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)

Comments

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

    1. God doesn’t make the rules. Man does. I’m forever suspicious of anyone who tells me anything is a product of their god.

    2. I’m suspicious of anyone that doesn’t carry a knife!

    3. So your saying that there is no right to protect your life if I a man says so. When I see you in the streets you better be on your knees face down in the dirt when I a man walks by. How do you like the laws of man know, Suspicious Servent?? History never teaches the ignorant anything.

  3. 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.

    1. Doctor…need my CRKT M-16 in case I need to cracl a chest…or do emergency trach.

  4. 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…

  5. You are allowed to own any knife at all. If you carry a switch blade and it is the only one that you own, you are in big trouble. If you have 20 of them in various types and would rather chew the throat out of an attacker than desecrate the knife with blood or a sharpening, you are safe. Knife collecting is a great hobby. You may carry a knife that is considered ‘assisted’, not an automatic. Considering how strong a folder has to be, I wouldn’t want to carry a switch blade. My Twitch is great for me.
    Be careful of blade size. That can get you in trouble.

  6. How does the PA law define a dagger? Is it a knife with both edges fully sharpened?

    1. yes a dual edged blade of any sort is considered a dagger

    2. Heartcall disagrees with Emmett (Heartcall posted above)

      ” And finally, the “dagger” part refers only to automatic knives. “dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise.” An ordinary fixed blade dagger is not an offensive weapon, except to the degree (if any) it constitutes an “implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.” “

  7. Does that mean its illegal to carry around my katana …..cause I do.???

    1. from what i get from all the research that i have done as long as its single edged its fine i guess. i have not found any length restrictions. but would you get in trouble for carrying it i would say most likely. tho im intrigued as to how the hell your carrying a full length katana (that im assuming you conceal)

    2. well yes, I do carry a full length katana….most of the time it’s concealed, but other times it’s hanging from my waste or on my back. So far what I heard, is that it’s legal as long as your not using it for anything illegal #logic

    3. well,you never know when you will need to either split a watermelon or kill zombies,it has a law abiding purpose

    1. Any “hunting knife” can be carried openly or concealed.

    2. what in pennsylvania is considered a hunting knife. i have a blade that i carry that i did use for huting. it has a deer antler handle. it has not been used for huting purposes in a long time. would this be considered a hunting knife?

    3. The only knives which are prohibited by law are switchblades, knives with brass knuckles attached (because brass knuckles themselves are illegal), and any “other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.” As long as it’s not one of those 3 things, it should be perfectly legal. Classifications like “pocket knife” or “hunting knife” only serve to illustrate that a particular knife serves a common lawful purpose. As long as you can realistically use it for hunting, it will most likely be considered to serve a common lawful purpose as a “hunting knife.”

    4. Thank you for this comment, I’ve been carrying around a brass knuckle knife for a good year now. Glad no one has tried me, because I don’t need that kind of trouble with the law for using that.

  8. Incorrect information all over the place here. It’s legal to own non-NFA “offensive weapons” for collection purposes, but illegal to carry them. The defense subsection specifically states that collection is legal, as long as it’s not an NFA item. Transporting NFA weapons is also legal as long as circumstances show that you did not intend to use the weapon in a crime, with specific examples including finding one lying around, or disarming an attacker. Note that all convictions are against people who were carrying very large knives in public, none against private collectors. And the “dagger” part refers only to automatic knives. “dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise”

    1. Can you show me where it says the bit about having a concealed carry allowing you to carry other offensive weapons. I am interested.

    2. It doesn’t state it explicitly, only implies it. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=9&sctn=8&subsctn=0

      (b)(3) This section shall not apply to any person who makes, repairs, sells or otherwise deals in, uses or possesses any firearm for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.

      “[O]therwise deals in, uses or possesses any firearm” is an incredibly wide-open clause, but like I said in the first post, I’m unaware of anyone testing it in court. As the law is currently written, simply possessing a legal firearm renders you exempt from the restrictions on offensive weapons (except for grenades, bombs, and incendiary devices, as the ban on those is pretty well set in stone). It LOOKS like the intention is to allow concealed firearm permit holders to carry other weapons (especially blackjacks, tasers, and other less lethal implements), but that’s just speculation. As it’s written, simply possessing a firearm should get you off the hook. You just need a really good lawyer to set that precedent.

  9. Lawfull purpose? Battle axes could be used for chopping fire wood!! Would have got my,lawyer to show a demonstration …BS charge

    1. Funny trivia: I have a friend in Denmark, and they have very strict laws about weapons, including pocketknives. However, battle axes are completely unrestricted because there’s no way to legally define the difference between a battle axe and a wood-cutting axe.

  10. As much as I read about gun laws (especially prior to travel), I never really considered restrictive knife legislation. My wife and I are both “Preppers”. We keep a Get Home Bag in our vehicles at all times. Part of these survival kits are saw-back machetes. I don’t see them addressed here. So, if I get pulled over in Scranton, PA, will the cops say that I have no need for a machete because I’m not in the jungle? Scary!

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