North Carolina Knife Laws

ncNorth Carolina knife laws are wordy and may be difficult for anyone without legal training to follow. This article describes both the statutes and Court decisions, or case law, concerning the ownership and carrying of knives in North Carolina, and puts it all in a language and order that makes it easy to read and follow.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knife
  • It is legal to own a switchblade
  • It is legal to own a gravity knife
  • It is legal to own a disguised knife, such as in a pen or lipstick

What is Illegal to Own

  • It is illegal to own any spring-loaded projectile knife
  • It is illegal to own a ballistic knife
  • It is illegal to own any weapon of similar character to a projectile or ballistic knife

What the Law States

§ 14-269. Carrying concealed weapons

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person willfully and intentionally to carry concealed about his person any bowie knife, dirk, dagger, slung shot, loaded cane, metallic knuckles, razor, shurikin, stun gun, or other deadly weapon of like kind, except when the person is on the person’s own premises….

Restrictions on Carry

  • It is illegal to conceal carry a bowie knife
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dagger
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a butcher knife
  • It is legal to conceal carry a pocketknife
  • It is legal to open carry any legal knife
  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry any knife on a school campus, state property, or into a Courthouse
  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry any dangerous weapon at a parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration upon any private health care facility

Definitions of Various Types of Knives

North Carolina statute defines a pocket knife as a small knife, made to carry in a pocket or purse, which has its cutting edge and point entirely enclosed by the handle, and that may not be opened by a throwing, explosive, or spring action.

A switchblade is defined by statute as a knife containing a blade that opens automatically by the release of a spring or a similar device.

Neither the statues of North Carolina, nor the case law, define any other type of knife.

Definition of a Dangerous Weapon

A dangerous weapon includes bowie knives, dirks, daggers, or any weapon of like kind, a switchblade, or any object capable of causing serious injury or death if used as a weapon.

Definition of Concealed

In order to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, one must have the intent to conceal it. In 1882, in State v. C. F. Gilbert, the Supreme Court of North Carolina found that Mr. Gilbert had not meant to conceal the weapon he was carrying in his front pocket, but was merely transporting it from one place of business to another, and was therefore not guilty of carrying a concealed weapon. In State v. Dixon, in 1894, the Court found that it did not matter what a persons’ intention in carrying a concealed weapon was, the only intention that mattered was whether the carrier intended to conceal the weapon. It then upheld Mr. Dixon’s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, even though he carried it only for the lawful purpose of selling it. In this decision, the Court overruled prior case law, specifically State v. Harrison, where in 1885, it had found that Mr. Harrison could not be convicted of the concealed carry of a weapon that he carried only for the lawful purpose of trading it.

According to State v. McManus, a concealed weapon may either be concealed on the carriers’ person, or “about his person”, meaning that a weapon concealed within the reach and control of a defendant, is a concealed person for the purpose of North Carolina’s concealed carry statute. In State v. Gainey, the Court found that this means that a weapon hidden inside a vehicle may be a concealed weapon for the purpose of the conceal carry law. However, in the case of State v. Soles, the Court found that a gun concealed inside a backpack in Mr. Soles’ van, was not a concealed weapon under the statute, because the backpack was located in such as place as it could not be said that Mr. Soles had easy access to the gun.

Defenses to Conceal Carry Law

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269 provides a defense to the conceal carry law for weapons that are not a firearm; that you were engaged in, or on your way to or from an activity, in which the weapon is legitimately used, you used the weapon for that purpose, and you did not attempt to use the weapon for any illegal purpose. The statue does not describe any specific activities that a person must be engaged in when carrying a concealed weapon and the case law is silent on the issue. Commonly recognized activities where one would carry a knife, however, include hunting, fishing, trapping, and farming.

When the Open Carry of a Knife May Be Illegal

In 1843, in the case of State v. Huntley, the Supreme Court of North Carolina found that while a person may open carry any weapon, which is not illegal to own, for any lawful purpose, he or she may not do so in order to terrify or alarm the public. The Court held that though there is no statute prohibiting such carrying; it was a common law offense for which a person could be indicted.

Conclusion on North Carolina Knife Law

It is illegal to own a spring-loaded projectile knife, ballistic knife, or any similar weapon in North Carolina. However, “spring-loaded projectile knife” and “ballistic knife” are not defined by either statute or case law.

North Carolina allows for the open carry of any legal weapon, so long as you are not carrying it in order to terrify or alarm the public. It does not allow for the concealed carry of bowie knives, dirks, daggers, or butcher’s knives.

Sources

  • N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269 (2013)
  • N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.6 (2013)
  • N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-277.2 (2013)
  • State v. C. F. Gilbert, 87 N.C. 527 (1882)
  • State v. McManus, 89 N.C. 555 (1883)
  • State v. Erwin, 91 N.C. 545 (1884)
  • State v. Gainey, 160 S.E.2d 685 (1968)
  • State v. Huntley, 3 Ired. Law 418 (1843)
  • State v. Dixon, 19 S.E. 364
  • State v. Soles, 662 S.E.2d 564 (2008 N.C. App.)
  • State v. Harrision, 93 N.C. 605 (1885)

Comments

  1. Pocket Knife 4.5 inches total length when folded

    North Carolina Case Law:
    – “Carrying concealed weapons in reasonable apprehension of
    deadly assaults is not justification of a violation of the
    statutory offense, but in aggravation thereof, and may be
    considered by the trial judge in imposing the sentence…”
    (1916)
    – “A person acting in ignorance of the law in good faith and
    upon advice of the clerk of the court or of an attorney,
    but in violation of this section, is not excused.” (1907)
    – “Knife about 4-1/2 inches in overall length which, when
    folded, was clearly designed for carrying in a pocket or
    purse, was an ‘ordinary pocketknife’ as defined by this
    section.” (1989)

    1. I have a question as to the laws pertaining to the open-carry guidelines. Does this mean that a knife of less than 4.5 inches may be in a vehicle, or closed and carried in plain sight, in order to possibly cut steak or a food when cutlery is not provided for the purpose? The knife in question has a handle made for ease of grip by someone with disabilities, instead of trying to hold an all-purpose knife and suffering hand cramps. Such utensils are used extensively in eating meals with the most ease.

  2. “It is illegal to open or conceal carry any knife on a school campus, STATE PROPERTY, or into A COURTHOUSE,
    It is illegal to open or conceal carry any dangerous weapon at a PARADE, FUNERAL PROCESSION, picket line, or demonstration upon any private health care facility” ……….?
    So every time a pipe band, reenactor, historical actor, or properly outfitted Scot shows up with a sword, dirk, knife, Sgian-dubh, and/or a pointy fork, they are in violation of the law? OUCH!

    1. Yes it is illegal to carry the stabbies or the shooty weapons on campus or in a court house it is also illegal to have it at a parade funeral (Unless your one of the guys who fire rifles into the air) But if you are there for a demonstration and this has been approved your good to go. 🙂

  3. Is there a specified limit to length of blade for folding knives?

    Does a pocket or belt clip cover for open carry?

    My reading of the law indicated that push-button knives are illegal for civilian carry. Did I read wrong, misinterpret or has the law been changed to cover push button/switchblades?

    How is “opens by spring action” different from “open by release of a spring” and how can one tell?

  4. All I’d like to know is:
    1. What is the maximum length for a blade in a folding pocket knife?
    2. What restrictions are we under when carrying a 6″ blade that is a folding knife?
    3. Can a person carry a switchblade (out-the-front)?
    4. Do I need any special ‘permit’ for any knife mentioned?
    Thank you for your time.

    1. What is the maximum blade length of a switch blade and can you carry it in your pocket in north Carolina?

    2. 3″ is the common legal length in NC, and you cannot carry a switchblade in your pocket (ie concealed carry) at all. It is commonly interpreted that spring-assisted opening knives are included in switchblade laws and that they are legal to own and carry openly (ie in a sheath or visibly clipped to the outside of a pocket). *Disclosure – I am not an attorney and any legal advice should be interpreted as such. Contact a local attorney to ensure what is and what is not legal in your area. Also, spring-assisted knives are not explicitly mentioned in the statue and therefore can be left open to an officers discretion if they are legal to carry &/or conceal (like making laws up on the spot)

    3. hello sir.I guess neck knife daggers would definitely be out of the question in North Carolina.but can I wear it open in North Carolina cuz I am going there soon? hendersonville.

    4. From what I can tell, it should be completely legal. It’s not defined in state statues nor in local ordinances. As long as you don’t go to a courthouse, church, police department or other place owned by the county (ie non-residential or store) you should be fine. Speak to an attorney or call the local PD/Sheriff’s Department and they can easily give you an answer on specific legality of any weapon you might also have with you.

    5. The length is not defined by statute or clearly by any case law. Some local municipalities have included a blade length restriction as small as 3″, but most common length I’ve seen is 3.5″ in length. If challenged, I’m not sure either restriction would be upheld, as the States definition would supersede any local rules where to two conflict. It could easily be argued that these restrictions are invalid as the only case law I remember on length was in reference to a 4.5″ knife being considered a typical folder. But then again do you really want to have to go through the trouble and expense of getting out of trouble?

    6. I was stating blade lengths that adhere to local ordinances, take Raleigh for example:

      Sec. 12-1060. – PROHIBITION OF FIREARMS AND DANGEROUS WEAPONS.

      (a)

      It shall be unlawful for any person to possess on or about his person or vehicle any firearm or dangerous weapon of any kind, as defined below, whether exposed or concealed, while participating in any parade or any picketing.

      (b)

      It shall be unlawful for any person present at any parade or picketing or any person upon any street, sidewalk, alley or other public property within five hundred (500) feet of any parade or picketing, to possess on or about his person or vehicle any firearm or dangerous weapon of any kind, as defined below, whether exposed or concealed.

      (c)

      For purposes of this article, the term dangerous weapon shall be defined as any device or substance designed or capable of being used to inflict serious injury to any person or property; including, but not limited to: firearms, airguns, BB guns, pellet guns, knives or razors with a blade more than three (3) inches in length, metallic knuckles, clubs, blackjacks, nightsticks, dynamite cartridges, bombs, grenades, knives, explosives, molotov cocktails, and sword canes.

      (d)

      This section shall not apply to the following persons while acting lawfully and within the scope of their duties and authority:

      (1)

      Law enforcement officers,

      (2)

      Officers and soldiers of the armed forces, militia and national guard.

      (Ord. No. 1980-346, §1, 4-1-80; Ord. No. 2011-989, §1, 12-6-11)

      I don’t know why you had issue with what I stated, but it’s correct and it also makes sure that most folks won’t get into trouble with the law. As you said that’s not worth the hassle or expense.

      It is a pretty safe bet for most areas to allow a 3″ bladed folder/pocket knife. So to be on the safe side, go with that. It is always advisable to check local ordinances and if need be, call a local PD or Sheriff’s office to confirm that a knife you’re looking to bring with you or have on your person is a legal weapon to carry.

    7. Found it…The North Carolina Court of Appeals has interpreted an ordinary pocketknife to include a knife measuring four and one-half (4½) inches in overall length when folded (i.e., closed). In the matter of Dale B., 96 N.C. App. 375 (1989). But it is unclear whether the Court would find anything larger to also qualify as an “ordinary pocket knife”.

    8. from what I read into this law.it’s similar to Florida knife law.I think it would lean more towards what was your intent.I usually carry a neck knife.if I carry it outside my shirt in Florida it’s legal.kinda.it just depends on what you doing with it from what I can understand as ambiguous as it is.and right next store in South Carolina.you can carry any knife you want.yeah North Carolina might have a few Floridiots. lol living there.

    9. I don’t think you can carry any switchblade in North Carolina from what I read

  5. What is the law about OTF automatic knives? Does that count as a “Spring loaded knife”? I have an automatic OTF I bought at my local mall. So I figured “If I can but it at the store, it must be okay otherwise they wouldnt sell it”

    1. I don’t believe so… above it states that ANY kind of knife can be obtained/owned legally w/t the exception of any kind of ‘spring-loaded projectile’ knife, ballistic knife or any weapon resembling such. However, it appears that as a rule of thumb, no kind of knife can be carried concealed, w/t the exception of a standard pocket knife. OTF automatic knives fall under the category of a switchblade which are legal in NC. But I were you, don’t conceal it…

    2. Also remember that concealment means complete concealment. If it has a pocket clip with the top portion even very slightly protruding it is NOT concealed.

  6. so what about carrying a switchblade concealed im still confused on that one?

    1. Switchblades are illegal to carry, basically. Even assisted opening blades can be problematic depending on the officer.

    2. Not if openly carried. However, most don’t come with clips or sheaths, so you’d have to rig something to have it at least partially protruding from the pocket. Honestly, there are just better options for blades for personal protection. I carry a Ontario RAT I or RAT II, which I think far exceed the practical applications of any of my switchblades chilling in my display case. Switchblades are “cool”, but not the best choice practically for EDC.

  7. Are wrist blades illegal? Also does a dagger count as concealed if I have it brandished and visible.

    1. In NC most police will cite “terror to the public” and make you put it in an inaccessible place. If you are brandishing it they will most likely arrest you.

  8. What is your input on Balisongs/ Butterfly Knives, seeing as they were not mentioned at all?

    1. Last I checked, Balisongs/Butterfly Knives are classified as a type of “Gravity Knife”, as the force of gravity or some other kinetic force is required to open it. And since “Gravity Knives” are legal to carry, these should also be legal. You may still want to do a bit of research, as certain states don’t allow them, or have special rules pertaining to them specificaly if you go out of state with it.

    2. How do you even check those laws though? I was going to get a butterfly knife and I may carry it in my pocket if I go out late at night or something like that. I’m not looking to hurt anyone I’ve just always wanted a buttefly knife but would want to carry it on my person just in case. My city is pretty sketchy.

    3. Why? Don’t get me wrong I have several butterfly knives that I enjoy, but if being used for personal protection as you described. A quality folder with thumb stud and pocket clip is far faster into action then any butterfly knife.

  9. Can you carry a knife or defensive weapon to school at all. Because I wear a Katana everywhere I go.

  10. Are butterfly knives legal? Also since when are switchblades legal???

    1. Yes, butterfly knives, also called a balisong, are legal to own & carry openly, but not concealed.

  11. What about karambit knives? Legal to carry? Legal to own? Karambit knives are curved blade like a talon FYI.

    1. i used to carry mine but it wasnt fixed blade, its more like a pocket knife and i bought it here in a store in nc. since the law desnt say anything about it it should be techically “legal” to carry but i think that truthfully they dont want and fixed bladed knives, at least not greater than a ceartain length to be concealed.

  12. This is crazy. I walk with a limp and was thinking of getting one of those canes that concealed a sword. Guess I will just get a handgun instead.

    1. 5th bullet point: It is legal to own a disguised knife, such as in a pen or lipstick. You’re good.

    2. You can own one, but you can’t use it in public. Trust me, I have almost been arrested for using one as a cane in Union County. A cop came up to me, told me it was against the law so I pulled the blade out and came back. Then it was legal. Damn shame, the idea that an old or disabled person shouldn’t be able to have a sword cane is straight up nanny state BS IMO.

    3. If practical to do so, yes. NC law is reasonably handgun-friendly, and you can conceal carry a handgun in a number of places where edged devices categorized as weapons are prohibited.

    4. Cold Steel heavy duty sword cane at there okay.my handles loose I don’t know how to fix it its three little pins.

  13. Ok so I am confused I just want to know if I could carry a “batman” knife (the ones that look like batarangs) because im a HUGE knife person and I got one and I wantes to carrt it I just wasnt sure

    1. Your’e a HUGE knife person and carry a batman knife…. ok…

  14. Is it illegal to carry a Sgian Dubh (Scottish Knife) as part of wearing the national costume of Scotland and what other states use the same laws?

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