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.


  • 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.)
  • Tristan

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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?

  • Dan

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

  • Mark Golomski

    Wisconsin open carry knife law

  • Benny

    A pocket knife it’s a must nowadays http://www.knivest.com/pocket-knives/

  • Jack McGovern

    What about a tac-force EMT/ems knife,? Is that legal? It is spring assisted. Here is the amazon link


  • Devaen Randall

    Has this been updated since the AB 142 reform in October of 2015?

  • James Ewert

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