Wisconsin knife laws are long, wordy, and difficult to understand, even for someone trained in the law. This article takes the law and puts into clear and concise, plain English, so that anyone can understand what is legal and what is not when it comes to owning and carrying knives in the state of Wisconsin.
What is Illegal to Own
- It is illegal to own a switchblade knife
- It is illegal to own a gravity knife
- It is illegal to own a butterfly knife
- It is illegal to own any knife substantially similar to a switchblade, gravity knife, or butterfly knife
Restrictions on Carry
It is illegal in Wisconsin to carry a concealed and dangerous weapon.
Definition of Various Knives
A switchblade is defined as any knife having a blade which opens by pressing a button, spring or other device in the handle or by gravity or by a thrust or movement. In State v. Krause, the Appellate Court upheld Mr. Krause’s conviction for carrying a concealed dangerous weapon, finding that his knife, which had a blade that was serrated on one side, sharp on the other, and had a point at the end, was a switchblade. The blade was contained in two casings: the serrated blade fit into one of the casings and the cutting edge in the other. The casings were secured by a clasp, that when removed, allowed one casing to fall away from the other by the force of gravity, exposing the blade.
Neither the Wisconsin code nor its case law offers a definition of any other type of knife. When words or terms are not defined by the legislature, in the state code, Court’s use the ‘plain English meaning’ of the word, or that meaning provided in Webster’s dictionary.
What the Law States
941.23. Carrying concealed weapon.
(1) In this section:
(ag) “Carry” has the meaning given in s. 175.60 (1) (ag) (ar) “Destructive device” has the meaning given in 18 USC 921 (a) (4)….
…..(2) Any person, other than one of the following, who carries a concealed and dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
What is Legal to Own
- It is legal to own a bowie knife
- It is legal to own a disguised knife such as a lipstick or belt buckle
- It is legal to own a ballistic knife
- It is legal to own a dirk, dagger, or other stabbing knife
Definition of Carry
Carry is defined as going “armed” by Wisconsin statute. Case law has further defined going armed, and in State v. Caprice S.I., the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that “went armed” meant that a weapon was either on a defendant’s person or that the weapon was within the defendant’s reach.
Definition of Concealed
In 1993, in State v. Keith, the Court of Appeals for Wisconsin found that there were three elements to carrying a concealed dangerous weapon.
- a dangerous weapon is on the defendant’s person or within reach
- the defendant is aware of the weapon’s presence
- the weapon is hidden
In State v. Walls, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that a person was guilty of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon in an automobile where all of the following are true:
- the weapon was located inside a vehicle and is within the defendant’s reach
- the defendant was aware of the presence of the weapon
- the weapon was concealed, or hidden from ordinary view, meaning it was indiscernible from the ordinary observation of a person located outside and within the immediate vicinity of the vehicle
Definition of Dangerous Weapon
Wisconsin statutes fail to define “dangerous weapon”. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals in State v. Malloy, found that a dangerous weapon was “any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm.” The question of whether any particular knife calls into the category of a dangerous weapon is one for the jury, or in the case of a bench trial, the Judge.
In 2009, in the case of State v. Summer S.W., the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that a box cutter, or utility knife, carried by defendant, in her purse, was not a dangerous weapon, but that the folding knife with a 2 ½ inch serrated blade, also found in her purse, was a dangerous weapon.
Conclusion on Wisconsin Knife Law
It is illegal in Wisconsin to own a switchblade knife, gravity knife, Balisong or butterfly knife, or any other knife that is substantially similar to a switchblade, butterfly, or gravity knife.
It is illegal to carry a concealed and dangerous weapon, but legal to open carry any type of knife.
- Wis. Stat. § 941.24 (2012)
- Wis. Stat. § 941.23 (2012)
- State v. Walls, 526 N.W.2d 765 (1994 Wisc. App.)
- State v. Keith, 498 N.W.2d 865 (Ct. App. 1993)
- State v. Caprice S.I., 751 N.W.2d 903 (2008 Wisc. App.)
- State v. Malloy, 698 N.W.2d 133 (2005 Wisc. App.)
- State v. Krause, 468 N.W.2d 31 (1990 Wisc. App.)
- State v. Summer, 778 N.W.2d 173 (2009 Wisc. App.)