Iowa Knife Laws

Iowa has very, very relaxed policies on owning and carrying knives. However, the state made it very confusing with big legal words. This article will translate Iowa Knife Laws from legal speak into English.

What is Legal to Own

  • Balisong knives are legal.
  • Switchblades and automatic knives are legal.
  • Dirks, daggers, stilettos and other stabbing knives are legal.
  • Bowie knives and other large knives are legal.
  • Disguised knives like cane knives, belt knives, and lipstick knives are legal.
  • Ballistic knives are illegal.

Only ballistic knives are outlawed in Iowa law.

Limits on Carry

  • It is legal to open carry any knife.
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a switchblade.
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dagger or stiletto.
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a knife whos blade is greater than 5 inches.
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a balisong knife.
  • It is illegal to conceal carry disguised knives like cane swords and lipstick knives.

What the Law Says

Dangerous Weapons

Iowa Code § 702.7 (2012)

702.7 Dangerous weapon.

A “dangerous weapon” is any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed, except a bow and arrow when possessed and used for hunting or any other lawful purpose. Additionally, any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being, is a dangerous weapon. Dangerous weapons include but are not limited to any offensive weapon, pistol, revolver, or other firearm, dagger, razor, stiletto, switchblade knife, knife having a blade exceeding five inches in length, or any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person.

Iowa Code § 724.4 (2012)

724.4 Carrying weapons.

1. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who goes armed with a dangerous weapon concealed on or about the person, or who, within the limits of any city, goes armed with a pistol or revolver, or any loaded firearm of any kind, whether concealed or not, or who knowingly carries or transports in a vehicle a pistol or revolver, commits an aggravated misdemeanor.
2. A person who goes armed with a knife concealed on or about the person, if the person uses the knife in the commission of a crime, commits an aggravated misdemeanor.
3. A person who goes armed with a knife concealed on or about the person, if the person does not use the knife in the commission of a crime:
a. If the knife has a blade exceeding eight inches in length, commits an aggravated misdemeanor.
b. If the knife has a blade exceeding five inches but not exceeding eight inches in length, commits a serious misdemeanor.
4. Subsections 1 through 3 do not apply to any of the following:
a. A person who goes armed with a dangerous weapon in the person’s own dwelling or place of business, or on land owned or possessed by the person.
b. A peace officer, when the officer’s duties require the person to carry such weapons.
c. A member of the armed forces of the United States or of the national guard or person in the service of the United States, when the weapons are carried in connection with the person’s duties as such.
d. A correctional officer, when the officer’s duties require, serving under the authority of the Iowa department of corrections.
e. A person who for any lawful purpose carries an unloaded pistol, revolver, or other dangerous weapon inside a closed and fastened container or securely wrapped package which is too large to be concealed on the person.
[…] h. A person who carries a knife used in hunting or fishing, while actually engaged in lawful hunting or fishing.
i. A person who has in the person’s possession and who displays to a peace officer on demand a valid permit to carry weapons which has been issued to the person, and whose conduct is within the limits of that permit. A person shall not be convicted of a violation of this section if the person produces at the person’s trial a permit to carry weapons which was valid at the time of the alleged offense and which would have brought the person’s conduct within this exception if the permit had been produced at the time of the alleged offense.

It is illegal to conceal carry a knife over 5 inches in blade length in Iowa. Over 8 inches and you are in even worse trouble. Open carry is not restricted.

A knife under 5 inches can still count as a dangerous weapon and can still fall under this concealed knife ban if the use makes it dangerous. In the case of State v. Caballero, the court’s unpublished opinion stated that the knife was a concealed dangerous weapon even though it was under 5 inches because of how the defendant was acting. Unpublished opinions are not precedence which means that it won’t affect the law but this gives you an idea of what courts have determined “dangerous weapons” to mean in the past.

Balisong knives, also called butterfly knives, are dangerous weapons in Iowa. The state has found that balisongs were designed for fighting and had no utility uses. Even if a balisong is under 5 inches, it would still count as a dangerous weapon. (The court misinterpreted the facts because balisongs were originally designed as a utility knife in the Philippines.)

Sword canes, and other disguised knives, are dangerous weapons in Iowa. The case of State v. McCoy found that a sword cane, and other disguised knives, counts as carrying a concealed weapon because the cane conceals the hidden knife. What this means is that you should not take your sword cane out of your house.

Ban on Ballistic Knives

Iowa Code § 724.1 (2012)

724.1 Offensive weapons.

An offensive weapon is any device or instrumentality of the following types:
[…] 5. A ballistic knife. A ballistic knife is a knife with a detachable blade which is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism, elastic material, or compressed gas.

Iowa Code § 724.3 (2012)

724.3 Unauthorized possession of offensive weapons.

Any person, other than a person authorized herein, who knowingly possesses an offensive weapon commits a class “D” felony.

It is very illegal to own a spring, elastic, or gas powered ballistic knife in Iowa. If you happened to own a gunpowder powered ballistic knife, it would become a federal crime since it counts as a firearm.

Conclusion on Iowa Knife Laws

It is illegal for you to own a ballistic knife in Iowa. Besides that, there are only limits to concealed carry of knives. There are no limits to open carry.

It is illegal for you to carry concealed a balisong, dagger, stiletto, razor, switchblade, or knife with a blade over 5 inches. Other knives that are less than 5 inches can still count as a dangerous weapon if you use it in a dangerous way.

Note that this is not legal advice and there is no client-lawyer relationship here. Also note that county laws will also come into play and you need to look those up to get a clear understanding of knife laws around your area.

If you need legal advice, talk to a real lawyer.


  • Carrying weapons. Iowa Code 724.4 (2012). Retrieved January 18, 2013, from LexisNexis database.
  • Dangerous weapon. Iowa Code 702.7 (2012). Retrieved January 18, 2013, from LexisNexis database.
  • Offensive weapons. Iowa code 724.1 (2012). Retrieved January 18, 2013, from LexisNexis database.
  • Jared

    You may want to add in your simplified explanation that all the carry restrictions listed are not applicable to concealed weapons permit holders. That’s usually referred to as a concealed (gun) carry permit, but if you have one you can legally carry concealed the above mentioned knives.

  • Kristoffer

    Just thought I’d add this in.

    According to Iowa SF-2379:

    Non-firearm dangerous weapons may be carried openly without a permit.

    This includes: Knives with blades exceeding 5 inches in length, switchblade knives, tasers/stunguns, or any other Non-firearm dangerous weapon.

    Translation – Legally, I can strap my 12 inch bowie to my leg, and go about my business throughout the day, (shopping, pumping gas, painting my house, walking my dog, etc.) without ever breaking any laws.

    Now mind you, different Counties may have stricter policies on carrying weapons, so look into that, first.

  • Leo

    Now I would not advise that anyone ever do this, however by definition a tesla coil used on private property is not technically a dangerous weapon because it is not portable, where a taser or stun gun is. Additionally, iowa code 704 detailing reasonable force in Iowa for self and home defense, specified that you may not use a spring gun or trap and i quote, for defense, but again the tesla coil is a gray area in iowa law. It just hasent been an issue in the wording of Iowa code, YET. F.Y.I. using a tesla coil sets the user up for a murder charge, so dont do it.

  • Ike

    Is it legal to open carry a k-bar knife?

  • A_Fatty_Blade

    Alright so open carrying a knife is totally legal but for what ages aka if I’m under 18 oc a 14in knife (10in blade) am I gonna get a ticket?

  • Michael

    Any knife that is not ballistic is OK to carry openly in Iowa. This does not mean that law enforcement might detain you if you have a K-Bar strapped to your leg. Cops don’t like it when you carry a weapon. I carry my K-Bar everyday openly and have yet to be questioned by the law. But I have been asked by law enforcement as to why I have the knife. I just say it is a tool and that we live in a dangerous world. And that coming from the guy with a gun on his hip.
    So use your own judgment in these matters and be courteous when asked.

  • John

    Now whats the limits on the carrying of a knife in your car? Could I have one that exceeds 5″ in my car and be ok, or is that illegal?

  • dale yoder

    So I can legally carry a switchblade as long as it isn’t concealed

  • Sam

    So define open carry of a knife. I understand strapping it to your leg. But if I have a 6 inch folding knife in my pocket, you can see the clip. So does that count as open carry? Also, if I have my permit to carry a firearm, can I carry that 6 inch folder too?