California Knife Laws (Updated 2021)

WEE-OWW-WEE-OWW .. Bellowing police siren ... A response unit in a black & white squad car on pursuit ...
This might all sound like a scene from a Hollywood thriller. But it’s not. This is an everyday real-life scenario. And this could happen to YOU or anyone breaking knife laws.  

Get this. A knife may be a tool (for some). But a tool can be a fatal weapon. This goes for countless tools from hammers to crowbars. But the laws are especially stringent for knives which are considered a weapon. 


So, if you want to carry a knife, you WILL NEED  to learn about the legal restrictions in your area. Knives laws are often complicated, so make sure you know them well. 

California, as with most consumer products has knife-friendly laws. But that DOES NOT mean you can carry around any knife of your fancy. Depending on the type of knife, it may even be a criminal offense to own one. The laws are updated regularly and there is a need for every concerned citizen to know what is legal and what is not.

The legality or otherwise of knives in California depends on a number of factors. In general, the type of knife and the way it is carried will determine the legality. There are several types of knives that can be worn openly in the state including bowie knives and large knives. Depending on how it is carried, a dirk or dagger is legal, as long as it is closed. This applies to pocket knives, box cutters and other kinds of utility knives. Misleading knives and those that are undetectable are all considered illegal. 



There are very specific rules surrounding switchblades, folding knives and fixed blade knives (also called dirks and daggers).

Fixed blade knives have no folding mechanism. Kitchen knives are the most common examples. The category can also include ice picks, push knives, bowie knives, and daggers. Then there are the more robust, military-grade substantial choppers for survival in deep uncharted woods, essential for survivalists, back-country hikers, and huntsmen. 
For legal implications in California, dirks and daggers refer to knives that can be readily used as a stabbing weapon.
It is LEGAL TO OWN and CARRY these knives BUT the bearer must carry them openly. This means they should NEVER BE CONCEALED as that will make them illegal. 

Folding knives can normally be opened by applying pressure to the blade(s) or pulling them out. These types of knives ideally have a mechanism that provides resistance in opening the blade. Some of the most common knives in the category include pocketknife, Swiss army knife, box cutter, and other utility knives. 
Others are sturdier, more stunning combat-type folders designed for survival and self-defense situations.

In California, it is LEGAL TO OWN AND CARRY these knives. As long as they are in the folded position, these knives can also be carried in a concealed manner. There is also NO RESTRICTION ON THE BLADE LENGTH of a folded knife. 

A switchblade is a type of knife that has the blade contained within a handle and can be opened automatically. These types of knives normally have a spring mechanism that helps fire open the blade by pushing a button or a switch on the handle. 

Switchblades of less than 2 inches are legal to carry in California, as long as they are not concealed. However, they are illegal when the blade is 2 inches or longer. 


These knives are also known as ‘pushbutton knives’ ‘and ejector knives’. Knowing the different types of knives and how they are regulated, you should have an idea of what you can and what you cannot carry in California. To make it easier for you, we will discuss what is considered illegal in detail below.

Explicitly Illegal. Banned from carrying Under California Laws 
In addition to switchblades that have blades 2 inches or longer, there are other types of knives that are considered illegal to carry in California. Here are some you should know about:

  • All misleading knives are illegal. These include cane knives, lipstick knives, belt buckle knives, air gauge knives, writing pen knives, and penknives.
  • All undetectable knives are illegal. These include all kinds of knives that will not set off metal detectors.
  •  All ballistic knives are illegal.



There are other restrictions you need to know about if you want to stay out of trouble carrying knives in California. Here is a highlight of things that are considered illegal in the state:
  • Any knife with a blade that is 2 inches or longer and can be opened with a button or the flick of your wrist is illegal
  • Concealed possession of fixed blade knives (dirk or dagger), irrespective of blade length is illegal
  • Sale or possession of a disguised blade is illegal
  • It is illegal to carry any knife that has a blade that is 2 inches or longer on school grounds
  • Possession of a fixed-blade knife with a blade longer than 2 ½ inches on any college or university grounds is illegal
  • It is also illegal to carry knives into public buildings and properties owned by the US government and schools
  • It is illegal to flash or wave any knife in a threatening manner 


It is important to note here that some cities, municipalities, and institutions have their own knife laws. These laws are normally more restrictive. 


If you have the need to carry a knife, engrave these facts in your head. Know by heart what is legal and what is not about carrying knives in California. If you are ever in doubt these quick facts will help you stay clear from legal peril.

Critical Dimension
If the blade is 2 inches or longer in length, it is illegal to carry a knife where the blade is released automatically.

Concealed Carry
Knives, especially dirks or daggers shouldn’t be carried concealed. Concealment is a legal factor that YOU MUST AVOID.

Schools are ‘weapon-free zones by law’. NEVER carry any kind of knife in or around school premises.

Switchblades and all knives considered illegal may not be manufactured, possessed, sold or transferred within the state. California knife laws are pretty friendly. You can buy, own, and carry most of the knives in the state. There are some knives that are considered illegal including switchblades and a wide variety of misleading and unusual knives. 
It is also illegal to carry certain knives concealed. There are certain places that are regarded as weapon-free zones, including schools and public buildings. You shouldn’t carry weapons on such grounds. Understanding the knife laws in California is important and respecting them will keep you out of trouble.

Under Californian knife laws, residents can purchase OTF/Automatic knives with blade length less than 2".
This information is presented as a brief synopsis of the law and not as legal advice. Tekto Knives is not, and cannot be, a legal service provider. Use of the site does not create a lawyer/client relationship. Laws are interpreted differently by enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, and judges. Tekto Knives suggests that you consult legal counsel for guidance.