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.

  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?

  4. Jeff Fleetwood

    I Agree with Tristan. A knife is a tool.
    This description of dangerous weapon could mean a anything. “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 bat or “club” is the earliest form of weapon ever conceived. For most they are used to play baseball but for criminals or bar owners, they are used to cause bodily injury and can cause death.
    A knife is a tool that most people use for which is was designed, to cut something. Because it is a knife, it’s sharp and that is it’s designed purpose.

    Interestingly, kitchen forks and screwdrivers are used most often in domestic abuse attacks.

    I came to this site to find out the legal status of Butterfly knives in Wisconsin, just to learn they are illegal.
    So I can open carry any knife of any size I want, but a butterfly knife which is one of the least dangerous knives to be attacked by if misused in such a manner is illegal. That is ridiculous.

    By the way I didn’t know what a ballistic knife was until I looked it up.
    Are you kidding me, this is legal. The blade actually shoots out of the handle.

    Here the Wikipedia description:
    A ballistic knife is a knife with a detachable blade that can be ejected to a distance of several meters by pressing a trigger or operating a lever or switch on the handle.[1][2] Spring-powered ballistic knives briefly gained notoriety in the United States in the mid-1980s after commercial examples were marketed and sold in the United States and other Western countries. Since then, the marketing and/or sale of ballistic knives to civilians has been restricted or prohibited by law in several countries.

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