Knife Enthusiasts Guide to California Knife Laws 2018

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Knife Laws In California Overview

California knife laws is relatively sensible and focused on restricting knives they feel don’t have a purpose except for violence. In general, California knife law can be divided into three sections:

  • Knives that may be carried openly or concealed
  • Knives that may only be carried openly
  • Knives that are always illegal

Table of Contents

  1. Knife Open Carrying Laws in California
  2. Concealed Knife Laws California
  3. California Knife Laws Blade Length Rules
  4. California Fixed Blade Knife Laws
  5. California Folding Knife Laws
  6. Which Types of Knives are Legal in California?
  7. Pocket Knife Laws California
  8. California Butterfly Knife Laws
  9. Are Bowie Knives Legal in California?
  10. Future and Upcoming 2018 New Knife Laws in California

Knife Open Carrying Laws in California

All legal fixed blade knives must be worn in plain view, except knives classified as dirks or daggers, which must be carried openly, on a sheath around your waist. There is no open carry limits on size for legal knives, so you can openly carry a sword or machete.

Concealed Knife Laws California

Certain knives may be carried concealed as long as the blade is folded in the closed position. These types of knives include:

  1. Pocket knives
  2. Non-locking folding knives
  3. Other folding knives that do not meet the definition of a switch blade

If the blade is concealed and locked into the open position, these otherwise legal knives become an illegal dirk or dagger under California law, in which case the knife cannot be concealed and must be worn from a sheath around your waist.

California Knife Laws Blade Length Rules

There are specific restrictions for knives in California that all depend on the length of the blade.

  • 2 inches or longer blades, specifically ones which ‘unfold’ or ‘open’
    • One component of “Switch blades” in California is a blade 2 inches or longer. Switch blades have their own specific restrictions in California, but if the blade is shorter than 2 inches, then it is technically not a switchblade.
  • 2 and a half inch or longer blades of any type are prohibited from any school grounds
  • 2 and a half inch or longer fixed blade knives are prohibited from any college or university grounds

More specific areas within California have their own laws on Length. For example, In Los Angeles, California any knife with a blade longer than 3 inches is illegal to openly carry.

Certain types of knives are illegal at any length. Make sure to read the whole article or check for your specific type of knife in the summary table.

California Fixed Blade Knife Laws

Certain types of fixed blade knives are completely illegal to have in California, and others are allowed with restrictions. Pocket knives under 2 inches are generally legal without any restrictions. Other types of fixed blade knives like Dirks and Daggers are heavily restricted with regards to where and how they can be carried, but both types are still legal to own.

California Folding Knife Laws

In California, folding knives are OK to carry as long as the opening is not assisted - such as a switchblade, gravity knife, butterfly knife, or other assisted or automatic knives.

If a folding knife would be considered a “switchblade” then the knife has more restrictions:

California Law Defines a switchblade knife to mean:

“a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife, or any other similar type knife, the blade or blades of which are two or more inches in length and which can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or is released by the weight of the blade or by any type of mechanism whatsoever. “Switchblade knife” does not include a knife that opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position.”

All of these components must be true about a knife to be considered a switchblade knife.

Therefore, if the knife must be manually opened, and faces resistance during opening, then it is not actually a switchblade knife, even though it may be a folding knife, it is still legal.

If the knife is under 2 inches, then it is not a switchblade knife, legally, even if it has all the other components of a switch blade (mechanical switch).

Which Types of Knives are Legal in California?

Type of Knife

Legal (*with restrictions)


Pocket Knife / Folding Knife


Butterfly Knives


Switch Blade


Bowie Knives






Dirks / Daggers / Stilettos


Ballistic Knives


Misleading Knives


Hidden Knives




Pocket Knife Laws California

Pocket knives are generally the most permissive knives to own and carry in California. Make sure that your knife is legally considered a pocket knife before you take it out in public.

California Butterfly Knife Laws

In California, Butterfly knifes are considered switchblades, and regulated under 21510:

  1. Every person who does any of the following with a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor: (a) Possesses the knife in the passenger’s or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public. (b) Carries the knife upon the person. (c) Sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives the knife to any other person.

This means it is perfectly legal to own a butterfly knife over 2 inches in length, as long as you leave it at home. It’s also legal to carry a butterfly knife, as long as it’s under 2 inches.

Are Bowie Knives Legal in California?

Currently Bowie Knives are legal in California, as they have not been restricted by any existing regulation. There does not appear to be any new regulations concerning Bowie knives coming up in the near future.

Future and Upcoming 2018 New Knife Laws in California

This section to be updated as 2018 progresses.


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