Know Your Knife Laws: Massachusetts

Image courtesy freeprintoutmaps.com

Massachusetts ratified the United States Constitution on February 6th, 1788, just three days after Connecticut did so. It’s not surprising, then, that their knife laws are fairly similar.

Bur first a short disclaimer: As I have to mention in every installment of ‘Know Your Knife Laws’, I’m not licensed in any state except Washington and none of this is meant to be relied on as legal advice. If you need to know what you can or can’t get away with under any state or local law, you’ll need to hit the law books yourself or call a lawyer in that state. This series is intended to be a comparative survey of U.S. knife and carry laws. I can’t advise you how to obey the law in a particular state, unless that state is Washington. Which didn’t join the Union until pretty late in the game, so I won’t get to it for several months.

Banned Knives In Massachusetts

There aren’t any. When it comes to edged weapons you can own whatever you want; you just can’t necessarily carry it.

What can you carry?

(b) Whoever, except as provided by law, carries on his person, or carries on his person or under his control in a vehicle, any stiletto, dagger or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position, any ballistic knife, or any knife with a detachable blade capable of being propelled by any mechanism, dirk knife, any knife having a double-edged blade, or a switch knife, or any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches, or a slung shot, blowgun, blackjack, metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles, nunchaku, zoobow, also known as klackers or kung fu sticks, or any similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather, a shuriken or any similar pointed starlike object intended to injure a person when thrown, or any armband, made with leather which has metallic spikes, points or studs or any similar device made from any other substance or a cestus or similar material weighted with metal or other substance and worn on the hand, or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends; or whoever, when arrested upon a warrant for an alleged crime, or when arrested while committing a breach or disturbance of the public peace, is armed with or has on his person, or has on his person or under his control in a vehicle, a billy or other dangerous weapon other than those herein mentioned and those mentioned in paragraph (a), shall be punished by imprisonment…

Blah blah blah. When you say “Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 269, Section 10″ you’ve said a mouthful. The language of Massachusetts’ knife carry law is not exactly a model of succinct eloquence, so we’ll try and parse it out a little.

None of the terms of this verbose and Byzantine statute are actually defined anywhere in the MA General Laws, but Massachusetts appellate court decisions give some guidance. Since this isn’t legal advice and it isn’t a law review article, I’ll omit the case citations.You can search the terms at www.masscases.com and read the cases for yourself.

Daggers and stilettos are generally interpreted as being knives designed primarily for stabbing.  A dirk is discussed in caselaw as being ‘a long straight-bladed dagger or short sword,’ similar to a Highlander’s knife or a naval officer’s ceremonial knife, usually with a double-edged symmetrical blade. A dirk knife is a ‘large folding or clasp knife’ with a blade similar to that of a dirk.

Ballistic knives, double-edged knives, automatics and knuckle knives also cannot be carried. Note that any sharpening of the reverse side of a knife can make that knife ‘double-edged’ under MA law, so avoid reverse-sharpened spear points and Bowies with sharpened clip points.

Internet lore suggests that some true automatics (‘bar-action’ autos) escape the Massachusetts switchblade ban. I couldn’t verify that in the time allotted for this research, so you’ll have to track that down for yourself.

Locking folding knives cannot be carried ‘in a device which causes them to be drawn in a locked position.’ I wondered if this meant that you can’t wear a folding knife locked open. This would be nonsensical since MA law does not prohibit carry of fixed-blade knives, so I’m guessing that it refers to contrivances like the Kershaw Ripcord. That’s only my best guess, however.

In any case, nothing that fits in this list of ‘dangerous weapons’ can be carried on your person in public, or under your control inside a car. Massachusetts makes no distinction between concealed carry. open carry and car carry. If a ‘dangerous weapon’ is in a car, it had best be secured in the trunk or in a container that makes it not immediately accessible.

Assisted openers
These are not considered switchblades, because you’ve got to push them to get them to start opening.

Schools
Knives are not allowed on school grounds. No shocker here.

Exceptions
MA allows the carry of large fixed blades when hunting or fishing, or traveling directly to and from hunting and fishing.

There’s another odd exception which seems to allow carrying little tiny switchblades and daggers with blades of no more than 1.5 inches. Perhaps they’re considered so useless as weapons that they’re not worth banning.

Preemption
Massachusetts state law does not preempt local knife ordinances. This lets Boston impose a 2.5″ blade length limit, and other municipalities and counties have their own idiosyncratic rules as well. Good luck looking those up, if you plan on carrying anything useful around Massachusetts.

Conclusion
If not for the patchwork of restrictive local laws, Massachusetts knife laws don’t stray terribly far from common sense.The switchblade ban is silly, and the broad definition of ‘double-edged’ is even sillier, but the majority of useful knives can still be carried in most parts of the state.

I’ll never understand most states’ prohibitions on ‘dirks and daggers’ since I’d argue that the 2nd Amendments covers all knives great and small, but I’ll never feel compelled to carry a foot-long Bowie either. And the state-law phobias about Japanese martial-arts weapons makes me wonder if all their legislators’ parents were murdered by Ninja. That would explain a lot.

But just like its neighbor to the southwest, it’s not Massachusetts knife laws that offend me, it’s their gun laws. Until they start to recognize the same Constitution that they ratified all those years ago, MA and CT and NY and NJ can all FOAD.

 

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18 Responses to Know Your Knife Laws: Massachusetts

  1. Jared says:

    Keep in mind that the prohibition on switchblades and other weapons mentioned in Ch 269, you are exempt from the possession/carrying prohibitions if you have a Class A or B LTC Firearms.

    This is often overlooked by everybody. Having a Temporary Non-Resident Class A LTC Firearms, I can carry switchblades and knives of any length. While anything can happen in court, good luck with a local DA trying to prosecute someone for violating a local law when they have a state license that specifically authorized them to do so.

    • Ralph says:

      “(a) A Class A license shall entitle a holder thereof to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry: (i) firearms, including large capacity firearms, and feeding devices and ammunition therefor, for all lawful purposes, subject to such restrictions relative to the possession, use or carrying of firearms as the licensing authority deems proper; and (ii) rifles and shotguns, including large capacity weapons, and feeding devices and ammunition therefor, for all lawful purposes.” This para makes no mention of knives.

      Jared, can you cite to the authority that allows a Class A licensee to carry otherwise restricted or prohibited knives?

      • Jared says:

        Ralph,

        Chapter 269 Section 10(a) list restrictions for unlicensed people. If you scroll down to the second paragraph of Chapter 269 Section 10(a)(6) you will see the following…

        “No person having in effect a license to carry firearms for any purpose, issued under section one hundred and thirty-one or section one hundred and thirty-one F of chapter one hundred and forty shall be deemed to be in violation of this section”

        Keep in mind that everything in “Section 10″ is a “section” now if the language in the paragraph above said “subsection” then most knives and other weapons would be prohibited; however, they used the word “section”.

        It’s a bit confusing, but that’s how the law reads. I hope this helps.

        • Sean says:

          I have read the law and agree with you that it says section, which includes the list of restricted knives. However, I have also spoken to a LEO and asked him if an LTC in MA allowed the carry of restricted knives and he said absolutely not. This just highlights for me that some of these laws are so confusing that only the lawyers can understand them. If you are going to carry a restricted knife, I would be prepared to end up dealing with some legal hassles if you are caught with it. In the end you will probably walk away being in the right, however it could cost you some money in legal fees.
          Welcome to Massachusetts!

        • Johnson says:

          Sean – asking a LEO for legal advice is pointless. I would not even bother to ask. You can read the law online.

          Jared:
          I agree that it does say “section” and so technically that means you could carry an automatic, but by that logic, you could also have a machine gun without a permit, and you could carry a gun inside a school. It would seem that a judge could credibly say that 10(a) was the entirety of the section covered by that.

        • Jared says:

          Johnson,

          I don’t see how it would let you carry in schools. The school ban uses the word “notwithstanding” any other law, so school carry is explicitly banned by license alone.

    • Bob C. says:

      That’s just plain incorrect. The knife laws of MA are just that; having a CLA or CLB firearms (read the word again: firearms) permit has nothing to do with knives. Jesus, the stupid things people make up.

      • Jared says:

        Something tells me you didn’t just plain read the law I took the time to cite.

        Instead of just reading the plastic your license is printed on, I recommend actually reading the law. I made it easy for you, you don’t even have to do the research.

        BTW, your license says firearms, try carrying a loaded shotgun in a vehicle in Mass and insist on being legal since the license says “firearms”…

        • inerlogic says:

          a shotgun is NOT a “firearm” in MA…

          “Firearm”, a pistol, revolver or other weapon of any description, loaded or unloaded, from which a shot or bullet can be discharged and of which the length of the barrel or barrels is less than 16 inches or 18 inches in the case of a shotgun as originally manufactured; provided, however, that the term firearm shall not include any weapon that is: …

          Chapter 140, Section 121

          a rifle is not a firearm if the barrel is 16″ long or greater, a shotgun is not a firearm if its barrel is 18″ or greater…

          also, when you put a rifled barrel on your shotgun, it is no longer a shotgun:

          “Shotgun”, a weapon having a smooth bore with a barrel length equal to or greater than 18 inches with an overall length equal to or greater than 26 inches, and capable of discharging a shot or bullet for each pull of the trigger.

  2. Azimuth says:

    Since I see no mention here, I guess flail’s/mace’s are approved for EDC?
    A blackjack? Slung-shot? Dirks? Really? Cesta’s were certainly a big problem back in the day…..at the Roman Coliseum. Are vambraces allowed? I see no mention of these either. Careful how you wave at the cops with your Batman vambraces with those hooked blades. Waving hello with those on could be interpreted as a furtive motion.

    This would be funny if it weren’t so damned tragic. This is the run-amok vanity of anyone pushing for the well-ordered society. That man can be improved simply by ordering his life. What you can and can’t do,..have,
    ..hold,..carry,..transport, and use. Like Pi, this nonsense can be taken out to hundreds of decimal points, or clip points, covering anything…
    everything.

  3. Mark Lewis says:

    When I got married, we moved to Boston for my wife’s schooling. It was after walking around defenseless I realized “I need a knife”, I tried to get pepper spray, but you need a license (?) and I didn’t have the proper forms.
    I carried a 3.5 Assisted opening SOG knife, every day for 2 long years, illegal as hell in Boston.
    It also helped me realize, that If I could do this, then anyone could, and I’m a “Good Guy” so the bad guys would be willing to take more of a risk than me.
    It’s what lead me to moving back to Texas and getting my CHL.
    I don’t have that SOG anymore, but it started my affair with knives

  4. Pat says:

    Better judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  5. J rol says:

    I had an argument with someone about the legal status of “flipper knives”. They’re based off the Cit Carson flipper with a extension on the back of the blade which when flipped open turns into a choil to guard fingers. Anyway as you probably know they come in both manual and assisted opening. I recently bought a Microtech Mini Matrix which is a fully manual flipper. Now I am pretty damn sure it’s legal ( in the burbs at least, it has a 3 inch blade nothing too crazy). So this person wouldn’t budge saying since it flips open fast as greased lightning it’s illegal. And called the “flipper” the same as a button. This was a heated argument lasting all of 10 minutes and we both walked away with our our same own opinions. Stupid question but where would you stand on that?

  6. John says:

    I am curious about your thoughts on the Emerson Wave feature as it allows a fixed blade to be drawn in the locked post ion.
    Thanks

  7. Alan Hebert says:

    In Massachusetts it may be illegal to discuss the laws it imposes on the citizens. Not quite sure about that but everything in Mass. is illegal.

    • rick says:

      except being illegal. “Its not illegal to be illegal in Massachusetts” I think Marsha said that.

  8. Maryanne says:

    Thanks for this. Massachusetts is absolutely ridiculous – and I can say this since I’m a Masshole. :) I really can’t be arsed into reading one giant, run – on sentence to figure out whether or not carrying one tiny, little knife will get me arrested. So, again, thanks for doing some of the legwork for me! Keep up the good work!

  9. Eugene says:

    I was going to make composite hard plastic knuckles so I guess that’s out with the laws…lol So basically I’m going to carry my fixed buck knife on my side and just make sure you have your fishing license in your wallet a tackle box and pole… Lol Massachusetts totally sucks the laws suck and it s all bullshit. You just need to look for the loop holes. Like I have no fid card but I have a .54 cal rifle and .44 black powder pistol but I can’t buy the powder in mass but I can possess it in this state…lol So long story short I drive to Conneticut. Buy my supplies and bring them back into mass where I’m legal to “possess” but can’t buy…. Lol what a joke.

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