Pennsylvania Knife Laws

pnPennsylvania knife statutes are short and lacking in clear definitions. In order to determine what the law is, one must look at Court decisions, or case law. This article takes the statutes and the case law and puts it in a clear and organized manner that anyone can understand.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own Bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife
  • It is legal to own a penknife
  • It is legal to own a concealed knife, such as in a lipstick or belt buckle
  • It is legal to own any kind of hunting knife

What is Illegal to Own

  • It is illegal to own a dagger
  • It is illegal to own any automatic knife
  • It is illegal to own a sword cane
  • It is illegal to own any implement for the infliction of bodily injury, which serves no “common lawful purpose”

Limits on Carry

  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry a dagger
  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry any automatic knife
  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry a sword cane
  • It is legal to open or conceal carry any hunting knife
  • It is legal to open or conceal carry any knife that does not open automatically and has a lawful purpose

What the Law States

§ 908.  Prohibited offensive weapons.

(a)  Offense defined. –A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized by law, he makes repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in, uses, or possesses any offensive weapon….

“Offensive weapons.” –Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed- off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise…… or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose…..

Implements to Inflict Bodily Injury and Common Lawful Purpose Defined

In 1975, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, set forth a “circumstances-of-the-possession” test, in Commonwealth v. Gatto, in order to determine if a weapon had a common lawful purpose. Mr. Gatto was arrested for having a thirty-inch knife during the early morning hours in the downtown area of Scranton. The Court held that the knife was an implement for the infliction of bodily injury, which served no common lawful purpose. In its ruling, the Court stated: “Had appellant been on a journey  through the tropical rain forests of South America, attempting to travel by foot from Bogota, Colombia to Caracas, Venezuela it could then be reasonably concluded that a thirty inch knife had a common lawful purpose; but appellant was in a high crime urban area of Scranton.”

Four years later, in Commonwealth v. Ashford, the Court state that Gatto should not be construed as setting forth a circumstances-of-the-possession test for determining whether an weapon served a common lawful purpose, saying the test had no place in determining whether there had been a violation of weapons possession code. Shortly after Ashford, in Commonwealth v. Fisher, the Supreme Court held that on a charge possessing or carrying a prohibited offensive weapon, the circumstances-of-the-possession test was inappropriate in determining whether the weapon served a common lawful purpose.

In 1980, in Commonwealth v. Artis, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed Mr Artis’ conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon was reversed because the trial court improperly applied the circumstances of the possession test when determining whether the knife served a common lawful purpose. The knife was a folding knife, which Mr. Artis testified he purchased at a sporting goods store, to use for hunting and fishing. Therefore, it did not matter under what circumstances he possessed it, as it had a common lawful purpose.

More recently, in 1996, in the case of Commonwealth v. Karlson, the Court concluded that Mr. Karlson did not violate the prohibited offensive weapon statute when he sold four “Cobra” knives to an undercover police officer. The Court held that in order to convict Mr. Karlson, the state was required to offer evidence that the knives served no common lawful purpose. It said that unless they were specifically outlawed, knives were not objects of a criminal nature that were prohibited under the prohibited weapons statute.

Conversely, in 2007, in Commonwealth v. Alvarez, Mr. Alvarez’s possession of a two and a half foot long medieval-type battle-axe with a blade that was almost 10-inches long was held to be within the definition of a weapon that did not have a common lawful purpose.

Conclusion on Pennsylvania Knife Law

It is illegal to own or carry a dagger, sword cane, any automatic knife, or any implement for the infliction of bodily injury, which serves no common lawful purpose.

It is legal to open or conceal carry any other type of knife in Pennsylvania.

Sources

  • 18 P.S. § 4416 (2013)
  • Commonwealth v. Gatto, 344 A.2d 566 (1975)
  • Commonwealth v. Ashford, 397 A.2d 420 (1979)
  • Commonwealth v. Fisher, 400 A.2d 1284 (1979)
  • Commonwealth v. Karlson, 674 A.2d 249 (1996)
  • Commonwealth v. Artis, 418 A.2d 644, (1980)
  • Commonwealth v. Alvarez, 935 A.2d 3, (2007)
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7 comments on “Pennsylvania Knife Laws
  1. Wayne Aultman says:

    Most recently in Commonwealth-v-Aultman 6049-2011, the District Attorney of Delaware County withdrew the charge of P.O.W. under Pennsylvania Law and RETURNED the 13″ knife to Mr. Aultman. It seems that the 13″ hunting knife Mr. Aultman was carrying in the sheath was completely LEGAL.

  2. Gary Lowe says:

    Does a spring assist opening knife fall under the category of an automatic knife? IE; Kershaw Leek. Thanks GL

  3. william says:

    Lawful purpose…self protection is an God given right. It is lawful.

  4. Ed says:

    It’s important to remember that Philly has its own ordinance on knives which pretty much outlaws carrying one unless you need it for work.
    Philadelphia Code §10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places.

    (1) Definition.

    Cutting Weapon. Any knife or other cutting instrument which can be used as a weapon that has a cutting edge similar to that of a knife. No tool or instrument commonly or ordinarily used in a trade, profession or calling shall be considered a cutting weapon while actually being used in the active exercise of that trade, profession or calling.

    (2) Prohibited Conduct. No person shall use or possess any cutting weapon upon the public streets or upon any public property at any time.

    (3) Penalty. The penalty for violation of this section shall be a fine of not less than three hundred (300) dollars and imprisonment of not less than ninety days.

  5. Jay Nguyen says:

    It is illegal to open or conceal carry any knife in Philadelphia, PA unless it pertains to your occupation and only used while you’re on a job that needs a knife.

    http://www.phila.gov/philacode/html/_data/title10/chapter_10_800_safety/10_820_Cutting_Weapons_in_Publ.html

  6. Chuckie Norris says:

    Automatic knives illegal to carry, yes…but own, I don’t think so under (b) as a curio collector

    Pennsylvania – Pa. C.S.A. 18.908. Prohibited offensive
    weapons. (a) Offense defined.–A person commits a
    misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized
    by law, he makes, repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in,
    uses, or possesses any offensive weapon. (b) Exception.–
    It is a defense under this section for the defendant to
    prove by a preponderance of evidence that he possessed of
    dealt with the weapon solely as a curio or in a dramatic
    performance, or that he possessed it briefly in
    consequence of having found it or taken it from an
    aggressor, or under circumstances similarly negativing any
    intent or likelihood that the would be used unlawfully.
    (c) Definition.–As used in this section “offensive
    weapon” means… any… dagger, knife, razor or cutting
    instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic
    way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or
    otherwise…

  7. dan says:

    can i carry a ka bar 7 in blade in a sheath on my belt ?

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