Knives and the Right to Bear Arms

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There’s been a great deal of litigation recently about firearms and the Second Amendment. But guns aren’t the only “arms” sometimes carried for self-defense, and there have been several recent cases about the status of knives under the federal Constitution and state constitutions.

The most recent case is State v. Murillo, __ P.3d __, 2015 WL 170053 (N.M. Ct. App. Jan. 21, 2015), holding that the New Mexico statute prohibiting possession of a switchblade knife did not violate the state or federal constitutions. Applying intermediate scrutiny, the court found that the provision “bans only a small subset of knives, which are themselves a peripheral subset of arms typically used for self-defense.” Further, it found that the prohibition addresses the serious problem of the use of such weapons for criminal activity. The court specifically declined to follow State v. Delgado, 692 P.2d 610 (Or. 1984), which struck down Oregon’s switchblade ban under the state constitution’s right to bear arms.

Other recent cases about knives include State v. DiCiccio, 105 A.3d 165 (Conn. 2014) (holding that knives and batons are “arms” within the scope of the Second Amendment and that a state statute prohibiting the transportation of such weapons between residences impermissibly infringes the right to possess them), and City of Seattle v. Evans, 327 P.3d 1303 (Wash. Ct. App. 2014) (“[W]e hold that as applied in this case, Seattle’s prohibition on carrying a fixed-blade knife in public [in this case, a kitchen knife in the defendant’s pocket] did not violate [the defendant’s] federal constitutional right to bear arms.”).

Could litigation about knife laws arise in North Carolina? Absolutely. Our statutes regulating knives include:

  • S. 14-269, which prohibits the concealed carrying of any “bowie knife, dirk, dagger,” or “other deadly weapon of like kind.” The statute doesn’t apply to an “ordinary pocket knife carried in a closed position.” In Matter of Dale B., 96 N.C. App. 375 (1989), the court ruled that a knife that was “about four and one-half inches in overall length, when folded,” was an ordinary pocket knife. However, the exception doesn’t cover switchblades, i.e., knives that that may be “opened by a throwing, explosive, or spring action.” So it is illegal to carry a switchblade or a fixed-blade knife in your pocket in North Carolina. Open carry appears to be OK.
  • S. 14-269.2 prohibits the possession of any “bowie knife, dirk, dagger,” “switchblade knife,” or “any sharp-pointed or edged instrument” other than instructional supplies on educational property. So it is illegal to bring a pocket knife to school in North Carolina.
  • S. 14-269.6 prohibits the possession of “any spring-loaded projectile knife.”
  • S. 14-315 prohibits giving or selling any “bowie knife” or “dirk” to a minor.
  • Many statutes address deadly weapons generally and likely apply to most knives. For example, G.S. 14-269.4 prohibits carrying “openly or concealed, any deadly weapon” in courthouses and in certain state buildings. I’m not aware of a case decided under that statute concerning the status of knives, but case law generally provides that “[t]he definition of a deadly weapon clearly encompasses a wide variety of knives.” State v. Sturdivant, 304 N.C. 293 (1981). See also State v. Walker, 204 N.C. App. 431 (2010) (concluding that a three-inch knife was a deadly weapon).


There are local regulations of knives as well. This website purports to contain a partial list of such ordinances. I haven’t checked it for accuracy. Perhaps one could argue that some such regulations are preempted by state law, but I’m not aware of any cases on that issue.

Those interested in further reading might check out David B. Kopel et al., Knives and the Second Amendment, 47 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 167 (2013) (arguing that knives are protected by the Second Amendment and that “[p]rohibitions on carrying knives in general, or of particular knives [such as switchblades], are unconstitutional”). Of course, if anyone has experience litigating related issues or is aware of additional state or local provisions that should be mentioned above, please let me know or post a comment.

30 comments on “Knives and the Right to Bear Arms

  1. I find most laws regarding the carriage of knives to be devoid of common sense. Famous North Carolina(UNCCH grad) Robert Ruark had a chapter in his enormously popular book “The Old Man and the Boy” named “Same Knife, Different Boy.” Written in 1953 it lamented that knives and guns to some people are merely tools, which some of us use every day in certain parts of the year. So, a 3″ knife is legal and a 3 1/8″ in one’s pocket is a felony I guess? Another reason many of us think that the lawmakers have lost their mind. When I was at Garner Primary about 1959 every second grade boy brought a knife to school, they let us play with them during recess in games like “stretch.” Now they call a SWAT team out and handcuff the kid for the same thing.

    • I once asked a man who had a holstered blade on his hip, what the legal carry of knives were for N.C. He told me that as long as the blade is the length of your palm catty-corner, then it’s legal carry. I don’t know if that was true or not, but I just got a folding knife and made sure it fit my hand, just in case. Lol

  2. “Arms” means weapons. Knives are arms. The second amendment applies to carrying a switchblade the same as it applies to carrying a pistol.

  3. The reality is that law enforcement officers don’t pay much heed to those particular charges unless they are relevant to a violent incident that has occurred. Without a doubt law enforcement could readily choke the court system if they charged for knives at every opportunity. By the way, please be aware that the insanity of a three inch knife being legal while a 3.25 inch knife invokes charges can be laid at the feet of ATTORNEYS who make a living on such trivialities. Law enforcement officers would be happier to just limit the illegality to actions WITH a knife rather than just simply possessing one. I know that I limited my charging that particular statute to being in conjunction with assaults. Just possessing got a pass (officer discretion) because I, like the majority of law enforcement officers, felt that the application any other way of the statute was unconstitutional and that it would be in violation of our oaths to press them. Any law enforcement officer with more than a year on the street has the realization that some of our laws were not made by competent constitutionally minded legislators and have their genesis in self-serving kowtowing by said legislator(s). Thankfully we have the majority of our law enforcement officers who ARE competent and quite capable of negating such onerous laws in the performance of their duties. While you may legislate them, you certainly can’t force us to enforce the unconstitutional ones. We’re stubborn that way.

    • I agree with your statement, I am currently a Criminal Justice major in NC and even my instructors say laws like that are at our discretion to enforce. But, if one was present (by the aggravator) during an assault then I will charge him. At least that is what I have been told is how it should happen.

  4. Interesting that Scalia in DC v Heller specifically mentions Dirks being commonly carried when the Second Amendment was codified.

  5. Most items can be considered to be Deadly Weapons, depending on the use of the item. A childhood toy can be misused and be considered a weapon, like a baseball bat. On the field, swing it at baseball, not a weapon. In the street, swinging at other people’s head, a deadly weapon.
    Knives are the same, in my opinion. A knife used to cut rope, strip some wood, or such, not a deadly weapon. A knife used to rob or assault someone, a deadly weapon.
    When people loose the ability to use common sense, we all loose in the end. A little common sense is a great tool, and I am not sure it could be used as a deadly weapon….

  6. My question is what is the open carry law,if any, of a fixed blade knife for a convicted felon no longer on probation or parole in North Carolina?

  7. So can someone state page and paragraph whether or not I am allowed to Carry my 15.5 inch blade on my waist in NC

    • Though it is legal to openly carry a weapon (guns and knives) in public (within reason you know not into banks and schools) I would have to assume that carrying a machete would be different. plus what would you need a machete in public for it takes too long to unsheath it for defence. It is better to just carry a narrow bladed pocket knife for that.

    • Haha. I believe that’s a bit longer than the ‘4.5″ closed’ mentioned in the Statute

      • The statute that you’re referring to was concerning concealed carry. I don’t think the person above is trying to carry a knife on their hip in a concealed fashion.

    • i would like to know aswell i have a1.5 foot knife that i would like to carry

    • In the immortal words of Crocodile Dundee, “A knife? That’s not a knife.” (unsheathes impressive Bowie knife) “THIS is a knife.”

    • I would love to know the answer to this if someone has told you

  8. I was wondering, is it legal to open carry any legal knife in the state of North Carolina?

  9. As a NC law enforcement officer I would like to point out that a knife carried in your pocket by way of using its attached pocket clip causes the knife to no longer be “concealed”. Also the statutory wording for “dirk” means specifically the shape of the blade. A dirk is ANY knife that is sharpened on both sides of the blade including folding pocket knives.

    • That you William for the clarification on that using the knife clip meaning that the knife is no longer considered being concealed. Is there any place that lists what constitutes concealed vs not?

    • What would a M9 bayonet be considered? Also would it be legal to open carry it?

  10. My question is this, I have a fixed-blade hunting knife with a 4-1/4 inch blade, can I legally open carry this in North Carolina?

    • You should be able to derive your answer from the NC Statutes cited above. Blade length limits apply to concealed carry. However, there are places (listed above) where you cannot carry a knife, concealed or open carry.

  11. I have a fixed blade that’s overall blade length is 6.125″ with a cutting edge measuring 5.75″. I live in charlotte, NC and I’m wondering if I’m legally allowed to carry this.

    This link has info on some of NCs city/county knife laws, you should check with your local government for a complete list as many city’s/counties have different laws than the NC state law (Open Carry).

    Basically, North Carolina is an “Open Carry” state so you can carry any legal knife as long as it’s not hidden on your person. This rule applys to state owned/run property, our state parks are a good example of this. If there is a sign forbidding them then you can’t posses it on that property, a good example of this is a courthouse where it is illegal to have any weapons at all.

    • The government can carry their weapons in the courthouse, it is the common citizenry that is forbidden to do so.

  13. I recently lost my library priveliges , I had a small stake , the officer figured it constituted a threat to stability , a shame. It is illogical to figure the present lawless Gov. prevents emasculation .

  14. Is it legal to carry a sword in north carolina

    • No the maximum carry size is 4.5 in and plus why would you need to carry a sword???

  15. So what Im getting from all this is I can own any size or shape blade I want and it doesn’t have any laws or restrictions unless I take it into public and that’s when the laws take affect. Is this correct? I would really like to know as I’m starting to collect knives.

  16. In regards to open carry it is theoretically allowed as there are no statutes prohibiting it. However, you can be charged under the common law principles of terrorizing the public if your possession of such weapon is causing concern to other citizens. Therefore if you are responsibly open carrying your 15″ blade among conservatives who couldn’t care less you are not breaking the law. If a liberal sees you carrying the same weapon and calls it in then you are breaking the law and can be charged for terrorizing the public.

    • I’m not sure I understand why “liberal vs conservative” is a factor in that. You’re making the assumption that 100% of conservatives are in favor of open carry and 100% of liberals will call the cops if they so much as see a weapon on you. Trying to distill it down to party lines isn’t really answering the question.

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