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California Knife Laws – What You Can & Cannot Carry Legally

California Knife Laws – What You Can & Cannot Carry Legally

Living in California means dealing with some of the strictest knife laws in the country. It can be really confusing trying to figure out what types of knives are legal to own and carry here. Believe me, I’ve been there! As a knife enthusiast myself, I’ve spent way too many late nights Googling obscure statutes trying to make sense of it all.In this article, I’ll break down the basics of what you need to know about California knife laws in simple terms. We’ll cover what knives you can legally carry concealed or open carry, differences between state and local knife laws, exceptions for work purposes, and more. My goal is to make this stuff actually understandable!Alright, let’s get to it…

Overview of California Knife Laws

In California, all knives are considered dangerous weapons. That means there are a bunch of restrictions around owning, carrying, manufacturing, selling, lending, etc.The main statutes covering knife laws in California are [Penal Code Sections 16470, 17235, and 21510]. But cities and counties often have local ordinances further restricting knives too.It’s basically illegal to carry any knife concealed on your person unless it’s a small pocket knife or you have a valid permit. You can openly carry some larger fixed blade knives. Switchblades, ballistic knives, belt buckle knives, cane swords, shurikens, and other exotic weapons are completely prohibited.There’s exceptions for hunters, fishermen, tradespersons, and other folks who use knives for work. But in general, knife laws here are much stricter than most other states.

Types of Legal Knives in California

Figuring out if a specific knife is legal to own and carry in California can be really tricky. Here are some of the main types of knives that are legal with certain restrictions:

Pocket Knives

  • Folding pocket knives and Swiss Army knives are legal to carry concealed if the blade is less than 2 inches.
  • No length limit for pocket knives carried open and visible on your belt or pocket.
  • Assisted opening knives are okay but switchblades are illegal.

Fixed Blade Knives

  • Legal to carry open and visible in a sheath on your belt.
  • Blade must be less than 5 inches.
  • Illegal to carry concealed.

Butterfly Knives

  • It’s misdemeanor to possess butterfly knives like balisongs. They’re basically illegal.

Dirk Knives/Daggers

  • Illegal to carry concealed.
  • Legal to carry open and visible in a sheath.

Stilettos, Push Daggers, etc

  • Widely considered illegal to own or carry.

As you can see, length limits are really important in determining if a knife is legal to carry or not. Anything over 2 inches when folded is illegal for concealed carry. Open carry fixed blades can’t be longer than 5 inches.


Illegal Knives in California

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, here are some types of knives that are totally illegal to own or carry in California:

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  • Switchblades – Illegal to manufacture, sell, own, transport, etc.
  • Gravity Knives – Flick knives that open with centrifugal force.
  • Ballistic Knives – Blades that detach and become projectiles.
  • Belt Buckle Knives – Any concealed knife incorporated into a belt.
  • Lipstick Knives – Knives disguised as lipstick cases.
  • Cane Swords – Blades concealed in a cane or walking stick.
  • Writing Pen Knives – Blades concealed in pens.
  • Shuriken – Any throwing star or oriental dart.

Basically, if it’s a disguised or concealed knife that doesn’t look like a knife, it’s probably illegal in California. Novelty and exotic knives like cane swords are also prohibited.

Exceptions for Work Purposes

There are some exceptions to California’s strict knife laws if you need to use knives for work purposes:

  • Chefs & cooks can carry folding knives designed for culinary uses.
  • Construction workers, electricians, and other tradesmen can carry utility knives, box cutters, and fixed blades.
  • Landscapers, arborists, and gardeners can carry tools like machetes, axes, and pruning knives.
  • Fishermen & hunters can possess fillet knives, bowie knives, throwing knives, and other tools of the trade while actively engaged in their sports.

Note that these exceptions only apply while you’re on the job or engaged in the activity. Don’t go driving around with a machete in your truck when you’re off work!

Local Knife Ordinances

Here’s where things get really complicated. On top of the state laws, many California cities and counties have their own local knife ordinances further restricting possession:

  • Los Angeles County bans possession of any “dangerous or deadly weapon” including knives capable of being concealed on your person.
  • Oakland prohibits carrying switchblades, dirks, daggers, or dangerous knives with blades 3″ or longer.
  • Sacramento County bans concealed carry of any “dirk, dagger, or sharp instrument” regardless of blade length.
  • San Francisco prohibits carrying concealed knives with blades longer than 3.5 inches.
  • San Diego makes it illegal to possess “dangerous knives” like any fixed blade knife or a folding knife with a blade over 2″.

So always check your local city and county laws too! Chances are there’s additional municipal codes further restricting knife carry, even if it’s technically legal under state law. When in doubt, leave it at home.

Consequences for Breaking California Knife Laws

Getting caught violating California’s complex web of knife laws can result in serious criminal penalties. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Carrying an illegal knife is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in county jail.
  • Possessing a switchblade or gravity knife is also a misdemeanor.
  • If convicted of a felony, you lose your right to own or possess any knives at all.
  • Selling, lending, or giving an illegal knife to a minor is a wobbler offense.
  • Manufacturing, importing, selling, or exposing switchblades for sale can be prosecuted as a felony.

Don’t mess around with this stuff! Getting charged with a knife crime means getting a criminal record that can really screw up your life. If in doubt about what’s legal, just don’t carry it.

When Can You Use a Knife for Self-Defense?

This is one of the big questions I always get asked about knife laws in California. Here’s the deal:You can legally use a knife for self-defense as long as you have a reasonable fear of imminent danger. Brandishing a knife when there’s no threat or using it excessively is illegal.If you do use a knife defensively, it MUST be a legal knife. You can never use an illegal knife for self-defense no matter what.In general, it’s best to avoid using a knife for self-defense when possible. Pepper spray and other less lethal options are smarter choices in California.

Bottom Line on California Knife Laws

Let’s recap the key takeaways:

  • Know your local knife laws! Many cities and counties have additional restrictions.
  • No concealed carry of knives with blades over 2 inches.
  • Only pocket knives, not fixed blades, can be carried concealed.
  • Open carry of fixed blades on your belt is legal if less than 5 inches.
  • Switchblades, daggers, cane swords, and other exotic knives are illegal.
  • Work-related exceptions allow bigger knives for certain jobs.
  • Violating knife laws can result in misdemeanor or felony charges.

I know it’s a lot to remember, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. As long as you stick to small legal pocket knives for EDC, you should be fine. Never carry anything questionable!Hopefully this breakdown has helped demystify California’s confusing knife laws a bit. Let me know if you have any other questions!


[California Penal Code on Switchblades][California Knife Laws Explained by Criminal Defense Lawyers][Guide to California Knife Laws by Nolo]

Additional Reading

[California Knife Laws – FindLaw][California Knife Law Reform][Knife Rights – California Knife Law]

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