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.)
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17 comments on “Wisconsin Knife Laws
  1. Dante says:

    Just a correction to what you have stated. In the state of Wisconsin you may carry a concealed knife, either on your person or in your vehicle, if you possess a valid CCW permit. While going through the training and paying the fee may seem a bit much if you intend to only carry a concealed knife and not a concealed firearm, a CCW allows you to carry a knife other than those illegal by type (switchblade, etc.), firearm, billy club, or electric weapon.

    http://www.doj.state.wi.us/sites/default/files/dles/ccw/ccw-faq.pdf

  2. KIM says:

    IS THERE A SIZE RESTRICTION ON THE SIZE OF FOLDING KNIFE THAT WE ARE ALLOWED TO CARRY WITHOUT A CCW, OR DOES THE CCW COVER ALL KNIVES EXCEPT THE SITCHBLADES, BUTTERFLY?

  3. MilesFox says:

    Wisconsin now allows concealed carry permits for firearm, edge weapon, and baton.

  4. Jordan says:

    What about spring-assisted knives? There is no button or movement that opens the knife. Could those be classified as switch blades?

  5. devin says:

    Jordan, spring-assisted knives fall into the switch blade category lol. ik from getting charged for having one i think it was around a $600 or $700 don’t quite remember

  6. AUSTIN says:

    It’s legal to open carry a knife in wisconsin how does wisconsin law define open carry?

  7. Dan says:

    Open carry simply means it is visible.

  8. josiah says:

    is it illegal to carry a folding knife[blade2andahalfinch]clipped on your pocket?

  9. peco says:

    According to Wisconsin state statues there is no difference between a knife that is 1/2 inch and a knife that is 6 inches.

    According to Langston v. State, 61 Wis. 2d 288, 212 N.W.2d 113 (1973) even a plastic soft drink bottle can be considered a weapon actual injury from the victim is not required.
    An unloaded pellet gun qualified as a “dangerous weapon” under sub. (10) in that
    it was designed as a weapon and, when used as a bludgeon, was capable of producing
    great bodily harm. State v. Antes, 74 Wis. 2d 317, 246 N.W.2d 671 (1976).

  10. Brian G says:

    Assisted open knifes ARE leagl to carry with weapons permit in the State of Wi. Assisted Open knifes are NOT considered” switch blades” go to kniferights.com

  11. Brian Wright says:

    Hello,

    I am a firm believer in defending yourself and/ or others. I carry a survival/bowie knife strapped on my side just about everywhere I go and I know how to use a knife very very well.

    Prior to carrying, I researched the knife laws and blade length laws for WI. Trust me when I say.that if someone attempts to rob me or my wife or if I see it about to happen to others, or let’s say someone threatens me or mine or anyone near me with bodily harm, I’m not going to sit idly by and watch it happen and then wait for an hour for a sissy little Barney Fife-looking cop with a bullet in his pocket to show up. No Sir!

    But what I will do in defending me, mine, or those near me, is I will yank out tht big sharp blade I have on my side. And I will definitely filet me some criminal/ robber/ bully!! And that is No Joke!!! I do Not believe in the BS philosophy of, “if it happens, then it was meant to happen…nothing we can do about it!” That is a crock statement made up by pittiful bleeding hearts that have sympathy for the criminals!!

    And I am sure I’m not the only one who feels this way and is just sick and tired of crazed gunmen and loser coward bullies. It’s time for us innocent, peace-loving people to get a little “crazec” too…and Fight Back!! Thanks for reading!!

  12. Brandon says:

    Well put Brian im with you on that.I carry one everyday not just for selfdefense but feel more comfortable knowing that if the situation arises I will not hesitate to defend myself and family.

  13. anthony says:

    Are trench knives legal in Wisconsin?

  14. Jim says:

    Is there a certain age for open carry? I’m used to Illinois laws where anyone can carry 3 inch or under knives.

  15. Tristan says:

    Spring assisted knives are not illegal in WI ok so maybe a bitcy cop would just get on your case about it but a “Switchblade” wether out of the front versions or side flip, it has to have a button or other leavers on the HANDLE OF THE KNIFE.
    THE MECHANISM THAT OPENS IT IS NOT ATTACHED TO THE KNIFE AND THEREFORE ILLEGAL. I carry a new type of spting assisted knife that shoots out of the front. It falls under the spring assisted category because you must push a knob ON THE SIDE OF THE KNIFE THAT IS DIRECTLY ATTACHED TO THE BLADE AND IF YOU PUSH WITH A LITTLE AMONT OF PRESSURE IT MOVES THE KNIFE OUT OF THE LOCKED POSITION ACTIVATING THE SPRING AND COMING OUT. Now like I said before technically it is close to a switchblade but that’s the law there is a difference. I have owned both illegal switchblades ( that I didnt carry around) and legal spring assisted knives. I have never had a problem spring assisted knives were made for fast easy and fun use for a practical reason. They are great for the disabled and can be opened with one hand with no problem. I just suggest like sith anything else don’t go flashing it around and don’t use it in an illegal matter. Women are especially people to avoid with any kind of knife or and thing sharp or dangerous. Case closed

  16. Tristan says:

    I also believe in a knife as a tool first not a weapon

  17. Aleksander says:

    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.

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