The State Constitution of Massachusetts reaffirms the same right of citizens to keep and bear arms that are offered by the US Constitution.

The Massachusetts Constitution does differ from the US one by being more explicit in its negative stance against standing armies. The implication is clearly that an armed citizenry is an effective substitute for military power. This is set out in article 17 of part 1 of the state constitution.

The state statutes which govern knives in Massachusetts are mostly set out in Part IV, Title 1. The rules and regulations which are especially relevant fall under Chapter 269 (Crimes Against The Public Peace).

Massachusetts has no laws or rules specifically banning the ownership of any knives either specifically or generally.

Sale And Transfer:
There are a few classes of a knife which are not allowed to be sold, made, or offered in the state of Massachusetts. These includes ballistic knives, switchblades with a blade length over one and a half inches, and “dirk” knives.

Some of the terms referenced above are clarified by the text of the particular statute.

A ballistic knife is defined as any knife that features a detachable blade that has any kind of mechanism to propel it.

Knives with locking blades which can be drawn from the sheath in a fully locked position fall under this prohibition, as do all knives which use an automatic spring release to free the blade from the handle.

The punishments dictated for selling, transporting, or offering such knives for sale include fines in the range of $50 to $1,000 and prison sentences of six months or less.

Carry And Concealment

Massachusetts’s regulations regarding prohibited carry exclude issues related to concealment. The relevant statutes are far from simple, though, and they include many significant provisions that explicitly relate to knives.

The full range of knives specified as contributing to an offense include the “dirk” knives, switchblades, ballistic knives, and detachable-blade knives discussed above. Also included are “stilettos” and “daggers.”

The basic thrust of the carry rule indicates that a person who has any of the above-defined knives on their person or in their vehicle when they’re arrested on a warrant or during the commission of a crime is guilty of a prohibited offense. (The same statutes apply to billy clubs and “other dangerous weapons” as well.)

The minimum punishment defined for carrying or wielding these prohibited knives while committing another crime (including the always-nebulous “breach or disturbance of the peace”) is set at imprisonment for at least two and a half years.

Punishments for simple possession of prohibited knives unrelated to any other offense are slightly more lenient. They entail confinement of no more than five years but no less than six months. Subsection b of section ten of chapter 269 provides a much clearer list of prohibited knives:

a) stiletto
b) dagger
c) sheath, case, or device which allows the user to draw a locking blade knife with the blade already locked
d) ballistic knife or any knife with a detachable, propelled blade
e) dirk knife
f) knife with a double-edged blade
g) switchblade or other automatically-opening knife provided the blade length exceeds one and a half inches

Massachusetts’s statutes provide no further definition of these knives than the details already listed above. In certain cases, courts in Massachusetts have applied the knife-prohibiting statutes with some creativity. For example, a convicted prison inmate who was found with a makeshift knife (i.e. a “shank”) on his person was successfully convicted of violating chapter 269, section 10, subsection b when placed on trial. The convict’s attorney raised a new issue during the appeals process when he noted that the knife in question did not have a double-edged blade or any of the other specific features mentioned in the statutes.

Raising new claims on appeal is highly unusual, and appellate courts typically do not deign to consider them. The convict in question had his conviction upheld based on other evidence, but the appellate court still took the time to verify and record the fact that the improvised weapon in question was partially sharpened on two sides and therefore qualified as an illegal knife. The relevant case was Commonwealth v. Albert Smith, 667 N.E.2d 1160 (1996).

There is a strong argument to be made that the opinion on the knife in question in Albert Smith’s case was parenthetical to the matter under consideration, or obiter dictum. The section of the opinion which deals with the double-edged nature of the knife was likely not even put before the court in a valid way. It is instructive to consider the details of this case, though, because they illustrate the general attitude towards knives prevalent in Massachusetts courts.

This is by no means the only case in the state’s judicial history which illustrates an opportunistic desire to enter into an examination of knife issues even though they fell outside of the original scope of trial litigation raised in court.

Stephen Miller was the defendant in a 1986 case involving the possession of a dirk knife. Nothing in the records of the case indicates there was any criminal activity under consideration beyond simple possession of the knife. The knife in question was a folding knife with an asymmetrical blade roughly five and a half inches long; the opening action of the knife could not be considered either fast or easy. In the case, the court made a close examination of the relevant statute and determined that it was not specific or clear enough in defining a “dirk knife” to make it clear whether or not Mr. Miller’s knife could be considered a dirk under any reasonable definition. The relevant case was Commonwealth v. Miller, 497 N.E.2d 29 (1986).

Massachusetts’s Appeals Court heard the case of Commonwealth v. Garcia in 2011 in which a weapon called a “pimp cane” was central to the matter at hand. Garcia, the defendant, attacked another individual with the weapon and inflicted grievous bodily harm. The court records describe the weapon as a sword cane which had a long, straight blade. Besides being convicted of mayhem, Garcia was also convicted of a dangerous weapons offense according to subsection b of section ten of chapter 269.

The attorney responsible for prosecuting the case tangentially introduced the term “dirk knife” by describing the sword cane as such in post-trial proceedings. Garcia’s attorney raised on appeal the defense that his client’s conviction for the weapons offense was unfair because the sword cane was not a dirk. This defense was not offered during the initial trial.

In the end, the appellate court chose to consider the pimp cane as a dagger, another of the weapons proscribed by the relevant section of the statutes. The applicability of the “dirk knife” definition was also considered, and the Miller case described above was cited as precedent. In this case, the court ruled that Commonwealth v. Miller did not clearly establish whether or not a folding knife could be considered a dirk knife. (This weapon, remember, was a folding knife fitted with a five and a half inch blade.)

In the Garcia case, the weapon in question was a weapon with a long fixed blade which would reasonably be considered to be a sword or sword-like weapon. In the end, the court hearing the appeal took the time to specify that the pimp cane in its case was not a dirk knife. They cited the precedent of Commonwealth v. Miller – in error – to justify this finding. Even though there is clearly a jurisprudential fault in Commonwealth v. Garcia, it can play a role in the opinions and actions of attorneys, judges, and law enforcement personnel in Massachusetts.

The same subsection b already under discussion here establishes a secondary “carrying” offense when the possession of a knife is tied to another crime. The harsh penalties specified for this offense can be applied to any individual who is arrested for disturbance of the peace or on a warrant for any prior crime. Breach or disturbance of the peace is one of the most ill-defined of criminal charges. Perhaps most significantly, the relevant subsection extends the same punishment to those carrying any other “dangerous weapon” in similar circumstances. Dangerous weapons which resulted in successful convictions under this statute include an ill-defined “straight knife” (in Commonwealth v. Turner, 2003) and a four-inch steak knife (in Commonwealth v. Molligi, 2007).

Key Dimensions:
Automatic knives cannot have blades longer than one and a half inches.

The law governing spaces where weapons are not allowed in Massachusetts is a notoriously complex and hard-to-interpret one. The issue of knives in schools, though, is made quite clear by subsection j of section 10 of chapter 269: Knives are banned in all schools campuses from the elementary level up to the university level.

Massachusetts has no laws or regulations establishing statewide preemption. Subsidiary legal bodies (cities, counties, etc.) are allowed to set their own weapons regulations.

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 guidance.