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.


  • 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)


  1. Zane

    Are spring assisted stilettos illegal, not automatic ones , do they count as daggers? In PA

    1. Jutt Laing

      Stiletto is an automatic knife. You press a button and it opens (via the spring). So yes stilettos are illegal in PA to own, carry!, or use. The word automatic was actually specifically added to cover stilettos.

    2. Jutt Laing

      As Ted said… They make auto and manual Stilletto’s. So to clarify… Any knife that you press a button and the knife opens on its own without further human intervention…is illegal in PA.

  2. Dustin Harr

    What about a butterly knife trainers. It’s not technically a knife but it looks like one

    1. Luke DirtyBroke Morrison

      Balisongs are legal ”

      It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife”

    2. k.W.Mc.

      I’m in possession of one, is it nescessary to have a Collectorslicense for it?

  3. Rodney Blevins

    If I owned a business, an sold autos would it be a crime? I know you can get autos disassembled (knife separate) . but once put together in PA ,then its illegal correct?

    1. Zsnyper

      Autos are perfectly legal to sell and own in PA(Collectors), but you cannot carry them, unless you are a LEO or a first responder. Military personnel are also exempt when on duty. Same goes for daggers/dirks.

  4. Pokemon world champion 101

    Ok one question are karambits legal to own? And ia it legal to conceal/carry one in public?

  5. Zsnyper

    Some errors here.

    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”

    All of the above are completely legal to own as a collector, they just cannot be carried. Collecting these edged odjects are a “common lawful purpose”. As a LEO, first responder or military personnel (on duty for military), you can carry an auto knife. Daggers are sold all over PA, and I did confirm with the CLEO here in Berks county, that they are perfectly legal to own. Just don’t get caught carrying any of them, regardless of whether you have a LTCF or not.

    Philly is the ONLY place in PA where it is illegal to carry any knife.

  6. gabe shadish

    What of throwing knives are they legal I didn’t see anything on them

  7. John Magee

    W.R.Case & Sons Cutlery knives are made in Bradford, Pa. The knife pictured is a Case Bose Cattle Knife.

  8. mckenzi19

    It’s important to remember in PA that there are State laws and municipal laws. I live close to the line of Franklin County and Cumberland County and knives that are perfectly legal in Franklin are NOT legal for carry in Cumberland. I can carry a Kershaw assisted opening knife in some areas but in other areas get arrested by local cops for it. I read about folks being arrested all the time over small Kershaws and similar knives. To be safe in PA in general, keep the blade 3″ or smaller and don’t carry assisted opening knives.

  9. Kenneth Wilson

    Probably a dumb question but there’s a lot of law jargon and circle talk with court talk, I love in Philly and work as an overnight security guard can I carry a boot knife so I’m not totally unarmed?

    1. Ian Charney

      As far as PA goes, yes, assuming that it is not a dagger (double edge). However, I believe that Philadelphia does have local laws that prohibit the carry of knives in public unless they are required for your trade. So it sounds like you might be out of luck for knives.

  10. Jess

    what kind of offense is this if you’re caught carrying an automatic knife with only like a 2.5 inch blade. I was considering purchasing the Smith & Wesson extreme ops automatic somethin. I just feel that an automatic would be the best way to go for me incase I’m ever put in a situation where I need to defend myself.

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