Wisconsin Knife Laws

wisconsinWisconsin 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.

Sources

  • 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.)

Comments

  1. Aleksander

    same, i carry my knife just so I feel safe when I’m alone.
    And yes I am very skilled with a knife, I have learned six marcail arts I probebly spelled that wrong.

  2. triston

    Its sad to me that the balisong (butterfly knife) is not legal in wisconsin, i believe i should be able to at least OWN anything i want weather i can carry it in public i dont care, ive been flipping for years and its a great pass time it just disappoints me that we cant get past a stigma created by media and movies that makes this knife look so much more dangerous than many others.

    1. Jacob Kerlin

      You can own one, just not carry it. You won’t get in trouble for owning one. I’ve bought at least 15 Balisongs since living in WI.

  3. Jake (ViperEye) Schur

    My KA-BAR is also stamped USMC, as is the leather sheath. It is: 7 & 1/16″ from blade tip to hilt, one pound, full tang, and black coated metal. It’s also very sharp and I bought it at Gander Mt. in Baraboo, WI. Does that description mean it is not a Bowie?

    1. Ben Fox

      I think that you should be wary of carrying it around, since it is a combat knife (USMC being the United States Marine Corps), but you should be able to explain yourself out of a situation where someone calls you out for it. Getting a leather handle wrap instead of the black handle might help, too, unless you got the wood handled version, in which case I would just leave it.

    2. Jacob Kerlin

      Haha it is not illegal. You can open carry it, however I would recommend against it. People are likely to call the cops over it. Depends what kind of area you live in. It will cause more trouble than its worth. I would recommend getting your concealed carry permit and getting a knife that you can conceal. There is no blade length restriction if you have a concealed weapons permit. Otherwise, the largest blade you can carry concealed must be 3 inches or shorter.

    3. Jacob Kerlin

      Ka-Bars are technically a push tang design. Not quite a full tang. Well sort of, but usually a full tang involves the handle being of similar width to the blade and then having slabs or “scales” fastened to the sides. The Ka-Bar is designed the way it is for the best point of balance. If it was a traditional full tang design, it would be way too back heavy. I love how the Ka-Bar design has stayed the same for so long. This means it was just done right the first time! I’ve owned my USMC Ka-Bar for quite a while now, and I’ve used it for just about everything. Too bad the company is owned by Cut-Co now.

  4. Nuclear

    Last winter I ordered a 28 inch Foreign Legion Machete and was taking it from my friend’s house to my house, walking of course. I was stopped by an officer who drove me home, it wasn’t particularly cold, I wasn’t particularly far from home, but he still stopped me and drove me home after I showed him my ID. He never explained to me whether what I did was illegal or he was just feeling charitable. The handle was sticking out of my bag, he didn’t search me or call in my name or anything. Thoughts?

  5. Dan

    Is it OK for me to were a knife on my belt that has a blade length of 4 inches or over.

    1. Jacob Kerlin

      As long as it is in the open and not concealed. However, this may cause problems for you because people will probably call the police if they see you.

    1. Jacob Kerlin

      Yes, assisted opening knives are legal to carry as long as the blade is 3 inches or shorter. If you have a concealed weapons permit, there is no blade length restriction.

    2. James S. Rustad

      Go read Act 149 — there is no blade length restriction without a permit.

  6. James Ewert

    This needs to be updated the law has changed since Wisconsin passed concealed carry and the castle law

  7. 357 magnum

    The way this reads even a person carrying a standard jack knife in their pocket that can be used for a multitude of things could be considered a weapon if some one really presses the issue of a person having one on them.

    1. Ben Keller

      Yeah, that’s exactly why knife law reform was pushed through. All done now. You can do what you want here. シ

  8. SoundCandy

    What about a 599 fox karmabit trainer knife? It’s more of an impact knife that can’t stab or slash.

    1. Jacob Kerlin

      Yes, a karambit is legal to own in WI. Training knife included.

    2. Ben Keller

      No length restrictions on any knife. All knives are now legal to own, carry and even conceal.

    3. Jacob Kerlin

      Yes, legal to carry. Regular Karambits are also legal to carry

    1. Ben Keller

      It went into effect as soon as Walker signed it. All knives are now legal to carry or conceal anywhere in the state.

    2. Dean Weingarten

      Wisconsin, like most states, has a procedure for laws to become effective. In Wisconsin, the law must be published, then it goes into effect the next day. Act 149 was signed on the 6th, published on the 7th, and went into effect on the 8th. I did not think public servants would act so fast, but they did!

    3. Ben Keller

      Ah, that explains why I didn’t get notified by the legislature’s automated system until two days after he signed it. Thanks for the clarification. B)

    4. James S. Rustad

      “Anywhere” is an overstatement as Act 149 does not seem to allow knives in schools. It also does allow a political subdivision to ban carry of knives in buildings owned by the political subdivision. Still, a lot better than I expected to pass.

    5. Ben Keller

      You’re correct ─ you probably still won’t be able to bring a blade into most city halls and county court buildings.

      I see nothing explicitly prohibiting knives in schools at this point. Wis. Stat. § 948.61(1)(a) deals with that sort of thing, going by the “dangerous weapon” designation in § 939.22(10). Neither of them mention knives, though the latter does include “any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm.”

      With the changes Act 149 makes to § 175.60(1)(j), there does not seem to be any place left in Wisconsin law where knives in general are considered to be weapons. § 941.23(1)(ap) even specifically excludes knives from § 939.22(10)’s definition of “weapon” for concealed carry purposes.

      I guess what it comes down to is that under § 939.22(10) it would usually depend on the design of the knife. If it’s just a swiss army knife or other typical pocketknife, it would be hard to argue that it was “designed as a weapon,” but a Bowie knife or big military tanto would be hard to defend.

      Hunting knives and machetes would probably be challenged under a different standard, as while they are not designed as weapons, carrying one into a school may easily be construed as evidence of malicious intent under § 66.0409(6), unless you have some other valid reason for doing so.

      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/948.61(1)(a)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/939.22(10)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/175.60(1)(j)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/941.23(1)(ap)
      https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/66.0409(6)

    6. James S. Rustad

      You may be right, but given the hysteria over weapons and schools, I’d rather not be found carrying a knife of any kind in a school. I hope that we keep moving in the right direction on this — I remember carrying pocket knives all through high school without any risk of trouble. ‘Course, even that doesn’t compare with my father’s high school experiences. He and his buddies would go duck hunting after school. During school they kept their shotguns in their lockers.

    7. Ben Keller

      Nope. Just make sure to stay away from schools with them. As Dean points out below, the Justice Department is still treating them as weapons if they’re on school property.

      We might not agree with them, but that won’t stop them from arresting and prosecuting us if we defy them, and with an unprecedented amount of school violence going on right now a jury is much more likely to see things their way than ours.

      But yeah, everywhere else aside from a local governement building that’s banned it—you’re in the clear. ⦂B)

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