What is legal? To Own? To carry? To SELL?

Texas has just legalized switchblades so the following reference to Texas laws has been out dated. Best to check your current state laws before buying and carrying. updated 10/23/13

If you live in Texas, better check this one out ASAP updated 2/25/09

I frequently get request for switchblade and automatic knives. I have also seen automatic knives sold at local gun shows at very high prices. Since I would like to stay in business, and enjoy any of the potential benefits of this trade, I decided to investigate "WHAT IS LEGAL".

I had been under the impression all my life that switchblades and automatic knives were outlawed by federal law. I wondered how the dealers I saw at the gun shows were selling these as well as those in the being advertised in the knife magazines. What I found during this little investigation may astound you.

My first stopping point was with the BATF(Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) at the SHOT show on January 17th in Las Vegas, where they had a large booth. The first agent I asked told me that they didn't have anything to do with the laws governing these items. She then asked a senior agent, who validated her answer. It seems that the laws are STATE by STATE.

I then proceeded to the Boker USA booth since I know that Boker makes the automatics and sells them outside of the US. The VP that I spoke with told me it was illegal to import them into this country period. So, it appeared that if the knives were either made or modified in the US, the question became at least threefold.

What is legal to own?
What is legal to carry?
What is legal to sell?

While looking at a February 2000 issue of KNIVES, I found an article on California's Laws on page 36. It seems from this article that certain items are prohibited to own, and this includes

belt buckle knives
lipstick case knives
cane swords
air guage knives
writing pen knives

Knowing that California has some rather weird laws, I was very surprised, since I carry the lipstick knives and have sold many of the writing pen knives here in Texas(as well as some throwing knives). [I have been banned from selling writing pen knives on EBay, even if they were being sold outside of California. EBay does want my business and others as can be demonstrated that they showed up at the SHOT(Shooters, Hunters, Outdoor Trade) Show this year pushing their product even though they don't allow the sale of firearms on their auctions.]

Since we do business from the state of Texas, I thought it prudent to see what Texas law states. I contacted a local law enforcement officer who has done business with me in the past. He graciously provided the legal terms, and then how he would intrepert the law. He also warned me that young law enforcement officers may well take a different approach to a situtation.

My findings in Texas, where I have resided for many years, surprised me. So, let's begin. From Sec. 46.01. DEFINITIONS of the Texas Penal Code with definition,

~ ~ (6) "Illegal knife" means a: 
~ ~ ~ (A) knife with a blade over five and one-half inches; 
~ ~ ~ (B) hand instrument designed to cut or stab another by being thrown; 
~ ~ ~ (C) dagger, including but not limited to a dirk, stilletto, and poniard; 
~ ~ ~ (D) bowie knife; 
~ ~ ~ (E) sword; or 
~ ~ ~ (F) spear. 

~ ~ (7) "Knife" means any bladed hand instrument that is capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by cutting or stabbing a person with the instrument.
~ ~ (11) "Switchblade knife" means any knife that has a blade that folds, closes, or retracts into the handle or sheath, and that: ~ ~ ~ (A) opens automatically by pressure applied to a button or other device located on the handle; or ~ ~ ~ (B) opens or releases a blade from the handle or sheath by the force of gravity or by the application of centrifugal force.

Sec. 46.02. UNLAWFUL CARRYING WEAPONS. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carries on or about his person a handgun, illegal knife, or club. ~ (b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), an offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor. ~ (c) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree if the offense is committed on any premises licensed or issued a permit by this state for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Statutory Text Between 9/1/94 and 6/20/97: Sec. 46.02. UNLAWFUL CARRYING WEAPONS. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carries on or about his person a handgun, illegal knife, or club. ~ (b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor was, at the time of the commission of the offense: ~ ~ (1) in the actual discharge of his official duties as a member of the armed forces or state military forces as defined by Section 431.001, Government Code, or as a guard employed by a penal institution; ~ ~ (2) on his own premises or premises under his control unless he is an employee or agent of the owner of the premises and his primary responsibility is to act in the capacity of a security guard to protect persons or property, in which event he must comply with Subdivision (5); ~ ~ (3) traveling; ~ ~ (4) engaging in lawful hunting, fishing, or other sporting activity on the immediate premises where the activity is conducted, or was directly en route between the premises and the actor's residence, if the weapon is a type commonly used in the activity; ~ ~ (5) a person who holds a security officer commission issued by the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, if: ~ ~ ~ (A) he is engaged in the performance of his duties as a security officer or traveling to and from his place of assignment; ~ ~ ~ (B) he is wearing a distinctive uniform; and ~ ~ ~ (C) the weapon is in plain view;
There is more in this section. To view the entire section, see http://www.bakers-legal-pages.com/pc/4602.htm.
Sec. 46.05. PROHIBITED WEAPONS. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly
possesses, manufactures, transports, repairs, or sells: 
~ ~ (1) an explosive weapon; 
~ ~ (2) a machine gun; 
~ ~ (3) a short-barrel firearm; 
~ ~ (4) a firearm silencer; 
~ ~ (5) a switchblade knife; 
~ ~ (6) knuckles; 
~ ~ (7) armor-piercing ammunition; 
~ ~ (8) a chemical dispensing device; or 
~ ~ (9) a zip gun. 
~ (b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor's conduct was incidental to the performance
of official duty by the armed forces or national guard, a governmental law enforcement agency, or a correctional
~ (c) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor's possession was pursuant to registration
pursuant to the National Firearms Act, as amended. 
~ (d) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the actor's conduct: 
~ ~ (1) was incidental to dealing with a switchblade knife, springblade knife, or short-barrel firearm solely as an
antique or curio; or  (rest of section deleted)

If you are now confused, you are not alone. For example, let's consider just the Texas law(every state's will be different).

As explained to me by the local law enforcement officer, if he stops someone and they have a 6" filet in their vehicle, they legally are in violation of the law. If they have other fishing tackle in their car, and appear to be going or returning from a fishing trip, it would appear that the intent would be covered in section 46.02.

Notice that the switchblade knife is the only one prohibited in section 46.05, and then there is a catch in that section, as explained to me by my law enforcement friend. The words used in this section is antique or curio. If you go to the Webster Dictionary and look up curio, this could be an exit from legal action.

With all this in mind, it would appear for the Texan wanting to collect Switchblades or automatics that are not law enforcement/military/etc, and not wanting to have to go to court to defend their knives as antiques or curios, the best advice would be to buy them, lock them in your car trunk until you arrive at home, and then LEAVE them THERE.

Since this was originally written, I have received a lot of calls and emails about what is legal and what isn't. I did receive one very interesting email from a person who clains to have been in law enforcement for many years. Rather than restate or mis-state, I'm going to copy it into this page directly. I hope he doesn't mind. It stated:

Federal law on auto knives is codified here: 18 USC 1716 (g)(2)(1-4) It restricts commerce in auto knives shipped between the states. Auto knives manufactured & sold within state boundaries are beyond federal statute.

Many states have their own statutes restricting the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession with in their boundaries.

Many counties, municipalities, and other legal jurisdictions also have their own rules, regulations and statutes.

Note that an oft-seen exception is for persons with a missing arm etc with the proviso that the blade length is less than 3 ".

I have been a police officer for 32+ years and have never seen a crime committed with a switch-blade knife. However, since I lived for years in the Midwest with its' meat packing plants, I have seen many crimes committed with fixed blades.

For the readers that don't reside in Texas(and even those that do), I'd recommend that you get a copy of your states legal codes and read them to be sure you know that they say and mean. If you have someone in law enforcement that you feel comfortable with, buy them a cup of coffee(if that's legal) and get them to discuss the law and how it is usually interpreted in your state. How it is enforced is really the question though. I discovered earlier today that walking or jogging in a street in the state of Texas where there was a sidewalk was a violation and you could be issued a ticket for doing it. I have never known of anyone in the state of Texas who has been cited for jogging in the street. So, the question, is how is it enforced?

Being somewhat conservative, I believe the best policy is to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO and this definitely goes into the sale, possession, and transportation of questionable items.

I receive request from time to time asking what is legal and what course of action someone should take in buying or dealing in switchblades and automatics knives. I am not a lawyer and do not give legal advice. As I've attempted to point out, there are really 2 aspects of this question, i.e, what is the law in the state where you live and then how is it enforced. If you want me to research the law in your state, I'd be happy to see what I could find for you. However, it will costs you for my time and effort. If you want me to look, drop me an email and tell me what it is worth to have that information.

Texas Court ruling on switchblade/automatic definition

From the pages of Blade magazine, August 2008 see pages 10, 52, and 53, a Texas appeals court decision means that all Texans who own assisted openers could be in violation of the state's Switchblade/automatic ban.

The Texas court ruled that a student carrying an assisted-opening knife on the premises of an educational instutition was not only guilty of carrying a prohibited weapon, but on appeal, the court ruled that the "prohibited weapon" in question was a switchblade.

The author takes issue with the finding and also how it doesn't match the law of Texas. Other implications is that other states may follow the lead as to what has happened in Texas. For those of us who live in Texas, we would be wise to write the governor and our representatives to see if we can get the entire switchblade law removed from the books.

If you have access to the Blade articles, I would advise reading the entire article since I've used only a few sentences to try to summarize the entire content.

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Copyright 1997 G. Louis Murphy