New Jersey Knife Laws

njNew Jersey knife laws are wordy and oftentimes difficult to understand if one does not have formal legal education or training. This article takes New Jersey code and case law concerning knife ownership and carry and puts it into a language that makes it easy for anyone to understand what is legal and what is not.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife
  • It is legal to own disguised knives like lipstick knives
  • It is legal to own a Bowie knife
  • It is legal to won throwing stars and throwing knives
  • Any weapon for which a person has an explainable lawful purpose for owning

What is Illegal to Own

  • It is illegal to own any weapon, with the purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of another
  • It is illegal for a person convicted of certain crimes (see below) to own a gravity knife, switchblade, dirk, dagger, stiletto, or other dangerous knife
  • It is illegal for certain mentally ill people to own a gravity knife, switchblade, dirk, dagger, stiletto, or other dangerous knife
  • It is illegal to own a gravity knife, switchblade, dirk, dagger, stiletto, or other dangerous knife with any explainable lawful purpose

A conviction for aggravated assault, arson, burglary, escape, extortion, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, bias intimidation, possession of a prohibited weapon, possession of weapon for an unlawful purpose, manufacture or transport of a prohibited weapon, unlawful possession or sale of a controlled dangerous substance, or endangering the welfare of a child prevents a person from owning certain types of knives in New Jersey.

Definition of Weapon

The New Jersey legislature has defined weapon as anything “readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury”. It further states that the term includes gravity knives, switchblade knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, or other “dangerous” knives. In 1982, in State v. Brown, the New Jersey Appellate Court found that a person does not need to intend to use a knife as a weapon in order for it to be considered a dangerous knife, and therefore a weapon. This decision can make it difficult for a person to determine if a particular knife is legal to own, as it could be considered a dangerous knife, even if the owner has no intention of using it to harm another. However, because New Jersey law allows for the possession of a dangerous knife, by those who have a legal purpose for owning them, any knife may be considered legal if owned for a “lawful purpose”.

Definition of Lawful Purpose

The phrase “lawful purpose” was challenged in State v. Blaine, when Mr. Blaine was discovered carrying a folding knife with a 4 inch blade. The Court reasoned that because the knife carried by Mr. Blaine was not a gravity knife, switchblade knife, dagger, dirk or stiletto, those knives specifically mentioned by new Jersey statute as weapons, the defendant may escape a guilty finding, if the state cannot prove that he carried the knife for an unlawful purpose. As such, because there was no proof that Mr. Blaine did not carry the knife for a lawful purpose, he could not be found guilty of carrying an illegal weapon. The Blaine Court cited State v. Lee, in which the legislature’s intent, when enacting the law prohibiting the carrying of certain knives, was examined. In Lee, the Court described this intent as addressing:

…the situation in which someone who has not yet formed an intent to use an object as a weapon possesses it under circumstances in which it is likely to be so used. The obvious intent of the Legislature was to address a serious societal problem, the threat of harm to others from the possession of objects that can be used as weapons under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses as those objects may have. Some objects that may be used as weapons also have more innocent purposes. For example, a machete can be a lethal weapon or a useful device for deep sea fishing.

In 2000, the New Jersey Supreme Court further clarified “lawful purpose” in State v. Burford, by describing two categories of deadly weapons as well as a third category of weapons, that it said may take on the characteristics of a deadly weapon, but that may also have a wide variety of lawful uses. The Court said that when determining whether a defendant possessing a weapon that falls within this third class of weapons is guilty of the unlawful possession of a deadly weapon, one must look at the circumstances under which it is possessed.

Exceptions to Unlawful Possession of a Knife

A person may not be convicted of the unlawful possession of a knife if he or she is carrying the knife for hunting or fishing purposes, the knife is legal and appropriate for hunting or fishing, and the person has a valid hunting or fishing license. A person is also exempt from the unlawful possession statue if he or she is transporting a legal knife to or from a place for the purpose of hunting or fishing, so long as he or she has a valid hunting or fishing license. When carrying a knife for such purposes, the statute requires that it be locked in a box or the trunk of the vehicle in which it is being transported.

Restrictions on Carry

New Jersey statute does not impose any restrictions on the carrying of any legal knife. However, if a defendant is found carrying a gravity knife, switchblade knife, dagger, dirk, or stiletto (those knives specifically mentioned by New Jersey statute as a weapon), he or she may be charged with possession of a dangerous weapon, if there are circumstances which may lead one to believe that the knife is being possessed for an illegal purpose.

Definitions of Various Types of Knives

New Jersey code, 2C:39-1 defines a gravity knife as any knife that has a blade, which is released from the handle by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force (spinning the knife around). It also provides a definition for the term switchblade knife, which means any knife or instrument that has a blade, which opens automatically by pressing a button, spring, or other device on the handle. A ballistic knife, according the New Jersey statute is a weapon or other instrument capable of lethal use and which can propel a knife blade.

Knives Found in Vehicles

New Jersey code 2C:39-2, provides that when a weapon is found in a vehicle, it will be presumed to be in the possession of all of the occupants of the vehicle unless:

1. It is found on the person of one of the occupants, then it will be considered to be in his or her possession, OR

2. The weapon is out of view of the occupants (such as in the glove box), then it will be presumed to be in the possession of the person having access to such space, (the driver, owner, or person who rented or leased the vehicle), OR

3. The vehicle is a cab and the weapon is found in the passenger compartment, in which case it will be presumed to be in possession of all of the passengers and if there are no passengers, it will be presumed to be in possession of the driver of the cab.

Conclusion on New Jersey Knife Law

While persons who have been convicted of certain crimes or who are mentally ill may not possess dirks, daggers, switchblades, stilettos, or gravity knives, anyone else may own any type of knife they wish, as long as they have a lawful purpose for owning it, and do not intend to use it to harm another or his or her property.

New Jersey knife carry laws are quite unrestrictive, allowing for the open or concealed carry of any legal knife.

The laws in New Jersey are very vague about when it is legal to possess or carry a dirk, dagger, switchblade, stiletto, or gravity knife, and anyone carrying any of these knives in New Jersey should be very careful to avoid any circumstances, which may indicate that he or she is not carrying the knife for a legal purpose.

Sources

  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-1 (2013)
  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-2 (2013)
  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-4 (2013)
  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-5 (2013)
  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-6 (2013)
  • N.J. Stat. § 2C:39-7 (2013)
  • State v. Brown, 185 N.J. Super. 449 A.2d 1314 (App.Div. 1982)
  • State v. Blaine, 533 A.2d 980 (1987 N.J. Super.)
  • State v. Burford, 746 A.2d 998 (2000 N.J. Super.)

Comments

  1. I just bought a SOG Gambit from walmart, its a very small bladed knife (google it), wanted to keep it on my person for self defense. I live in camden, and anything can happen there at any time. So would carrying this knife for that purpose be lawful?

  2. Is it legal for kids to have knives at home? But under the limit.Precisely 6 inches but the blade is 2 inches and the handle is 4.

  3. inwas looking at a benchmade butterfly knife. That is 100% legal right?

    1. Yes and No butterfly knives are classified as gravity knives and from what I rememeber as Lon as you don’t carry it, you’re good you can keep it in your house it’s safe. But when you are carrying it and get caught by the police it is considered an illegal knife.

  4. Weird question, do metal training knives that are blunt/completely dulled count as a different type of weapon? Or do they count as a toy/training device? I’m considering acquiring a Karambit Fox 599-TK which is a blunt training karambit but wasn’t sure what it falls under if a cop notices it and tells me that it’s a knife even though it literally cannot cut.

  5. Hard to find but a Katana or dull Short Sword, is it legal or illegal?

  6. This article is pretty well-written, but it gets a few things confused.

    Any knife that is listed in 2C:39-3 requires an explainable lawful purpose, as the article mentions. 2C:39-3 says:
    “Any person who knowingly has in his possession any gravity knife, switchblade knife, dagger, dirk, stiletto, billy, blackjack, metal knuckle, sandclub, slingshot, cestus or similar leather band studded with metal filings or razor blades imbedded in wood, ballistic knife, without any explainable lawful purpose, is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.” If you were arrested for possession of one of these knives, you would need to provide in court the lawful purpose. At that time, according to State v. Blaine, the state would now have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the purpose you stated was not lawful.

    Any knife that isn’t in that list, such as a folding or assisted-open knife, does NOT fall under the “explainable lawful purpose” test. Instead, it falls under a better, more permissive test defined in 2C:39-5(d): “Any person who knowingly has in his possession any other weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for such lawful uses as it may have is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.”

    In order to make an arrest the state must have the ability to demonstrate that the knife was not appropriate for the knife’s lawful uses. If you were arrested anyway, the state would have to prove that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. “Ooh look, that knife is scary looking,” does not make it inappropriate. This does NOT mean that you have to show that the knife IS appropriate. Instead, if a knife has a circumstance that IS appropriate for its use, such as utility purposes, and there is not another incriminating factor (such as you breaking into someone’s house with it), according to State v. Blaine the state cannot meet its burden of proof. State v. Blaine further makes it explicitly clear that you can carry a folding knife clipped to a pocket, because that was its test case that caused the ruling in the first place. A folding knife does NOT require an “explainable lawful purpose.”

  7. Good info guys, thanks! I am from NJ but moved to GA 15 years ago… But my new job is headquartered in NJ. I am licensed to carry a concealed handgun in public in 32 states, but of course I can’t bring one and carry in NJ when I am up there. So when I travel up for work from time to time, I guess I can toss a good folding knife into my checked luggage(not carry on, obviously) and carry that when I am up there… better than nothing I guess, although I feel naked going anywhere without a firearm on me, it is second nature now…

    So it looks like assisted openers and flipper or thumb stud folding knives, that lock open, are good to go? I normally carry an EDC knife with a 3.25 to 3.75″ blade, but maybe if that will be my sole item for protection, I might want to step up to something a little larger…

    Thoughts?

  8. I’m looking to buy either a “Gerber Covert Spring Assisted Knife” or the “Gerber Mini Covert Spring Assisted Knife.” I just really like these two knives and I was wondering if it is legal to carry them in my pocket while I’m just walking around on walks to the park and the like.

  9. I carry a folding knife all the time and find it useful for opening boxes, scraping things off walls, prying things open etc. now if I’m attacked I’ll most likely use my fists. But if I pull out the knife I’m serious and will defend my life. My father worked in a slaughter house and I grew up around knives and people who really knew how to use them so yes I know where the arteries are for slicing and what vital organs are for stabbing.

    1. arteries & organ are basic knowledge 101, was working in a slaughter house really needed?

    2. Well it was a Kosher slaughter house where only knives are used for killing, skinning and butchering. So knife skills and knowledge of organs was part of the trade. For example a knife used for boning is different that other knives. Each knife has a reason and honing each knife was important. Sorry if that upsets you but using a sharp knife is more humane and quick.

    3. LOL, a kosher slaughter house. Everyone knows that set of folks are some of the biggest slobs…

  10. Can you bring a knife to a middle school in order to stop an armed gunman

    1. I don’t think the “intention to stop an armed gunman” would be a very good case for “lawful purpose”. Why would ask this kind of question anyway…

    2. lolllll.

      no but u can bring one to an elementary school

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