Massachusetts Knife Law

The laws of Massachusetts are very cryptic. They are written in extremely confusing run-on sentences and a lot of the law requires an in-depth look at case law to fully understand what is legal and illegal. This article will give you a clear idea of Massachusetts knife laws in everyday English. It will also give you the law with explanations of each clause.

What is Legal to Own

  • Balisong knives, also called butterfly knives, are legal to own.
  • Switchblades and automatic knives are legal to own.
  • Ballistic knives are legal to own.
  • Dirks, daggers, stilettos, and push knives are legal to own.
  • Knives with brass knuckles are legal to own.
  • Disguised knives like cane knives and lipstick knives are legal to own.
  • Bowie knives and other large knives are legal to own.
  • Throwing knives and throwing stars are legal to own.

There is no knife ban in Massachusetts.

Limits on Carry

  • It is illegal to carry, open or concealed, switchblades, dirks, daggers, stilettos, ballistic knife, double edge knives, and knuckle knives.
  • It is illegal to carry anything that is perceived as dangerous while disturbing the peace or being arrested.
  • Folding knives, Swiss army knives, and kitchen knives are legal to carry as long as you do not behave in a way that makes them dangerous.

There are a few more details to the law that can’t be explained in bullet points. Read below for the full explanation.

What the Law Says

Unlawful Carrying of Weapons

ALM GL ch. 269, § 10 (2012)

§ 10. Weapons — Dangerous Weapons — Unlawfully Carrying.

(b) Whoever, except as provided by law, carries on his person, or carries on his person or under his control in a vehicle, any stiletto, dagger or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position, any ballistic knife, or any knife with a detachable blade capable of being propelled by any mechanism, dirk knife, any knife having a double-edged blade, or a switch knife, or any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches, or a slung shot, blowgun, blackjack, metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles, nunchaku, zoobow, also known as klackers or kung fu sticks, or any similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather, a shuriken or any similar pointed starlike object intended to injure a person when thrown, or any armband, made with leather which has metallic spikes, points or studs or any similar device made from any other substance or a cestus or similar material weighted with metal or other substance and worn on the hand, or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends; or whoever, when arrested upon a warrant for an alleged crime, or when arrested while committing a breach or disturbance of the public peace, is armed with or has on his person, or has on his person or under his control in a vehicle, a billy or other dangerous weapon other than those herein mentioned and those mentioned in paragraph (a), shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than two and one-half years nor more than five years in the state prison, or for not less than six months nor more than two and one-half years in a jail or house of correction, except that, if the court finds that the defendant has not been previously convicted of a felony, he may be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars or by imprisonment for not more than two and one-half years in a jail or house of correction.

(j) Whoever, not being a law enforcement officer, and notwithstanding any license obtained by him under the provisions of chapter one hundred and forty, carries on his person a firearm as hereinafter defined, loaded or unloaded or other dangerous weapon in any building or on the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, college or university without the written authorization of the board or officer in charge of such elementary or secondary school, college or university shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. For the purpose of this paragraph, “firearm” shall mean any pistol, revolver, rifle or smoothbore arm from which a shot, bullet or pellet can be discharged by whatever means.

Any officer in charge of an elementary or secondary school, college or university or any faculty member or administrative officer of an elementary or secondary school, college or university failing to report violations of this paragraph shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.

Did you notice something? All of that was one super long sentence. Let us break it down party by part to understand what the law says.

Stated as Illegal

Stilettos, daggers, ballistic knives, and dirks are all expressly forbidden from being carried, open or concealed. The law also forbids carrying a stiletto, dagger, ballistic knife, and dirk in the passenger area of the car. (Placing it in the trunk or in a locked box does does not count as carry). The law does not stop here however so let us dive further.

In the same clause that lists daggers as being banned, the law says “or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position.” Daggers are long, double bladed knives with point tips. This addition to the clause would also ban any folding knife that has a lock that is able to be drawn in the locked and open position.

What Double Edged Blade Means

The law also says that “any knife having a double-edged blade” is banned. The law here states no length or size. Even if you have a double edged survival knife (where one side is a straight blade and the other side is a serrated blade), it would still be illegal.

The logic behind this is that a double edged knife’s purpose is more towards attack than utility. By having two edges, the second edge serves as a liability during utility use. Also, having two blades allows one to slash in any direction as well as stab.

Some Bowie knives with a sharpened clip, like this one, are illegal to carry in Massachusetts.

Some Bowie knives with a sharpened clip, like this one, are illegal to carry in Massachusetts.

The case of Commonwealth v. Smith in 1996 found that “any knife having a double-edged blade” includes knives who’s second blade does not full extend from the tip to the heel. The implications of this is that clip point knives whose clip is sharpened would be illegal to carry as well. This would include some types of Bowie knives.

Automatic Knives Clause

The law also says that “any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches” is banned from carry. The law said that switchblades were illegal but this additional clause would ban any automatic knife whose blade is greater than 1.5 inches. The key note here is the word automatic. If you are looking at a pocket knife who has a spring but requires a little push before it opens, it won’t be considered automatic. Balisong knives are not automatic either because, if you release the latch, nothing happens until you manually flip the knife.

No Knives with Knuckles

The law says “metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles” are illegal to carry. This would exclude some WWI trench knives and push knives if they have metal knuckles as a part of the handle.

This WWI trench knife would be illegal to carry because of the metal knuckles in the handle.

This WWI trench knife would be illegal to carry because of the metal knuckles in the handle.

Exclusions to Dangerous Weapons

In the latter part of the law, it says: or whoever, when arrested upon a warrant for an alleged crime, or when arrested while committing a breach or disturbance of the public peace, is armed with or has on his person, or has on his person or under his control in a vehicle, a billy or other dangerous weapon other than those herein mentioned.

This section of the law makes it illegal to carry any “dangerous weapon” when you are disturbing the peace or are arrested for any crime. If you were to be arrested for something and happen to carry a knife, you would be charged with unlawful carry just like if you were to carry a switchblade around since a knife can be a “dangerous weapon?”

No. The case of Commonwealth v. Henry in 1994 stated that kitchen knives, folding knives, and Swiss army knives are not dangerous weapons per se. However, depending on your conduct, any knife can be a dangerous weapon. The case of Commonwealth v. Molligi found that a steak knife is a dangerous weapon depending on an individual’s conduct. The case of Commonwealth v. Tarrant also defined the word dangerous as “whether the [item] presented an objective threat of danger to a person of reasonable and average sensibility.” So, if you carry something that others can perceive as dangerous, it is a dangerous weapon; or, if you carry something in a manner that makes others perceive it is dangerous, it is a dangerous weapon.

No Limits on Class A Licenses

Section J of the law states that, if you have a class A license, you can carry any knife (and gun) you would like. The law here is very relaxed and says you can even carry loaded semi-automatic rifles if you have a Class A license.

To obtain a Class A license, you need to be 21+, and attend a firearms course. The fee is $100 and the license is good for 6 years. You can obtain the paperwork from your local police department.

Limits on Manufacturing and Sale

ALM GL ch. 269, § 12 (2012)

§ 12. Non-Mechanical Weapons — Manufacturing and Sale.

Whoever manufactures or causes to be manufactured, or sells or exposes for sale, an instrument or weapon of the kind usually known as a dirk knife, a switch knife or any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position, any ballistic knife, or any knife with a detachable blade capable of being propelled by any mechanism, slung shot, sling shot, bean blower, sword cane, pistol cane, bludgeon, blackjack, nunchaku, zoobow, also known as klackers or kung fu sticks, or any similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather, a shuriken or any similar pointed starlike object intended to injure a person when thrown, or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends; or metallic knuckles or knuckles of any other substance which could be put to the same use and with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles, shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than six months; provided, however, that sling shots may be manufactured and sold to clubs or associations conducting sporting events where such sling shots are used.

This law bans the sale of certain weapons. Notice that there is no law against buying and collecting such weapons. Notice also that, if you buy it from a different state (or online), it is totally legal.

No Knives in Schools

ALM GL ch. 71, § 37H (2012)

§ 37H. Committee to Publish Rules and Regulations.

Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, all student handbooks shall contain the following provisions:

(a) Any student who is found on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games, in possession of a dangerous weapon, including, but not limited to, a gun or a knife; or a controlled substance as defined in chapter ninety-four C, including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, may be subject to expulsion from the school or school district by the principal.

If you are in school and are reading this, don’t bring knives to school. This should be common sense.

Conclusion to Massachusetts Knife Laws

The knife laws in Massachusetts are somewhat confusing. They are written in very, very long archaic fashion that, for the average person, seems like a foreign language. From our analysis of the law, we have found that:

  • There are no limits to what types of knives you can own. The law only limits the carry of some knives.
  • Stilettos, daggers, dirks, double edged knives, ballistic knives, knives with knuckles and automatic knives are forbidden from carry unless you have a Class A license.
  • It is illegal to sell some knives in Massachusetts.
  • It is illegal to carry anything that can be perceived as dangerous when you are arrested or disturbing the peace. Kitchen knives, swiss army knives, and folding knives are not dangerous per se but can be if you use them in a certain manner.
  • Do not bring knives to school.

Note that this is not legal advice and there is no client-attorney relationship. There are also county laws that come into play as well so, if you need legal help, talk to an attorney in your area.

If you have any questions or comments, post them in the comment box below.

References

  • Committee to Publish Rules and Regulations. ALM GL ch. 71, § 37H (2012). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Commonwealth v. Molligi. 70 Mass. App. Ct. 108; 872 N.E.2d 1166; 2007 Mass. App. LEXIS 975 (2007). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Commonwealth v. Smith. 40 Mass App 770, 667 NE2d 1160, 1996 Mass App LEXIS 746 (1996). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Comonwealth v. Tarrant. 367 Mass. 411; 326 N.E.2d 710; 1975 Mass. LEXIS 855 (1975). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Commonwealth v. Henry. 37 Mass App 429, 640 NE2d 503, 1994 Mass App LEXIS 916(1994). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Manufacturing and Sale. ALM GL ch. 269, § 12 (2012). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
  • Unlawful Carry. ALM GL ch. 269, § 10 (2012). Retrieved January 24, 2013 from LexisNexis database.
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18 comments on “Massachusetts Knife Law
  1. John says:

    Is there a limit to the length of a blade for a folding knife that locks when fully opened?

    Thanks,

    John

  2. Pat says:

    @john, no. Just don’t stab people.

  3. Jane says:

    ch. 269 s. 10 “having a blade of over one and one-half inches” what is that refering too.

  4. Sean says:

    Could someone provide a link to a reference regarding the carry of knives with a class A LTC. All I can find regarding the class A refers to permissions for firearms, large capacity magazine, ammunition, mace and pepper spray, nothing about knives.

  5. Bob says:

    I’ve looked at a lot of pages and opinions and just want to know for certain my rights. I have a12 inch, one side bladed, Bowie knife, with a plastic sheath for belt. Is this legal to carry on my belt in view in Massachusetts? And also New Hampshire? Just want to know how I can carry my knife. Also I have a friend with a past felony charge with the same question. Any help or info on this is much appreciated, thank you.

  6. Jon says:

    Hey, my brother gave me a knife that is a fixed blade, also single edged. The blade is about 7 and 1/2 inches. Could you give me a little info on what’s allowed with this type? It’s like a bowie, but isn’t one exactly.

  7. brandon says:

    im 17 years old is there a certain age requirement to carry?

  8. sean says:

    I have a 12 inch bowie knife and sheeth is That legal to Carry if. Not consealed

  9. Adam Gleason says:

    In your article you list that a class A LTC makes any knife legal to carry, does this supersede the earlier restrictions listed, specifically carrying a knife with a second “blade?”

    To be specific, I am interested in designing and carrying on my person a modified version of the David R. Beck “Tracker.” This was the “Flay Blade” style knife with a serrated back made famous in the movie “The Hunted” with Benicio Del Toro.

    If I carry this survival style knife with a blade on one side and a saw-like serration over half of the back side is it illegal though I have my class A in Mass? Please advise.

    This is not the exact version I am making, but close enough to be the same for the purposes of this conversation. See the model “C” version for a good idea of what I want to use.

    http://www.drbeckknives.com/WSK-KNIVES.html

    Thank you,

  10. Jeff says:

    There’s nothing in section J that says a Class A license allows you to carry edged weapons that others are not allowed to carry.

  11. NicoleK says:

    I am Wiccan and would like to bring my athame to Boston with me. An athame is a religious knife central to Wiccan ritual. It is a long double edged knife, though the edges are dull, with a sharp point, a bit like an oversized, sharp letter opener.

    I will leave it in my suitcase, and when I go to where I’m staying I will put it in the trunk, but what about between baggage claim and the car? I will have it in the suitcase, does that count as carrying it on my person?

    Thanks,
    Nicole

  12. Mike says:

    Before someone goes and gets themselves locked up… YOU CANNOT CARRY A LOADED RIFLE OF ANY KIND OUTSIDE OF HUNTING IN MASSACHUSETTS. With or without a Class A LTC. Only while hunting. Yes the laws don’t make sense but when people start interpreting and putting stuff like that out there someone somewhere will believe it…

  13. Barry says:

    My question is the same as Nicole’s. I am Wiccan too and Have a couple Athame’s . I do carry one because it is part of my religion.I have altered the handle but the two sides have never been sharpened.

  14. Zach says:

    i am 14 and wondering if it is legal for me to own a butterfly knife

  15. Randy Turgeon says:

    Are throwing knives and shurikens legal to carry, only for transport to a safe place to practice with them, with a Class A Ltc. ? And, if they are legal, can the same form of carry and/or transportation take place with throwing knives ??

    Thanks

  16. Kenia says:

    Hi,
    I am purchasing a nice dagger from a vendor in Canada. It is a decorative piece, however it’s relatively long (13″, being 9″ blade). Do I need some special authorization to have it delivered in MA?

  17. KaTee says:

    Hi!
    The text is very clarifying, thanks! However… I still have a couple questions I’d love to have help with.
    I need to purchase a dagger, for religious purposes. It can have dull edges (like a big envelope opener), because it is only cerinomial, but still… I will have to buy it and then make the edges dull, probably. That implies I should go somewhere, buy it and bring it back. I am OK applying for some sort of permit, but couldn’t find exactly what is the place I should go to apply for such a permit.
    Second question is: once it has dull edges, is it still considered a double-edge knife (a dagger)? Or at this point I could carry it with me for some open area cerimony? Of course there are limits, one should NOT open such thing that looks like a weapon in the middle of the street! Just carrying to go to some isolated area, I mean.
    I am confused…
    I’d really appreciate any advice!

  18. marc peters says:

    Wrong ,,,,you can only carry a non double edge non automatic not concealed non serrated,no brass knuckels period

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