Washington’s state constitution includes language which echoes the second amendment of the US constitution with regards to citizens’ rights to bear arms.

The relevant passage – Section 24 of Article 1 – has some interesting variations in language when compared to the US Constitution. There’s a statement that explicitly bans organizing a private army (“an armed body of men”), but the key statement regarding the right uses the verb “impaired” rather than “infringed.” The Washington constitution also explicitly identifies self-defense as a core part of the right to bear arms.

Banned Knives

Washington state has specific statutes (RCW 9.41.250(1)(a)) specifically prohibiting switchblades and “spring blade” knives. The ban prohibits the ownership, carry, sale, or even disposal of such knives in Washington. Washington’s statutes are written with the same closure bias as the Federal Switchblade Act. This means that the statute clearly applies only to automatic knives and not to knives which have opening assistance features or those designed to be opened with one hand.

Knife Sales / Transfers

As described above, switchblades and spring blade knives cannot be sold, transferred, or disposed of in Washington.

Concealed Knives

The law in Washington defines criminal carry of a concealed weapon via an interesting three-part definition. The relevant statute (RCW 9.41.250(1)(b)) breaks the offense down into three separate parts:

1: Carrying a dagger, dirk … or other dangerous weapons
2: Carrying said weapon in a furtive manner
3: Intending to conceal said weapon

Theoretically, this statute should afford citizens some protection against unfair prosecution by requiring the verification of all three parts before a violation of the law can be established. In practice, the highly ambiguous nature of “intent to conceal” and “furtive carrying” render the situation difficult to predict.

One very instructive case involved a female juvenile who was seen by witnesses threatening other individuals and cursing. According to a police officer arriving on the scene, the girl reached into her coat pocket to retrieve something. This proved to be a paring knife with a three-inch blade that was being carried in her inner pocket. Initially, she was found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon by a juvenile court. Appealing her case to the state’s appellate court, the defendant argued that the definitions of both “dangerous weapon” and of “furtive carry” were vague and should not apply. The appeal court was not willing to debate the identification of the three-inch knife as a dangerous weapon, but they agreed that furtive carry with intent to conceal was not clearly established. The appellate court ultimate ruled in her favor. When the prosecutor took the case to the Washington Supreme Court, the defendant dropped her challenge regarding the definition of a deadly weapon. The Supreme Court did not consider those findings but did issue an instructive statement regarding “furtive” carry. According to this case (State v. Miles, 903 Pacific 2d 979, 984 (1995)), the evidence is required that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was carrying a weapon furtively or secretly so that it was concealed.

A dissenting opinion was filed by one of the justices on the Washington Supreme Court for this case, with one other justice concurring. The dissent makes the reasonable point that the intent of the statute could reasonably be assumed only to restrict the carrying of a knife in an unexpected location (e.g. up to a sleeve). Despite the rational sense of this dissent, it is not the law in the state of Washington. The full definition of furtive carry remains unclear. It seems it would be quite possible to challenge the statute again in a case where a defendant’s “intent to conceal” was arguable.

Carrying Knives Openly

Although there is no state law prohibiting carrying any form of knife openly, there is a broader statute regarding carrying weapons in a manner that might make conditions unsafe or intimidate others.

Essentially, the statute (RCW 9.41.270(1)) prohibits carrying, displaying, drawing, or brandishing weapons that appear to be capable of causing serious injury. If these acts are taken with the intent to intimidate or in a manner that causes alarm regarding other individuals’ safety, then the activity in question is illegal. The statute explicitly refers to “any … sword, knife or other cutting or stabbing instrument.”

Knife owners should exercise discretion and/or sensitivity to the circumstances around them when they openly carry knives.

Knives In Schools
Per Washington statute, RCW 9.41.280, knives and other dangerous weapons are not allowed on school grounds.

Statewide Preemption
Washington does not have a statewide law which constrains the right of subordinate authorities to regulate weapons possession. This means cities, municipalities, and other such bodies can enact their own laws which might be more restrictive than those of the state.

Critical Dimensions For Knives
Washington statutes do not mention any specific dimensions (e.g. blade length) which might render a knife of any type unlawful.

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.