Knife Law

In recent years, many of our firm’s gun clients have asked about the legality of various knives they have seen or own. State and local law often contain their own restrictions on what types of knives may be carried and in what manner one can carry them. The Federal Switchblade Knife Act of 1958, codified in 15 U.S.C. §§ 1241 to 1245, represents the only federal law regulating knives.

The Act essentially bans the sale of any switchblade in interstate commerce, and prohibits possession of a switchblade on federal lands. The law does not prohibit possession of a switchblade knife off of federal property, and leaves that issue up to the individual states. The Act defines a switchblade as any knife “having a blade which opens automatically . . . by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or . . . by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.” This definition includes the classic folding or automatic stiletto knives of mobster fame, as well as balisong (butterfly) knives and any other automatic opening or gravity assisted opening knives. The law also regulates the sale, possession, and importation of ballistic knives, defined as a knife “with a detachable blade that is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism.”

The exceptions to the Act, most recently amended in 2010, are in some ways more interesting than the rule itself. First, the exceptions protect contract carriers (e.g. mail services). Next, the law permits the manufacture and interstate sale of switchblades as part of a military contract and the possession of switchblades by members of the Armed Forces “in the performance of [their] duty.” The fourth exception applies only to any “individual who has only one arm” and permits such persons to carry a switchblade with a blade shorter than three inches.

The most recent change to the law was the addition of one final exception, namely “a knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife.” Perhaps the most important exception for the average citizen, the “bias toward closure” provision allows knives to offer assisted opening (similar to a switchblade) as long as the knife tends to close itself when opened very slightly, i.e. has a bias toward closure. There are a significant number of knives available on the market that offer easy, one handed opening but are legal because they have some bias toward closure.

If you have questions about the legality under Ohio or federal law of certain knives that you own or are interested in purchasing, contact that experienced attorneys of Barney DeBrosse, LLC.