Bearing Arms

The Constitution of the State of California does not expressly enumerate a right to keep or bear arms. Although inalienable rights are acknowledged in article one, section one, the only language which might bear on weapon ownership is the listing of “defending life and liberty” and “protecting property” among the inalienable rights guaranteed by the state constitution. Any link between the protection and defense mentioned in article one section one and the right to bear arms is entirely implicit.

This means that California’s right to bear arms derives directly from the United States Constitution’s Second Amendment. This line of reasoning has been thoroughly tested; it is held up both by the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and the court statements recorded in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010).

General Overview

The statutory laws governing knives in the state of California have been significantly overhauled in the past few years. The indexing system has changed, resulting in new references. At present, the most important sections are in California’s Penal Code – specifically, Part 6 – Control of Deadly Weapons, Title 3 – Weapons and Non-Firearm Devices, Division 5 – Knives and Similar Weapons. California’s weapons laws are widely recognized as being more complex than those of other states.

Forbidden / Banned Knives

California’s criminal statutes forbid the possession of switchblade knives with blades longer than two inches. (Section 21510). Knives with a deceptive appearance which may be mistaken for other objects are also prohibited.

The common interpretation of this section’s term “switchblade knife” encompasses any pocket knife using the following mechanisms: spring blades, snap blades, gravity knives, or similar. Any knife with a blade that is released by pressing a button, applying pressure to the handle, moving the wrist, or through the use of any mechanical device is covered by the prohibition on switchblades. There is a specific exception for knives which can be opened one-handed by pressing on either the blade or a stud mounted on the blade. Such knives must have a mechanism such as a detent that applies constant pressure encouraging the blade to remain closed (Section 17235)

The California statutes include a lengthy list of “knife-like items” prohibited by the “deceptive appearance” language mentioned above. Examples include (but are not limited to) belt buckle knives, lipstick knives, air gauge knives, and similar novelties. Each of the specific items prohibited is banned by a specific section of the penal code. Expansive language is included at several points to make it clear that the “deceptive appearance” restriction can and should be applied for virtually any knife or similar weapon which is designed to imitate an innocuous object.

Knife Sales And Transfers

The rules governing sale, manufacture, and transferral refer back to the to the prohibited switchblade knives and similar items described above. Again, the length limitation for legal switchblades in California is two inches.

Carrying Knives And Concealment

California law considers concealment carefully. Thankfully, the statutes which define concealed carry and open carry are very clear and explicit. Carrying a concealed dagger or dirk is a criminal offense. According to Section 20200, carrying a sheathed knife openly is not a case of concealment.

The penalties for carrying concealed dirks and daggers are laid out in Section 21310 with exceptions starting at section 17700 in Chapter 1, Division 2, Title 2. Carrying a concealed dirk or dagger calls for a punishment of imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. Alternative imprisonment penalties are listed in Section 1170, subdivision h.

“Dirk” and “dagger” receive explicit definitions in the California weapons statutes, but these terms’ definitions can and frequently are applied expansively. Dirks and daggers are instruments suited to immediate use for the purpose of a stabbing. They are by definition capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm or death. The language of the statute notes that a weapon falling under this statute might or might not have a handguard, making the presence or absence of a handguard immaterial to defining dirks and daggers. Folding knives, pocket knives, and knives which do not meet the “ready use” qualification without their blades exposed and locked do not fall under the prohibition on concealing dirks and daggers.

To summarize the key points here: Non-locking folding knives, closed locking folding knives, and folding knives which do not fall under the switchblade prohibitions detailed in Section 21510 can be carried concealed without committing any crime. California’s switchblade knife statutes include the commonly-found language that favors closure in defining the knives which the statutes apply to.

When used in this section, “switchblade knife” is defined as any knife which uses a spring blade, a snap blade, a gravity-assisted design, or any similar type of knife with one or more blades over the length of two inches. The term includes all knives which can release their blades by flipping the wrist, pressing a button, applying pressure to the handle, letting the weight of the blade drop, or any other mechanism. One-handed knives that can be opened by putting pressure on the blade or on a bladed stud with the thumb are exempted from consideration as switchblades as long as they include mechanisms that resist the opening of the blade or forces the blade towards a closed position when not in use.

Key Knife Dimensions

In order to be considered illegal by California’s criminal statutes, a switchblade knife must have at least one blade which is longer than two inches.

State Preemption Law

California does not have a preemption law. This means that subordinate governing bodies like counties, cities, and municipalities are free to establish their own statutes regarding the legality of knives and other weapons. Weapons rules which apply to subordinate regions within the State of California are held to be broadly valid unless they directly contradict some aspect of state or federal law.

Knives In Schools

All schools in California are weapons-free zones.

This information that is presented as a brief description of the laws and not as any kind of legal advice. aStraightArrow will not and cannot be a legal service provider. The use of the site does not create any sort of client/lawyer relationship. The knife laws are interpreted differently by prosecuting attorneys, enforcement officers, and judges. aStraightArrow suggests you consult legal counsel for further suggests you consult legal counsel for further guidance.