The Case for Knife Rights

Big government overreach claims a new class of victims.


A certain fellow—we'll call him Fred—broke the law a while ago. He didn't mean to. He didn't even know he was doing it. Nevertheless, had he been caught he could have gone to jail—for a year.

Fred lives in Virginia. Last fall he went on a camping trip. Not knowing what the terrain might be like, he stowed a short machete in his backpack—in case he needed to clear away some stinging nettles, or behead a stray boomslang. (Boomslangs are extremely poisonous snakes whose venom makes you bleed to death from every bodily orifice. They are usually found only in sub-Saharan Africa—but why take chances?)

In any event, Fred unwittingly committed a Class 1 misdemeanor. Virginia's concealed-weapons law makes it illegal to carry "hidden from common observation" not just firearms but also dirks, bowie knives, switchblades, razors and a variety of more exotic items usually seen only in poorly dubbed martial-arts movies. The list also includes machetes.

Fortunately for Fred, he has an ally in his corner—a group called Knife Rights, which is like the National Rifle Association but for knives. Last month Knife Rights won a big (for them) victory when Tennessee repealed a law prohibiting switchblades. Tennessee followed the lead of Alaska, which legalized them in 2013. Knife Rights was behind both efforts.

You wouldn't think the country has much need for a group like Knife Rights. After all, there is no countervailing force trying to ban knives in America: No Knife Control Inc. or Center for the Study of Knife Policy and Research. There have been no Million Mom Marches for knife control, no congressional efforts to ban big blades.

On the other hand, a few years ago nobody would have expected New York to ban the Big Gulp, either. Now look.

As it turns out, the laws governing knives can be surprisingly restrictive—and in some ways even more restrictive than firearms laws. Example: In Virginia and many other states, you can get a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun—but if you want to carry a hunting knife under your coat, too bad: You can't get a permit for that. Switchblades may be technically legal in Virginia, but possessing one is considered prima facie evidence of intent to sell, which is illegal.

In Pennsylvania it's illegal to bring any knife of any size onto school property, concealed or not. And in New York, Knife Rights has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two men who were charged with carrying illegal weapons after police officers noticed the clips holding their folding pocket knives. The knives had thumb studs enabling them to be opened with one hand, and locking mechanisms to keep them from folding onto the holder's fingers by accident.

Knives like that are as common as Diet Coke—but New York D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. thinks they should be verboten. Four years ago he settled a case against several diabolical criminal enterprises, including Home Depot and Paragon Sports, for selling them. The stores surrendered almost $2 million for, as Vance said, "brazenly" hawking what he mistakenly called illegal gravity knives. (As the name implies, a gravity knife will open through gravity alone, or through centrifugal force if flicked. Common folding knives won't.)

The trouble with such restrictions is that knives are dual-purpose objects. They can be used as weapons, just as hammers and baseball bats can, but like hammers and baseball bats they usually aren't. Most kitchens have several big ones. A few years ago, the fact that people sometimes use kitchen knives in fits of rage led the editors of the British Medical Journal to call for restrictions on them. "We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives," they wrote. That meant any knife longer than two inches.

This was too much even for the usually ban-happy New York Times. But it might not be too much for others. Activist Al Sharpton has suggested we might need more knife control. Gothamist, a major New York website, thought it was a real knee-slapper that "Knife-lovin' patriots" would object to the city's tough knife laws: "Who doesn't enjoy a nice recreational afternoon in the park with a razor sharp gravity [sic] knife?"

Curiously, many dangerous-weapons laws have what seem like gaping holes in them. The Code of Virginia, for instance, doesn't say a thing about hatchets. The only restriction on axes is a prohibition against hunters bearing them on private property without the owner's permission. Nor does the Code mention swords, cutlasses or scimitars. But if your untucked shirt conceals a hefty hunting knife on your belt, you're breaking the law. Once is a misdemeanor, but get caught with a concealed bowie twice and you're up on felony charges.

Doug Ritter, the chairman of Knife Rights, says some of the blade restrictions have historical roots that are no longer valid, if they ever were. Laws against switchblades proliferated in the 1950s, when visions of street gangs like those in "West Side Story" danced through lawmakers' heads. Bowie knives—large, fixed-blade sheath knives with drop points—were banned in the 19th century because of their frequent use in duels.

There's no doubt knives are dangerous—witness the recent spate of knife slayings in China. What's more, according to the FBI, more than 1,500 Americans were killed by knives or other cutting instruments in 2012. But that's still just a fraction of the more than 33,000 Americans who were killed by motor vehicles in 2012, and nobody has suggested banning them—yet.

NEXT: Otis McDonald, Civil Rights Hero and Second Amendment Champion, 1933-2014

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  1. Switchblades may be technically legal in Virginia, but possessing one is considered prima facie evidence of intent to sell, which is illegal.

    Oh, FFS, from almost every standpoint!

    1. Hey, in Texas it is a felony.

      1. I was under the impression that switchblade and assisted open knives were no longer restricted in Texas.…..ill=HB1862

        1. True, as of 9-1-2013.

    2. Absolutely absurd.

  2. Wow, if nothing else I now know I’ve been breaking the law in VA, thanks A.!

    1. oh and I’ve been concealing a switchblade too FTW!

      1. …a benchmade automatic that I flew everywhere with including international pre-9/11, except for Japan where they asked me to gate check it.

    2. That’s one of many reasons I was so very happy to leave VA.

  3. Crap, I routinely throw a knife in my backpack for hiking and kayaking. Is this wrong?

    1. It amazes me how many people you run into who are surprised or freaked out that I always carry a knife with me. Doesn’t everyone?
      I have a 3 1/2″ switchblande in my pocket all the time (well, unless I have to leave the state).
      I think I have pretty much always carried a knife since I was about 8 years old.

      1. I have an 6″ skinning knife on me at all times, I have many uses for road kill pelts.

      2. And yet, when a package needs opening, everyone loves the guy with the knife. I’m with ProL, though. The idea that I would go somewhere more than an hour hours from civilization or modern transportation without a fixed blade knife, a length of good rope and implements for making fire goes contrary to all of my beliefs and training. All it takes is one bad fall before you’ll need all three and a little luck to survive.

        1. My husband always has a knife and a lighter at work. One of his squishy liberal co-workers wouldn’t stop bitching about it. So he jokingly told her, “Tools and fire use are what separate us from the animals, so quit talking about my knife before I cut you and set you on fire.” The lady wouldn’t talk to him for weeks.

          1. oh thats good!

          2. This is like the old “If you loan your brother in law a hundred bucks and then he starts avoiding you, was it worth the cost?” joke. This strikes me as a good way to get rid of a work related annoyance. Of course, it’s probably a civil rights violation, but what isn’t?

          3. Something tells me i’d enjoy working along with your husband.

        2. Dead on! It’s wrong to go out into the world unprepared for what commonly goes on there.

      3. I carry a 3″ Spyderco pocket knife daily. The clip shows so in Virginia it is not considered concealed.

        1. Really? I’ve heard an anecdote about a cop hassling someone for a “concealed” knife. How did he know this? The knife clip outside the pocket of course! As if it was still ‘officially’ concealed or something…

          1. Cops can hassle you over a ham sandwich, of course.

            Tricks to remember when it comes to Virginia and carrying a pocket knife: If the blade is short enough it won’t cross the width of your hand at the knuckles, it cannot be considered concealed as it will fit out of sight in your hand.
            If a cop asks you about your knife, respond “I use it in my work.” Have some plausible, preferably daily, functions connected to your work in mind. Package opening, even.
            I’ve even commented before that I clean and sharpen it daily as Virginia law requires, even though I know that’s meant for food preparation.
            Finally, smile and act relaxed. Once you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made.

      4. The wussification of America continues…

        What was the boyscout motto? Be prepared? Thing one is a knife; the universal tool.

        I too have always carried some sort of knife, since about that same age, and I have no intention of changing my ways.

    2. Define “wrong”. ’cause it and ‘illegal’ may just be 2 different things

      1. “may be”??? Try “almost certainly are”

    3. I have yet to meet a Grouper Trooper who cares about knives. As long as your fish are of the right length and you have a license, its all good. Unless you’ve been drinking and boating — although they’ve never troubled me in the kayak.

      1. I’ve got a nice, big diving knife, along with a Swiss Army knife in my pack. You know, be prepared? I used the knife to make a walking stick for my brother a year ago in the mountains, when his bad knee started to hurt.

      2. Game wardens suck. Fish dicks.

      3. They should require drinking and boating. Gives the fish more of a sporting chance.

      4. Irony of Size limitations – it selects for smaller fish. Lab testing with three tanks, each one culled of a certain number of fish each generational cycle showed the following results:

        Culled only of fish over a given length – overall fish size through several generational cycles smaller than at start, no overall change in population numbers.

        Culled of fish below a given length – no measurable change in fish size or overall population numbers.

        Culled of randomly sized fish – no measurable change in fish size or population numbers.

        In short – the regulation to “protect fish” makes them mature at smaller sizes since it allows them to avoid predation (humans) and shrinks overall size of individuals in the population.

        1. I’ve always thought that might be the case. It seems to me that the larger fish are going to be important for breeding and have desirable genetics for a vigorous population. Smaller ones are more likely to die or get eaten by non-human predators.

        2. If you do much diving in fresh water you will have a different take on it.

          It doesn’t cull fish by size, it culls the dumb ones.

          Many times I have watched monster fish cruising around while various baits were thrown at them. They paid no attention to it whatsoever. Smaller, younger, and dumber fish however…not so much.

          1. The purpose of the experiment was to test the assertation that size limits protected fish populations. Variables such as fish IQ had to be removed from the test. Mainly because the age-size-experience correlation you’ve mentioned.

            1. I was half joking, but I guess they do learn as they get older. The big ones that get away probably tend to stay just that.

    4. I always have my rigging knife on me.

  4. No mention of New Hampshire? We’ve had pretty much no restrictions on carrying knives of any kind for several years now. And amazingly, there hasn’t been a rash of switchblade and rapier assaults. I’m pretty sure you could even carry a sword, though that would probably get you some attention.

    1. People automatically assume people carrying swords around are nerds who wouldn’t know what to do with them.

      1. That’s what I’m counting on.

    2. Switchblades are legal in NH, too.

      1. I know. I have one in my pocket.

        1. Unfortunately the good ones can be a little pricy. Minimum around $150 it seems for quality.

          1. I got one of these which is pretty decent. Plus it comes in a box shaped like an AK47 magazine.

            1. love this, have 2 of them. i’ve moved though and i’m not even sure if they’re illegal in my new state, i’ve never bother looking

  5. How about katanas? Can you walk around with one of those if it isn’t concealed? What if I answer my door wearing one – what happens then?

    1. Wearing one? Drawing a sword in a doorway seems like a poor tactical decision.

    2. Death by hail of bullets.

    3. “Not now, Kato!”

    4. You can take the heads of other immortals for a quickening.

  6. Virginia’s concealed-weapons law makes it illegal to carry “hidden from common observation” … razors

    “You’ll need a holster for that Mach 3, Sir.”

    1. The 90s called, they want their razor burn back.

      /mach 5

      1. It’s funny when SNL joke ads come true. I remember one about a 5 bladed razor from when the 3 blade ones first came out. And now they are real.
        I haven’t shaved since the 90’s so they are up to 7 blades now for all I know.

        1. I went back to a single blade safety razor and have no problems I didn’t have with a disposable razor. Of course, I probably take a razor to my neckline once every six weeks and might shave the whole thing once a year. I bought 3 packs of safety razors for about $3 in 2011 and haven’t run out yet. Granted, I spent $15 on the handle. So $6/year.

        2. I remember both that ahow and Bob & Ray joking about 3 blade razors after the 2 bladed ones came out. The Onion had one about 5 blades after 4 bladed ones.

        3. I remember both that ahow and Bob & Ray joking about 3 blade razors after the 2 bladed ones came out. The Onion had one about 5 blades after 4 bladed ones.

          1. Gee, we’re only just getting close to 3:00!

  7. A few years ago, the fact that people sometimes use kitchen knives in fits of rage led the editors of the British Medical Journal to call for restrictions on them. “We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives,” they wrote. That meant any knife longer than two inches.
    I’m pretty sure they’d have more injuries caused by people attempting to cut watermelons, squashes, hell, even loaves of bread with a two inch knife.

    1. Did those fuckers ban certain surgical tools, too?

      1. No, they limited them to agents of the government.

    2. The Brits created an “anti-stab” knife.

      Even gun hating gizmodo hates it:…..-accidents

  8. The natural right to keep and bear arms automatically includes knives.

    1. that reminds me I was reading Plato the other day and even back then they were arguing weather a mental person should be allowed to bear a sword. Funny how some arguments never change, other than today its mainly about guns.

    2. It would seem that way, but…

  9. The Scots banned the sale of swords (with a bunch of exceptions) some years ago.

  10. I carry a folding knife on me at all times. I use it daily at work for this or that.

    Only problem is that I live in NYC. I’m sure it’s a felony or something here. That said, the city is not nearly as safe as the politicians let on. I’d rather do a year or whatever than be a victim. Got mugged once when i lived in Florida at 9 in the morning waiting for the bus. That’s not happening again.

  11. Dirks are regulated but not arakhs? Obviously the Code of Virginia was written by some horse-shagging Dothraki.

  12. Knive CCW laws are stupid enough as it is but then you throw in some of the blade restrictions and they’re just ludicris. I would consider a 3″ to 5″ blade pretty standard grandpas pocket knive. Yet I’ve seen restrictions as small as 2 1/2″. Yeah, maybe if your a toddler that might make sense. What kind of loser pussies are coming up with this crap. Who doesn’t carry at least a 3″ folder on them at all times. I have a 3″ buck I take everywhere.

    1. I have a Bob Lum “Chinese” folder I think is under 3″ that I carry when I’m wearing a suit. It’s good for just about anything I would do in business clothes. My daughters have all settled on little sub-3″ EDC knives. Last June I bought my youngest a Spyderco “Dragonfly” she keeps shaving-sharp.
      I agree the restrictions are deeply stupid.

  13. The trouble with such restrictions is that knives are dual-purpose objects.

    No, the problem with them is the same as with firearms restrictions: They leave men to decide between helplessness and lawbreaking.

  14. Does anyone with a brain think that banning knives will make all knife violance go away?

    Anywone with a Home Depot near by can buy a $40 grinder and a hunk of steel and make their own.

    When I worked in a machine shop, we used to take those big industrial hack saw blades and grind them into knives. I don’t know what kind of steel the blade part (saw teeth) was, but once ground into a sharp blade, those things stayed sharp a long time.

    1. Fortunately, there is very little serious suggestion of banning any kind of commonly used knives. Those British Medical Journal twits stand out as particularly ridiculous

    2. Tool steels are very nice for knives. I suspect Buck uses D2 steel, as they take so much longer to sharpen. Most industrial tools I’ve been exposed to were either O6 or W2 tool steel. I have a belt knife made from O1 that takes and edge you wouldn’t believe.

    3. this is how martial arts started when the warlords would no longer allow the common people to have swords. The people created martial arts and a part of the art is turning common garden tools into weapons, everyone had garden tools. Proof form thousands of years of evidence that banning something does not make the problem you are trying to stop from going away.

      1. But the New Soviet Virginian Man will not have this problem, comrade!

      2. thousands of years of evidence
        1 Samuel 13: 19-22
        19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.”
        20 But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax, and his sickle;
        21 and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads.
        22 So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son.

        Sword control in action, but the Israelites won anyway.

  15. Carrying a knife was a rite of passage. As a Cub Scout, I had to learn the rules of safe knife handling.

    A few years ago I read an article by some liberal NYC dad who sent his sons to a traditional summer camp. And he was beating his breast wondering if he really wanted his sons to learn “knife skills”, particularly as they lived in the city. It was some of the animist thinking I’ve seen mentioned here. He couldn’t conceive of the knife as a useful tool, albeit one you treat with respect. Nope, knives are bad, and he felt bad as a father for letting them be exposed to knives.

    1. IIRC, they had a card you had to carry at Boy Scout camp with your knife when I was there. If an adult saw you doing something unsafe, you lost a corner. On losing the fourth corner, you lost your knife privileges for a while. I’m sure I spent at least two summers running around with a knife and three corners missing. OTOH, I haven’t accidentally cut myself or anyone else with a knife outside of the kitchen in the 20-odd years since then.

      1. We had that for knives and for hatchets.

      2. It’s called a “Totin’ Chit”.

        1. That was it. I didn’t know whether that was local to our summer camp or a BSA thing.

      3. Boyscouts taught some good lessons. I recall having it drummed into me that a sharp knife gave you more control, and was thus safer. Imagine my surprise when last year at Thanksgiving time I hear a PSA on TV from some federal agency to only carve your turkey with a dull knife so that you didn’t stand as much chance of injury if you slipped. No, I’m not making it up. *You* paid for that dreck with your tax dollars.

  16. I carry a Swiss Army knife w/ me everywhere (the large blade is around 2.5″).

    1. I’ve carried ever since I was old enough to have pockets, so forever.

    2. that’s one separate count for each scary looking device on it mister.

  17. Maybe the administration would come down on the right side of this issue?


  18. My sons have had carry pocketknives since they were 5 and 6 years old. One of them had a 1.5mm cut, a year later … but now they both use the knives whenever needed, and with respect. I am endlessly amazed by how many people, women in particular, react as if I am a child molestor when I relate this story.

    “shall not be infringed” — not really a lot of gray there.

  19. In California if you have a baseball bat behind the seat and you there is no glove and you are not going to a game the bat is considered a concealed weapon. this happen to friend of mine while he was driving through L.A. note he does play baseball just not when he is in la la land.

    BTW England has a knife Scar and knives can’t have a point. This is coming to a state near you, once the guns are gone.

    1. So, carry a ball and glove in your car. By the way, I have yet to hear anyone charged with carrying tools. I have a two-foot-long wrench for large nuts and bolts, a ball-peen hammer, a tire iron and a couple of crescent wrenches and screwdivers scattered on the back floor. So what?

  20. One problem is that guns are justifiable under state & US const’ns as militia weapons. The state says, in effect, we allow you the right to keep & bear guns because you might then have them handy for defending, not yourself (Who cares?), but other people or the sovereign. Harder to make that deal regarding knives (which are similar to guns in being weapons) or fireworks (which are similar to guns in method of action). They pose less of a threat of intentional injury to others than guns do, but for that very reason a right to them isn’t going to fly.

    It works if our masters decide that since guns are allowed, what the heck, why not allow similar but less dangerous things as well? But it doesn’t work if they think, we only allowed you guns grudgingly, no way we’re going to let you have other things too unless you can make the same deal with them.

    1. the 2nd amendment says “arms” not “guns” which ought to protect all weapons not banned by a duly ratified international treaty.

    2. Harder to make that deal regarding knives (which are similar to guns in being weapons) or fireworks (which are similar to guns in method of action). They pose less of a threat of intentional injury to others than guns do, but for that very reason a right to them isn’t going to fly.

      But, as Hinkle noted, the contest over fireworks and knives isn’t as hotly debated either. Nobody murders a school full of children or a theatre full of people with a pocket knife and some M-80s.

      Because of this, they don’t represent a specific action against a specific portion of the constitution as much as they signify plain old creeping authoritarianism. To me, restricting access to and use of fireworks is as much a violation of both free speech and religious freedom as it is the 2nd Am.

      In Chicago it’s a $1500 fine if you’re caught carrying a liter or more of a ‘caustic substance’ because it can be used to injure someone (i.e. as a weapon). Nevermind that every car has such a ‘weapon’ under the hood and that similar or even more powerful ‘weapons’ can be picked up at any grocery store, gas station, or coffee shop.

      I’d love to think rampant reactionary knife banning would go about as far as pressure-cooker bans did, maybe I’m an optimist.


  22. “Activist Al Sharpton has suggested we might need more knife control…”

    Speaking of Al Sharpton and on a off-topic sidenote, I spotted that article on the Smoking Gun via Drudge Report about Al Sharpton.…..ton-764312

  23. New Hampshire passed a Knife Rights Law in 2010. There are no laws against knives of any kind on the books up here.

    Stabbing people, however, still remains illegal.

    1. They’re working on it. Pretty soon it’ll be like Somalia. 😛

  24. Spyderco Civilian, yay or nay?

  25. I can still legally buy a grenade launcher. But no grenades. For that indeed to watch a rerun of Burn Notice or MacGyver.

  26. Knives are tools.

    1. So are politicians.

  27. Berserk knife laws… on the cutlery note you can’t buy a fork from a Tesco in the UK if you are under 18.

  28. Western civilization will die, whimpering, when everything is packaged in plastic, and you aren’t allowed any tool sharp enough to open it.

  29. Aw man, I was hoping american socialist would be in here spewing mindless invective about Knife Rights being wholly owned by the eeeeeevil cutlery industry or some other such nonsense. I mean, this discussion could really use some made up statistics and meaningless comparisons to other countries with more sensible knife control laws.

  30. I always wondered why California has outlawed blowguns. Did we have a rash of drive-by dartings?

  31. What a load of bunk. I got my first knife at 5 to eat watermelon with my grandpa when we were at the farm. I bought my first big knife at 8 an Old Timer. I wore that knife on my belt everywhere till I was about 15 and still have it. I have always carried a knife. Just like I always have a hat, a jacket or heavy shirt, cord, a way to make a fire and water. I never leave home without these things. When I carry my pack I have no less than 5 blades on me and a pistol or two. I was a boy scout as a kid. I still have my boy scout knife, hatchet and sharpening stone. These are all tools that will keep you alive. The mere thought of not having these basic essential things is foreign to me. I have a hard time accepting the nanny state, victim mentality. I guess all we can do is keep a low profile and avoid interactions with LEO’s. Keep your head on a swivel and your eyes open. You can avoid most situations by being aware of your surroundings. Confront all unavoidable threats with extreme prejudice. LEO’s have no duty to protect anyone, so act accordingly.

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