Maryland Knife Laws

Maryland’s knife laws are somewhat archaic and cryptic. This article will clear the matter for you in everyday English. It gives you an outline of what is allowed and what is not allowed along with law citations and case examples. It than goes into detail about how the law works so that you can understand Maryland knife law inside and out.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a balisong knife, also called butterfly knife.
  • it is legal to own dirks, daggers, stilettos, and other slim knives.
  • It is legal to own switchblades, gravity knives, and automatic knives.
  • It is legal to own ballistic knives.
  • It is legal to own disguised knives like belt knives and lipstick knives.
  • It is legal to own throwing stars and throwing knives.
  • It is legal to own undetectable knives.
  • It is legal to own Bowie knives and other large knives.

There are no limitation on the type of knife you can own in Maryland.

Limits on Carry

  • You can not conceal carry a throwing star, dirk, switchblade, gravity knife, or bowie knife.
  • You can not open carry a throwing star, dirk, switchblade, gravity knife, or bowie knife with the intent to harm someone.
  • You can open or conceal carry any sized pocket knife you wish.

If a knife is not listed above, it is most likely to be legal for concealed or open carry. Read on to see why.

What the Law States

Dangerous Weapons Defined

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-101 (2012)

§ 4-101. Dangerous weapons

(a) Definitions. —

(4) “Star knife” means a device used as a throwing weapon, consisting of several sharp or pointed blades arrayed as radially disposed arms about a central disk.

(5) (i) “Weapon” includes a dirk knife, bowie knife, switchblade knife, star knife, sandclub, metal knuckles, razor, and nunchaku.

(ii) “Weapon” does not include: 1. a handgun; or 2. a penknife without a switchblade.

(c) Prohibited. —

(1) A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person.

(2) A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon, chemical mace, pepper mace, or a tear gas device openly with the intent or purpose of injuring an individual in an unlawful manner.

(3) (i) This paragraph applies in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, Cecil County, Harford County, Kent County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, St. Mary’s County, Talbot County, Washington County, and Worcester County.

(ii) A minor may not carry a dangerous weapon between 1 hour after sunset and 1 hour before sunrise, whether concealed or not, except while:

1. on a bona fide hunting trip; or

2. engaged in or on the way to or returning from a bona fide trap shoot, sport shooting event, or any organized civic or military activity.

(d) Penalties. —

(1) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.

(2) For a person convicted under subsection (c)(1) or (2) of this section, if it appears from the evidence that the weapon was carried, concealed or openly, with the deliberate purpose of injuring or killing another, the court shall impose the highest sentence of imprisonment prescribed.

This law bans the concealed carry of dangerous weapons and the open carry of dangerous weapons with intent to harm. The law states that dirks, Bowies, throwing stars, and switchblades are types of knives considered to be dangerous weapons per se. The law also says that a penknife without a switchblade can never be a dangerous weapon.

What is a penknife? Penknives are similar to modern day pocket knives. A penknife is an archaic term that is rarely heard of outside knife collecting circles. Back in the day when people wrote letters with feathers, they needed pen knives to sharpen the quills. Originally pen knives looked kind of like old-fashioned x-acto knives but, after time, they transformed into folding knives.

The case of Bacon v. State in 1991 found that a penknife is still a penknife even if it is huge or small, open or closed, has a lock or not, and carried concealed or in the open. Bacon was found not guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon when he was carrying a Buck knife. A Buck knife is a folding knife that locks into place in the open position.

What this means is that you can carry any sized pocket knife you want as long as it does not have a switch that automatically opens it (or you have the intent to harm someone). Stanley v. State in 1997 also stated that the it is the state’s job to prove that the knife is not a penknife. If the opposite was true, it would be the convicted’s job to prove that his/her knife is a penknife. By placing the burden of proof on the state, the category of “penknife without a switchblade” would include more knives than if the burden of proof was on the defendant. This also reduces the defendant’s lawyer fees as well.

From here, we know that dirks, switchblades, Bowies, and throwing stars are always illegal to carry concealed. We also know that pocket knives of any size (“penkives”) are always legal to carry. What does that mean for knives that are not in either of these categories? Case precedence clarifies the issue.

How a Knife is Determined to be a Dangerous Weapon

The case of Savoy v. State in 1964 found that a gravity knife is similar enough to a switchblade that it is a dangerous weapon per se. A switchblade is a knife that opens when the user presses a button. The button releases a spring and the blade extends. A gravity knife is a knife that opens when a user presses the button as well. Instead of a spring, the gravity knife uses the force of gravity to extend the blade. Because of this case, gravity knives are banned in Maryland as well.

Now we know that gravity knives, switchblades, dirks, and Bowies are always illegal to carry concealed. However, there are still more knife types (read about all the types of knives that exist) in the market than that. The law doesn’t state exactly what other types are dangerous per se but case law gives us an outline of the legal process of determining if a knife is a dangerous weapon or not.

First off, the state must prove that the item is a weapon. The case of Anderson v. State (1992) found that, if an item is not listed as a weapon per se in the law, the state has the burden of proof to show that the item falls in the category of weapons. The burden of proof required is beyond a reasonable doubt (Mackall v. State 2978). We’ve also stated earlier that the state must also prove, even if the item is a weapon, that it is not a weapon that would be considered a “penknife without a switchblade.”

What this means is that a frying pan is never a weapon and, if you hit someone on the head with a frying pan, you will not be guilty of carrying a dangerous weapon in an unlawful manner (but you’ll probably be guilty of something else). This would also mean that most knives designed for a utility purpose would never be considered weapons.

Once the state proves that the item is in fact a weapon, it must prove that the item is a dangerous weapon. The state must show that the item is capable of being deadly or dangerous and that the item was used in a way that would make it deadly and dangerous (Handy v. State 2000).

The state must go on to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was intent to use the knife to harm others (Anderson v. State 1992). Just merely having a knife on you is not a crime no matter how large or menacing the knife looks. However, if you are carrying a knife when you are duct behind a bush with gloves and a mask on, it might be a different story.

No Knives at School

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-102 (2012)

§ 4-102. Deadly weapons on school property

(a) Exceptions. — This section does not apply to:

(1) a law enforcement officer in the regular course of the officer’s duty;

(2) a person hired by a county board of education specifically for the purpose of guarding public school property;

(3) a person engaged in organized shooting activity for educational purposes; or

(4) a person who, with a written invitation from the school principal, displays or engages in a historical demonstration using a weapon or a replica of a weapon for educational purposes.

(b) Prohibited. — A person may not carry or possess a firearm, knife, or deadly weapon of any kind on public school property.

(c) Penalty. —

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.

(2) A person who is convicted of carrying or possessing a handgun in violation of this section shall be sentenced under Subtitle 2 of this title.

This law makes it illegal to bring a knife to school. If you are in school and are reading this, don’t do it!

Can Not Sell Switchblades or Ballistic Knives

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-105 (2012)

§ 4-105. Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife

(a) Prohibited. — A person may not sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter:

(1) a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife; or

(2) a device that is designed to propel a knife from a metal sheath by means of a high-compression ejector spring, commonly called a shooting knife.

(b) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or a fine of not less than $ 50 and not exceeding $ 500 or both.

This law bans the sale of switchblades and ballistic knives in the state of Maryland. From case law discussed earlier, we know that gravity knives are considered switchblades as well and, therefore, banned from being sold.

Notice that the law does not say you can not own these types of knives. Ownership is legal, selling is not. Therefore, you can buy a switchblade online in Maryland and be OK as long as you leave it at home.

Conclusion

All knives are banned from Maryland schools. Dirks, Bowies, switchblades and gravity knives are banned from being carried concealed. Dirks, Bowies, switchblades and gravity knives are banned from being carried in the open when you have the intent to harm someone. Penknives without switchblades and most other knives are legal to carry concealed. There are no limits to how large your pocket knife can be in Maryland and, as long as you don’t use it to hurt people, you should be fine.

Note that there are also county laws that come into play as well. Look up the law of your county to get an even clearer idea of what is allowed and what is not. This is not legal advice and there is no client-attorney relationship therefore talk to an attorney in your area if you need assistance.

References

  • Anderson v. State. 328 Md. 426, 614 A.2d 963 (1992). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Bacon v. State, 322 Md. 140, 586 A.2d 18 (1991). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Dangerous weapons. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-101  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Deadly weapons on school property. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-102  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Handy v. State, 357 Md. 685, 745 A.2d 1107 (2000). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Savoy v. State, 236 Md. 36, 202 A.2d 324 (1964). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife. Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-105  (2012). Retrieved January 20, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
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7 comments on “Maryland Knife Laws
  1. William says:

    My Question Is, If I Am Carrying My Folding Pen Knife In My Pocket, And I Am Attacked By Someone With A Club Or Baseball Bat, Or Multiple Attackers, Is It Legal To Use My Pen Knife For Self Defense?

  2. John Sullivan says:

    Is “school property” defined as both public and private schools?

  3. smmim says:

    William, yes, you can do pretty much anything in self-defense, including hurting people with a knife.

  4. BBresee says:

    So, I am trying to research alternative self defense weapons since getting a permit in MD (or so I’ve heard) is nearly impossible. It looks like it said pepper spray is illegal to carry? Or am I misunderstanding? More info pls on this and any other thoughts on what LEGAL options I have for carrying and owning, if you dont mind. I’d really appreciate it.

  5. SteveR says:

    BBresee: Pepper spray is LEGAL to carry and use for self-defense purposes in Maryland. I carry it when walking my dog due to people walking the dog without a leash and I’ve used over two cans in the last 9 months and the police just asked for my side of the story, no confiscation, fines or jail involved for me (as long as the intended purpose is not to use it as an offensive weapon).

    It is illegal to carry in DC without notifying the local police that you are carrying, or so I have understood it.

  6. Billy says:

    So you can carry a Butterfly Knife openly as long as you do not have the intent to harm someone?

  7. Avery says:

    Two questions about throwing knives.
    1: can I carry a throwing knife if it isn’t concealed and it’s only for self defense, for example a pack of three identical knives hung from my belt in a sheath?
    2: can an ordinary double edged straight dagger be considered a throwing knife if I have enough skill to use it as such, even if the knife was not manufactured for that purpose? The reason I’m asking this is because it seems in my mind that a knife is only useful for protection if my attacker is also using a knife. And in these days if I were to get mugged chances are my assailant would probably have a ranged weapon like a gun, and might even have a partner. So I’d feel safer knowing i could carry something more useful than a standard melee only weapon without having to go get myself a gun.

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