A thorough review of the laws which govern knives in the Commonwealth of Virginia needs to start with the state’s constitution. The Virginia Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms in section 13 of article one. The language is broadly similar to that used in the Constitution of the United States, mentioning the importance of a well-regulated militia in its first line. Like many other state constitutions, Virginia’s goes slightly further in taking up a clear stand against standing armies.
Digging deeper into statutory law illuminates the detailed provisions made for the legal treatment of knives. Most of the applicable statutes are in Title 18.2, the section on Crimes And Offenses.
According to section 18.2-311, it is illegal to possess, sell, transfer, or give away switchblades or ballistic knives.
There are certain specified types of knives that fall under Virginia’s ban on concealed weapons. Carrying a concealed weapon is considered a Class one misdemeanor. The relevant statutes mention bowie knives, dirks, ballistic knives, machetes, and razors without defining these terms. The additional qualification that the law applies to weapons of “like kinds” is not helpful.
Virginia’s statutes are at least fairly clear in defining concealment. A concealed weapon is, in the opinion of the Commonwealth of Virginia, one which is “hidden from common observation.” This does not require complete invisibility, and section 18.2-308 A specifies that this term covers weapons which are observable when the true nature of the weapon is disguised in some fashion.
As noted above, Virginia’s code leaves the definition of a knife in concealed weapons cases very ambiguous. In practice, this decision rests with the fact finder in a case. This is the judge in bench trials; in jury trials, the responsibility rests with the jury. (See Delcid v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 526 S.E.2d 273 (2000))
Ultimately, most legal scholars would characterize the relevant terms in the Virginia code to be far too fluid and subjective for practical use. The case most often cited for precedent in these matters is Farrakhan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 639 S.E.2d 227, which was heard by Virginia’s Supreme Court in 2007.
According to the Supreme Courts statements, a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon can be obtained if the item in question clearly corresponds to any of the items mentioned in section 18.2-308A. “Weapons” which are not explicitly addressed by that section need to pass a two-stage process of identification. First, the item must be positively identified as a weapon. Second, the fact finder must decide whether or not it falls under the broad scope of the “weapon of like kind” clause.
The Supreme Court held in the Farrakhan case that an item which is commonly understood to be a weapon or one which is designed for fighting purposes passes the first part of the identification test.
The subjectivity of the second part of the test can be clearly demonstrated by examining the ruling issued in the case of Gilliam v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 642 S.E.2d 774 (2007). Mr. Gilliam was convicted of possessing a prohibited weapon after the court established that his tanto-style knife was similar enough to a “bowie knife” to fall within the purview of the “like kind” clause. A picture of the knife in question is a part of the published opinion on the Gilliam case. Most people who are intimately familiar with combat knives would hesitate to draw any similarities between the knife pictured and a bowie knife.
Due to the uncertainties described above, carrying a knife in a manner that could be considered “concealed” needs to be evaluated with great care. The Commonwealth has no laws against carrying any type of knife openly. There is also a statute (section 18-2-282-.1) that establishes it to be a crime to “brandish” machetes or other weapons with more than 12 inches of exposed blade if the act is intended to intimidate.
Virginia does not have a statewide preemption law that could be applied to knives.
Possessing a knife on school grounds qualifies as a Class 1 misdemeanor unless it is a folding pocket knife with a blade shorter than three inches.
Key Knife Dimensions
As above, folding pocket knives with blades longer than three inches are prohibited in schools.
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.