Virginia Knife Laws

vaVirginia knife laws are long and quite wordy, making it almost impossible to determine what is legal and what is not legal when it comes to owning and carrying knives in the state of Virginia. This article summarizes the law in easy to understand language so anyone can tell what is legal and what is not.

What is Legal to Own

What is Illegal to Own

  • It is legal to own any type of knife in Virginia.

Restrictions on Carry

  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a bowie knife
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a switchblade knife
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a machete
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a ballistic knife
  • It is illegal to conceal carry throwing stars or oriental darts
  • It is illegal to conceal carry any knife of a like kind to one of the above listed knives

What the Law States

The conceal carry law in Virginia states, in relevant part:

§ 18.2-308.  Personal protection; carrying concealed weapons; when lawful to carry; penalty

A. If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation……(ii) any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack…..

Definitions of Various Knives

Virginia statute defines a ballistic knife as a knife with a detachable blade, which is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism. The statue does not define any other type of knife, and in 2000, the Supreme Court of Virginia, in Delcid v. Commonwealth, held that the determination of whether any knife fell within the meaning of a word used in the statute was for the jury, or in the case of a bench trial, the Judge. The court also ruled that the instrument that is carried concealed must be a weapon, carrying a non-weapon is not a violation of the statute. It stated that the purpose for which an instrument is carried should be considered in determining whether it is a weapon or a non-weapon.

Definition of the Phrase “of a like kind”

The phrase ‘of a like kind’ is used in the conceal carry statute to make it illegal to conceal carry any knife of a like kind to one of the knives listed in the statute. In an unpublished opinion in Kingrey v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Court of Appeals, in upholding Mr. Kingrey’s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, found that Mr. Kingrey’s butterfly knife, when opened, closely resembled a dirk. The knife was therefore ‘of a like kind’ to a dirk, which is specifically listed in the statute as a knife that is illegal to conceal carry. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia held, in Thompson v. Commonwealth, that in order to prove that a weapon is of a like kind to one of the listed weapons, the state must prove that it is substantially similar to the listed weapon.

Definition of Concealed

Virginia statute defines concealed as hidden from common observation. The Courts have interpreted the phrase “hidden from common observation” in several cases.

In 1995, in Main v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court found that a weapon carried in a person’s back pocket, when he or she is carrying a duffle bag which covers the handle of the weapon, the only visible part, the weapon is concealed for the purposes of the conceal carry statute.
In 2000, in Clarke v. Commonwealth, the Court held that a weapon is hidden from common view when it is hidden from all except those with an unusual or exceptional opportunity to view it.  It found that a gun in the pocket on the back of the seat in which Mr. Clarke was sitting was concealed because it only became visible to the investigating officer only when he approached the front passenger seat close enough for him to peer down into the seat’s pocket compartment from directly above.

Also in 2000, in an unpublished opinion in Barley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Appellate Court upheld Mr. Barley’s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, finding that a weapon hidden beneath a jacket on the front passenger seat of the vehicle Mr. Barley was driving was concealed.

Definition of the phrase “About the Person”

The code that prohibits the conceal carry of certain weapons says in part, “If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation…. any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete…”

The Supreme Court of Virginia weighed in on what “about the person” means in 1994, in Leith v. Commonwealth, when it found that a pistol located in a console beside where Mr. Leith was sitting, was concealed ‘about his person’ because it was within close proximity to Mr. Leith. The Court also held that whether a weapon was about the person or readily accessible, was for the jury, or the in the case of a bench trial, the Judge, to decide on a case-by-case basis. It further defined ‘readily accessible’ as available for ‘prompt and immediate use’.

Following the Leith decision, in 2000, in the case of Barley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Appellate Court held that a readily movable windbreaker covering a weapon concealed the weapon, because the statute required only that the weapon be hidden from common observation, not that it be covered by something, which was difficult to move. It further found that accessibility of the weapon was the evil the statue sought to regulate, and the fact that the windbreaker was readily movable supported rather than weakened the defendant’s conviction.

In 2007, in Pruitt v. Commonwealth the Supreme Court of Virginia found that a weapon Mr. Pruitt carried concealed in the car’s center console was no longer ‘about his person’ once he exited the vehicle and shut the door. His conviction for carrying a concealed weapon was thus overturned. However, in 2010, in an unpublished opinion in Johnson v. Commonwealth, in upholding Mr. Johnson’s conviction, the Virginia Court of Appeals found that a weapon inside the vehicle in which Mr. Johnson was riding was concealed about his person, even though he was standing outside of the car when the weapon was discovered. It stated that since no one had returned to the vehicle since Mr. Johnson had exited it, that it was reasonable to assume that the weapon had been concealed in the vehicle while Mr. Johnson sat in close proximity to it.

In 2010, in Hunter v. Commonwealth, the Appellate Court in Virginia found that a gun locked in the glove compartment of a vehicle in which Mr. Hunter was a passenger, was not concealed about his person because he did not possess a key to the glove compartment.

Conclusion on Virginia Knife Law

It is legal to own any type of knife in Virginia.

It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk, bowie knife, switchblade, machete, ballistic knife, throwing starts or oriental darts, or any knife of a like kind.

It is legal to open carry any type of knife.

Sources

  • Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308 (2013)
  • Delcid v. Commonwealth, 526 S.E.2d 273 (2000)
  • Clarke v. Commonwealth, 527 S.E.2d 484 (2000 Va. App.)
  • Leith v. Commonwealth, 440 S.E.2d 152 (1994)
  • Barley v. Commonwealth, No. 0117-00-3, (2000 Va. App.)
  • Pruitt v. Commonwealth, 650 S.E.2d 684 (2007)
  •  Johnson v. Commonwealth, 2010 Va. App. LEXIS 475 (Dec. 14, 2010)
  • Main v. Commonwealth, 457 S.E.2d 400 (1995)
  • Barley v. Commonwealth, 2000 Va. App. LEXIS 765 (Ct. of Appeals Nov. 28, 2000).
  • Hunter v. Commonwealth, 690 S.E.2d 792 (2010 Va. App.)
  • Kingrey v. Commonwealth, No. 2202-97-2 (Ct. of Appeals July 13, 1999)
  • Thompson v. Commonwealth, 673 S.E.2d 469 (2009).
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9 comments on “Virginia Knife Laws
  1. Misinformed says:

    There’s some missing information in this article. Pursuant to 18.2-311 of the Code of Virginia, possession of switchblades, blackjacks, metal knuckles, throwing stars, and ballistic knives is a class 4 misdemeanor.

  2. skidmark says:

    18.2-311 does allow some wiggle room for a bone fide collector. It is up to you to convince the judge/jury that you are in fact a collector instead of just someone with a switchblade etc. or two in the sock drawer.

    stay safe.

  3. mike says:

    ok so does this mean I can conceal carry a hunting knife with a 6 inch fixed blade? ?

  4. Leslie Humphreys says:

    I think this law is completely unfair in some cases. Like my story for example I now have a Concealed weapon charge on my record which has ruined my life for a Myrtle Beach souvenir (sparkly switch blade knife) I was teenage girl that had no idea that knives were illegal in VA. While being at Myrtle Beach on vacation one of the store clerks at Wings in S.C. was selling these sparkly Myrtle Beach switch blades for 1.99 with any purchase so I bought one. Well that winter I was with a girl from school that was allegedly stealing a shirt and the cop ask if he could search me to just to be sure. Since I knew I don’t steal I agreed for him to search my bag. Well to my surprised he pulls out the souvenir from a zipper on the inside of my purse and said don’t you know this is illegal? And I said no its been in that zipper since I left Myrtle Beach. I had forgotten even purchasing it that summer. To make a long story short I now have a Concealed weapon charge which has prevented me from working in a hospital, bank, retails and every other decent job that my town had to offer. It’s very devastating that after 13 year, $895 in fines, 3 days in jail, $150 to file a petition for expungement and no job I feel like I’ve suffered enough for a $1.99 souvenir that I purchased on vacation 13 years ago. Justice needs to be served because I was misjudge and use as a example. I had never been in any trouble before and didn’t think I’d need a lawyer but I was fooled.

  5. Better check again.
    Yo missed a very important part of the law.

    § 18.2-311. Prohibiting the selling or having in possession blackjacks, etc.

    If any person sells or barters, or exhibits for sale or for barter, or gives or furnishes, or causes to be sold, bartered, given or furnished, or has in his possession, or under his control, with the intent of selling, bartering, giving or furnishing, any blackjack, brass or metal knucks, any disc of whatever configuration having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart, switchblade knife, ballistic knife as defined in § 18.2-307.1, or like weapons, such person is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. The having in one’s possession of any such weapon shall be prima facie evidence, except in the case of a conservator of the peace, of his intent to sell, barter, give or furnish the same.

    (Code 1950, § 18.1-271; 1960, c. 358; 1975, cc. 14, 15; 1985, c. 394; 1988, c. 359; 2013, c. 746.)

  6. And there is no “wiggle room unless you are a “conservator of the peace.”

    Collectirs get no relief.

  7. MrSatyre says:

    Anyone know how this law views knives such as the Gerber Uppercut? It has a 2″ fixed blade but has a handle perpendicular to the blade. I guess you would call it a punch-style knife, for lack of a better term.

  8. Bryan McConnell says:

    The knife laws are obscure even when someone simplifies. I have a conceal carry permit to carry a firearm but I cannot conceal a fixed blade or switchblade knife? As I understand it, that’s the way it is. Laws should not be baffling to citizens because we have to follow them without the burden of having an attorney explain it to us. If one “open carries” a switchblade, he is perfectly within the law?

  9. John Bradley says:

    This article gets most everything wrong.

    Firstly, unpublished opinions are meaningless. You cannot base a legal argument upon them, and until very recently it was malpractice to even mention them to a court.

    Second, under “{O]f a like kind”, the Supreme Court of Virginia (the final authority on the interpretation of Virginia law) in Thompson v. Commonwealth (Thompson v. Com., 673 S.E.2d 469, 277 Va. 280 (Va., 2009)) concluded that a “butterfly knife” of balisong was NOT a “weapon of like kind” to any of the weapons listed, and as such, there exists no prohibition against carrying one concealed. So ignore everything that was said about Kingrey.

    Additionally, in contrast to Delcid cited in “Definitions of Various Kinds of Knives”, the court in Thompson rejected the concept that the intent for which a knife is carried has any bearing on whether or not the statute is violated. They specifically invite the legislature to craft a statute which incorporates intent, but the legislature has never done so.

    As such, the current, controlling law in Virginia is that, to convict someone of carrying a knife concealed about one’s person, the Commonwealth must prove the following:

    1) That it is one of the weapons described by the statute (“dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife,…” etc.).

    OR…

    1) That it is, by design and function, a weapon. The simple fact that an object (knife or otherwise) can be used as a weapon is insufficient.

    2) That it is a weapon “of like kind” to one of the enumerated weapons. After analysis, the court conclude that to be “of like kind”, a weapon must possess ALL the characteristics of the prohibited weapon. Functionally, that means that it must be a dirk, bowie knife or switchblade, even if it is named something different.

    Finally, what is prohibited by 18.2-311 is possession with the intent to sell or distribute. It does not that mere possession shal be “prima facie evidence” of that intent, but that is not sufficient to convict (and frankly, makes a great argument for this statute being unconstitutional on its face).

    I am a lawyer, licensed in Virginia, so I do know what I’m talking about. However, laws do change all the time, and, while this has been the state of the law for the last five years, it could change with a new court case or in the current legislative year. In addition, police officers, lawyers (prosecution and defense) and judges have all been known to be mistaken about the law from time to time. Which is to say, being within the law doesn’t always make you “safe”. I myself have been arrested (charges dropped), and I have represented clients who were arrested (and convicted, though it was overturned) for possessing and carrying knives which were not illegal. Knives make cops nervous, and making cops nervous, while not illegal, is unlikely to brighten your day.

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