Washington Knife Laws

waWashington knife laws are vague and difficult to piece together. This article puts all of the laws together in an easy to understand way, so that anyone can figure out what is legal and what is not when it comes to owning and carrying knives in the state of Washington.

What is Legal to Own

  • It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knife
  • It is legal to own bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a stiletto
  • It is legal to own a disguised knife, such as a lipstick or belt buckle
  • It is legal to own throwing stars

What is Illegal to Own

It is illegal to own a switchblade or other spring blade knife in the state of Washington.

Restrictions on Carry

  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk
  • It is illegal to conceal carry a dagger
  • It is illegal to conceal carry any dangerous weapon
  • It is illegal to open or conceal carry any weapon into a Courtroom

It is also illegal to carry or display a dagger, sword, knife, or other cutting or stabbing instrument in a manner or under circumstances that would cause alarm or show an intent to intimidate another. In 1994, in State v. Spencer, the Supreme Court of Washington held that there must be a sufficient basis for the alarm, such that a reasonable person would be alarmed. Also in 1994, the Court held, in State v. Byrd, that because the display of a weapon in a manner that caused reasonable fear or alarm could be done without intent, a violation of the statute did not require intent. This means that one does not have to intend to cause alarm or fear in order to be guilty of a crime under the statute.

What the Law States

§ 9.41.250. Dangerous weapons — Penalty

(1) Every person who…

(a) Manufactures, sells, or disposes of or possesses any instrument or weapon of the kind usually known as slung shot, sand club, or metal knuckles, or spring blade knife

(b) Furtively carries with intent to conceal any dagger, dirk, pistol, or other dangerous weapon

Definitions of Various Types of Knives

A spring blade knife is defined by Washington statute as a knife with a blade that is automatically released by a spring or other mechanical devise or with a blade that opens, falls, or is ejected by the force of gravity, or by an outward, downward, or centrifugal movement (spinning the knife). No other knife is defined by the statutes or by the case law. When the legislature fails to define a term, the Court will generally use the plain English meaning of the word, which is the meaning giving by Webster’s dictionary.

Definition of Dangerous Weapon

Washington statutes fail to define dangerous weapons, but in 2002, in an unpublished opinion, the Court, in State v. Bonebright, citing two other cases, stated that Courts have generally defined a dangerous weapon as an object capable of inflicting great bodily harm. It also said that Division One of the Court had noted that the term “dangerous weapon” is similar to the term deadly weapon, which is defined in RCW 9.94A.125 as an instrument that has the capacity to inflict death.

Meaning of Furtively in Statute

In 1995, in State v. Myles, the Supreme Court of Washington discussed the use of the word “furtively” in the conceal carry statute. Ms. Myles, a 16 year old, had been discovered swearing at a group of people, with a paring knife in her pocket. The juvenile Court found that the knife was a dangerous weapon and convicted Ms. Myles of possession of a dangerous weapon. Ms. Myles appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeals, who reversed the conviction. The state then appealed to the Supreme Court of Washington. Ms. Myles argued that the statute required a furtive act in order to convict a person of possession of a dangerous weapon. The Supreme Court looked to the dictionary for a definition of furtively, which means secretly. It held that the word applied to the conduct of carrying a concealed weapon, which, when concealed was necessarily ‘secret’ and not to the intent. Therefore, it upheld the conviction.

Exceptions to Conceal Carry or Display

Conceal carry and display laws do not apply to those who are in their own homes, at their fixed place of business, or defending themselves against a presently threatened use of unlawful force. In 1983, the Washington Court of Appeals, in State v. Haley, found that a deck attached to the house and accessible from several rooms of the home, was a part of the home, and exempt from the display statute. In 2003, however, the same Court, in State v. Smith, ruled that a person’s backyard was not ‘in their home’ and therefore, a person was not exempt from the carry or display statute while in their backyard.

Conclusion on Washington Knife Law

It is illegal to own a switchblade or other spring blade knife in the state of Washington.

It is illegal to conceal carry a dirk, dagger, or other dangerous weapon. It is legal to open carry any type of weapon, so long as it is not carried in a way that may cause others alarm.

Sources

  • Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 9.41.250 (2013)
  • Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 9.41.270 (2013)
  • State v. Spencer, 876 P.2d 939 (1994)
  • State v. Byrd, 774, 868 P.2d 158 (1994)
  • State v. Smith, 93 P.3d 877 (2003 Wash. App.)
  • State v. Haley, 665 P.2d 1375 (1983 Wash. App.)
  • State v. Bonebright, 2002 Wash. App. LEXIS 1487
  • State v. Myles, 903 P.2d 979 (1995)
  • vikki

    Washington states laws could be interpreted to make just about any knife illegal. Thanks for info. I always length was the major difference, but according to the article, size isn’t even mentioned.

  • AJ

    WHAT in the world is ‘so long as it is not carried in a way that may cause others alarm’ this could mean anything…. A fixed blade in a sheeth, folder on a clip in your pocket, a sling shot in your pocket, open carry of a firearm or concealed, someone gets a peek or even one who just wants to make an issue to cause trouble in your life. If one has a concealed permit is any of this a concern???

  • Frank

    I drive a Truck from NC to CA, sometimes to WA, using I-40 for northern CA or I-20 for southern CA. These two interstates cross many states so, Im reading state by state.

    I’ve seen the word “Alarm” more then once, as in causing others “alarm”.. Websters dictionary defines alarm as a few things including “sudden sharp apprehension and fear resulting from the perception of imminent danger”.

    My question:
    What if a person in Washington State, seeing my knife legally open carried, and has not taken their prescription Prozac medication and feels “alarmed” ? Am I at fault?

    • RykELee

      In this crazy state, the answer is probably, yes Frank.

    • Taylor

      I used to take Prozac and I still take other anti-depressants, but I personally find 0 alarm in a knife. If I saw someone with a knife I’d be more inclined to inquire about it because I am a weapon collector and enthusiast.
      Although I find this same problem, I don’t know what “Alarm” would entail or “concealment” because I might have it in a sheath or holster of some sort (holster referencing sheaths that resemble a gun holster, not a literal holster)

  • matt

    I know the blade length issue is a city of Seattle code/law, not a state law.
    So on top of state laws, there are local county and city laws to contend with as well.

  • Chris

    9.41.250 says a knife with “bias toward closure” is not a “spring blade knife”. This means that assisted openers are specifically legal. (New law, in effect July 2012)

  • George

    These laws go against the right to keep and especially BEAR arms. That they have stood for so long illustrates the way that the Left has corrupted the courts with liberal activist judges.

    • Angel Flores

      You are very right i im no adult but I do know my rights and I Belive carring a switch blade is no different than any other knife as long as you know how to keep it out of others harm

    • Robert Dinse

      The constitution has been null and void for at least 100 years.

  • jeff w ransom

    i am a knife collector and do not have a switchblade in my collection and find this law in wash.state to be idiotic.anyone can get a gun on any street corner in any city but you cant have a spring blade knife???

  • jeff w ransom

    laws about switchblade knifes are wrong.this is america

    • Glitch

      Knife laws can be defined by the state since there is no federal say against it, also counties/cities can define as well so no its not wrong and no this is the US, a country within the continent America

  • JimFlyer

    I would not refer to an “ordinary” slip joint pocket knife as a weapon should one be stopped. If the police officer asks “are you armed?”, the response is “no, but I do have a pocket knife that I carry as a too”. You might be asked to surrender it while you are talking to the cop, but it will be returned, and if you are charged, you, and the cop, will be able to say “it’s not a weapon”.

  • Anonymous

    If you were to openly carry a recurve bow, and possibly a dozen throwing knives in a wrist sheath and leg sheath. Would that be illegal? I think so but I can’t be sure

  • Human #666

    What about balisongs in washington state? are those legal to own or carry or what?

    • Lucas

      Yes they are. I own one myself, and actually use it fairly often at work.

  • RykELee

    So with my Wa State carry permit, I can carry a 44 Mag under my jacket, but not an automatic knife?

  • john

    my butterfly knife has a latch that you must undo before you can use it. Is it still illegal?

  • Taylor

    What defines “alarm” in this use, because that is a very vague term in this case. Just possessing a knife like a balisong or a throwing knife would cause some alarm to people who aren’t accustomed to it or find carrying weapons wrong and could easily lead to an arrest whether or not any intent whatsoever was shown. And what about concealment? Does a waistband style sheath count as concealed? (I personally prefer pockets but if concealing them in public is a crime then I’m wondering if a sheath counts as “concealment”)