example, a semi-automatic handgun with an empty firing chamber and a loaded magazine inserted in the magazine well is considered loaded. There is no prohibition in the state codes against also carrying ammunition within the same motor vehicle or compartment in the vehicle, as long as the firearms are not loaded and ammunition is not attached in any manner to the firearm. – Penal Code Sections 12025, 12026, 12031.

    Penal Code Section 12026.2 states that carrying a handgun in your car even in a locked container is only for the purpose of transporting from one specific location to another (going to the range, going hunting, etc.). It is illegal to carry a firearm without a permit, even in a locked container in your car, for general purposes such as self-defense.

    While it is legal in California to carry an unloaded handgun in plain sight in the passenger compartment, it is not advised. It can lead to unfavorable attention and an encounter with the police. If the gun slips between the seats or otherwise out of sight, it is no longer “in plain sight” and therefore illegal.

    Switchblades are legal to own in CA. You just can’t carry them on your person, or in your vehicle in the passenger compartment or buy. sell, trade, give one away, etc. So yes, you can have one legally IN YOUR HOME.

    ANY knife that has a fixed blade including a pocket knife in the open position, is considered a dirk or dagger.

    Ok folks? Hope this answers ya’ll’s questions.

  16. John says:

    I would like to know if I can carry a 7 inch T-bar marine knife carrying on on my side when I’m riding my motorcycle is that legally in California -city of inland empire and if it is with cities in the surrounding areas have a problem with it and can I get a permit to carry it

  17. Joe says:

    I have a 3 inch non-auto or assisted knife. Can I carry it around town in my pocket?

  18. Angel says:

    I want to buy a. Balisong knife (Butterfly knife) and its the blade is 5 inches. Im not planing on carrying around with me but i want to make sure its legal to have one.

  19. Jonathan fort says:

    I have a balisong butterfly knife it’s more than 2 inches long and I live in ca. Can I sell it out of state shipping via ups/FedEx

  20. Avery says:

    I own a folding, single edged, 6 inch blade Cold Steel Ti-Lite. The blade is long and thin like a stiletto, but as it’s single edged and folding, is it still legally a prohibited weapon to carry concealed/at all? under state law? Thank you…

  21. Kyle says:

    So this site says you can have a fixed blade out in the open of any size no restrictions but you can only have a switch blade no longer than 2 inches??

  22. John says:

    FYI: per 626.10 CA Penal Code, regarding school grounds (kindergarten through 12th grade): any lock blades are illegal; and the same for any non locking folder (ie slip joint) with a blade longer than 2 1/2″.

    Exceptions are staff & emergency personnel in course of duty.

    This is either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the individual circumstances of each case.

  23. Jane Leslie says:

    I have a Swiss Army knife which I carry in my purse for self protection. I would carry it, folded, in my hand in places where I might perceive possible danger. I live in CA. Legal? I would have no hesitation in stabbing someone who attacked me.

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