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Know Your Knife Laws #17: Ohio

Image courtesy US Census

I’ll just say this up front: Ohio knife laws suck. They don’t suck because they’re Draconian; they suck because they’re Kafka-esque. After reading and trying to understand them, the only clear rule about Ohio knife laws is that there are no clear rules.

[Disclaimer: I’m a lawyer by trade, but I’m not licensed to practice in Ohio and I’m not qualified to give legal advice. This article represents the general state of Ohio’s knife laws, along with my opinions about them. If you need to know whether your favorite knife is legal for concealed carry in Ohio, you need to consult an Ohio lawyer.]

And now that that’s out of the way…

You Can Own Anything You Want, But There’s A Catch.

Ohio doesn’t ban the possession of any particular kinds of knives. This by itself would be very rational, but Ohio knife laws are not rational. You can own whatever you want, but that doesn’t do you much good because you probably can’t have it in your pocket outside your own home.

Deadly Weapon=Knife=No Concealed Carry.

Knives themselves aren’t specifically mentioned much in Ohio’s books, because Ohio law simply prohibits the concealed carry of any deadly weapon. It then fails to define ‘deadly weapon’ with any specificity, other than to describe them (and I paraphrase) as ‘things which can kill’ and which are also ‘designed to kill’ or ‘carried as a weapon.’

So, basically, every knife ever made is up for grabs as a ‘deadly weapon’ except maybe a Victorinox Solitaire because it’s too small. The learned minds of the Ohio court system have further muddied the waters with lists of characteristics that make a knife more likely to be considered a ‘deadly weapon.’

This list includes every conceivable characteristic which differentiates a knife from a 19th century slipjoint pocketknife. Under the bizarre and utterly retarded precedent of State v. Cattledge, thumb studs, blade locks, strange looks, sharp tips and serrations are all indications of nefarious intent when it comes to pocket cutlery.

Way To Go,Ohio!

By providing such an elusive, inclusive and ambiguous definition of ‘deadly weapon’, Ohio gives its police and prosecutors absolutely unfettered discretion to arrest and prosecute anyone carrying anything bigger than miniature Swiss Army Knife in their pocket. There are no safe harbor provisions, no blade length guidelines, and no clear indication as to what is prohibited and what is not.

Ohioans will probably say that they’re rarely hassled on the street when it comes to knives, but this will be cold comfort to those of them who will be suffer arrest, confiscation and prosecution for unknowingly stepping over an invisible and constantly-moving line.

Even though it already bans nearly everything, Ohio has no knife law preemption. This allows counties and cities to pass additional restrictions, and many Ohio municipalities enforce a blade length limit of 2.5 inches.

I’m actually glad I researched this article, because I didn’t know I needed to stay the hell out of Ohio until now. Ohio’s knife laws put knife owners in greater, and less predictable, legal jeopardy than any other knife laws I have researched so far.

 

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Discussion

35 responses to ‘Know Your Knife Laws #17: Ohio

  1. Does a CCW permit in Ohio override the knife laws? i.e. can you then carry whatever you want ?..

    I have talked to a police officer at work about this and you are correct “anything bigger than my badge is illegal”….No one is harassed about knives in their pockets, but it is something they can use to pile on charges and “drop the hammer” if you are charged for something else…

    I’ve been waiting for the article on Ohio and it is just as bad as I assumed it would be. There is little to no information available online.

    • Ohio has a CHL (Concealed Handgun License). It covers handguns and only handguns. No knives, brass knuckles, blackjacks, clubs, or katanas. Or long-guns.

      Bit of irony; there’s no limit on the number of guns or the amount of ammo one can conceal and carry with a CHL. I can carry as many guns and as much ammo as I can possibly strap to my body, hide it all under a trench coat, and be %100 legal. If a cop arbitrarily decides he doesn’t like my knife, or me for that matter, then I could face jail time.

      It’s been spelled out, in no uncertain terms, by veteran cop buddies that weather your knife is legal or not is almost entirely up to the cop. If he decides it’s a tool, then it’s a tool. If he decides it’s a weapon, then it’s a weapon.

      With that said, I carry a Benchmade Griptilian virtually every waking moment. *It’s a tool that I use to open boxes at work.*

      • That is hilariously contradictory, isnt it?
        With a CHL I can carry a couple loaded deadly weapons (handguns) but if I have a knife on me I can be arrested even if there was no ill intent or even if the knife is obviously for cutting open boxes and crap.

        Its absolutely absurd that we dont really have TRUE self defense rights here outside the home UNLESS we get permission (CHL) from the state.

      • You are wrong, sir. Ohio has a CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons). There is NOT and NEVER has been a ‘CHL’! I do not know where you come up with your information, but you need not go to that source ANYMORE!

    • mp….no. Carry laws didnt change knife laws…and the more absurd thing is that they didnt really change self defense laws at all other than to say if you have a CHL you can use a gun outside the home to defend your self/family.
      If you were to be stopped by a cop and even if your knife were legal if you made the mistake of telling him your knife is for ‘self defense’ ..even if you have a CHL…it is VERY likely you will be arrested and charged.
      If the cop asks, tell him the knife is for work or for cutting boxes open and whittling.
      Never, ever mention ANYTHING that makes it sound like you might ever used it on a human being for ANY purpose…even to save your life.
      Most cops are fine and dont care..but some of them are just looking for someone to make an example of.

      • Interesting you said that. I was hiking in John Bryan park, and I always carry my Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife (I like it, regardless of the name stamped on it) when I go hiking. I was looking at the info board, and a person came up to me asking about my knife. We stood there talking about knives (he had one on his belt too, same length). I told him I don’t leave home without it when I go hiking. He said the same thing, and also told me he carries his 9mm. He asked me what I did, and I told him. He told me he was a cop, then went on his way.

        Mileage may vary for everyone, but what I got out of it was that I wasn’t a jerk, my knife wasn’t concealed, and I didn’t say anything about it being a weapon.

      • If you are from muskingum county ohio our police will charge you for carrying a weapon even though this county is pretty country not mentioning the crime and drugs are worse than anywhere in the state at least top 5 in the state the police are treating everyone as drug dealers and when they charge you they pile them on

  2. Here is a series of questions that apply not just to Ohio but all states & federal so now is as good as any a time ask (and yes I know that this is just talk, not legal advice, consult a lawyer, etc.):

    Would/Is federal land (Indian Rez, National Park, etc.) “inside” a particular state still federal land and not subject to the weapon laws of said state? Is not that the same argument for why reservation casinos are allowed in states that do not allow gambling? Would this be true for weapons in general (especially guns) and not just knives?

    • In the case of federal land surrounded by state land, there can be either exclusive jurisdiction or concurrent jurisdiction. If it is exclusive, federal law would be enforced to the exclusion of state or local law. Concurrent would allow both authorities to operate. The only way to know which applies is to ask either the local prosecutor’s office or the federal authority present. The officers probably know, but might not.
      It is not a simple situation…there are nuances… overlapping jurisdictions, agreements of jurisdiction (county vs municipal), posse comitatus.
      So, in short…..maybe. The only way to know is to ask.

  3. I live about 7 minutes from the Ohio border and I’m beginning to think that is too close. Well, my SAK Cadet will get some more pocket time.

  4. I am in California. I will trade them our knife laws (I carry a 3.75″ assisted opener, with a thumbtud, legally) for their gun laws…deal?

    But seriously. What about open carry…here you cannot conceal carry a “dirk or dagger” but can open carry it…heck open carry a sword while you are at it. You can own, but not carry switchblades and ballisongs. If it weren’t for lak of local preemption…

    So tell me open carry is fine…at least that

    • In Ohio, you can open carry almost any knife, even a switchblade or balisong, or fixed blade. Whether a high riding folder is “concealed” or “openly carried” is probably up to the officer….

      As an Ohio resident, I carry a Leatherman and a Spyderco Endura every day. Blue handles and plain satin blade so it’s as “tool” looking as possible. Usually with some cardboard and tape or apple guts on it, as I use it every day. If an officer ever did hassle me, I have pepper spray and Krav Maga for a weapon (which maybe helps show I don’t carry the knife as a weapon?). I go through the streets of Cincinnati pretty often, never had a problem.

      I have always totally ignored all of the local laws, and have carried much “scarier” folders than the Endura as well. I’m an 18 y/o A+ student who teaches Sunday School and is headed into the military. I wear nice shirts and keep my jeans belted at my waistline. I avoid parties/drinking/ all of that junk. I figure it helps to keep my nose clean. Your mileage may vary…

      What I find hilarious is that the college I am going to next Spring, in Ohio, has a specific rule allowing 3-4″ folding knives. So my Spydercos will be more legal there than everywhere else in the state. All depending on whether or not the pocket clip means “open” or “concealed”.

    • That “lack of local per-emption” is what will get you every time. LA bans open carry of knives, including (specifically) swords, and blades longer that 3″. Police officers (and local courts) have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that a folder is a “gravity knife” by violently flicking the wrist, just to get a conviction (until the court of appeal finally stepped in), and the Legislature has to adopt a very specific definition of “assisted opening knives” to keep prosecutors from claiming they were illegal switch blades.

  5. If you arent breaking a law no cop is going to ask you about your knife. I have also asked a ton of police officers and most of them don’t pay attention to a pocket knife unless you are in some sort of trouble. I unfortunately was arrested and my knife stayed clipped to my pants and it was a kershaw packrat. I have also been told it’s a matter of “officer discretion”. So to all my fellow ohioans if you think you shouldn’t carry it don’t.

    • There is way too much ‘officer discretion’ BS in Ohio as far as Im concerned.
      Ive lived here my whole life and Ive had a few cases where, even when the details werent in my favor, where I wanted to tell the LEO to just do his JOB and ENFORCE the LAW AS WRITTEN.
      Its NOT a cops job to interpret law. Thats what the courts are for.

  6. Ok first off, I just read an article on knife conceal carry laws for Ohio… again. I’ve spent the last couple days looking at info for transferring my conceal gun permit and license over to the state of Ohio. The state of Ohio does recognize papers from other states, but I figured I live here now, and I’ve been here a while and probably should so what the hell. Second, I read a very long blog post sometime last year not long after moving up here on Ohio knife laws. And yes, they are complex. But almost to the point where carrying one concealed or unconcealed is made easier. The guy who posted what I read didn’t BS it either; it was all based on his own research. Basically, if it is of 2 inches in blade length or less it can be carried without any sort of paper work concealed or unconcealed. I was surprised at that and kind of saddened. I had just gotten a TDI knife which is around 2 1/2. I still carry it, I’m just careful not to get in trouble doing so or while I have it on me. I was surprised too because most small knives are around 3 inches in blade length, and what good is a blade smaller than that? Especially if you are concealing it, because that screams self defense. Now, if it is anything larger than that 2 inches, according to what I read, you would need a license and/or permit, concealed. However if it is a larger knife which can be proven to be a utility/all purpose knife (don’t know why that matters, big knife is a big knife right?), it is legal to carry, again out in the open. of course then that depends on the cop, is he/she one a dick cop or one who truly does their job, decides whether or not you are a threat and then reminds you just to be safe and careful. My point here is most cops would let a big knife which does not meet the proper criteria slide as long as you’re not acting like a psycho. Now, that was just all the easy stuff. The real issue is in Ohio knife laws can differ from town to town, to county to county. Just a few minutes ago I was looking at knife laws once again due to my urge to get all of my papers done; I will post the link for the page I found at the end. But it makes Ohio knife laws as clear as possible, and seems to be current. Basically it states that the only sure fire illegal knives are bolisongs aka butterfly knives, as well as ballistic knives. Auto knives are a bit trickier. No crap that’s the same everywhere. Other than that everything else is fair game, as long as you follow the laws about where you can and can’t carry, which are naturally the same as gun laws. So beyond all this, no one can stop you from carrying, with or without the legal right to do so. I sure as hell can’t. And as I said I carry my one knife, which is smaller but still, I carry it concealed most of the time without the proper means to do so; so I’m not a good example. However I do not carry anywhere I shouldn’t, and I never carry a firearm unpermitted or licensed. And I only do so to better ensure my safety, which is the same reason I gave my best knife and pistol to my sister… the handgun was later properly licensed and permitted. So the least I can tell you is please be like me and carry your weapon(s) smart, safely and responsibly, however you choose to do it.
    Here’s that link.
    http://www.knifeup.com/ohio-knife-laws/

  7. I live in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio and have been a knife enthusiast from a young age. I bought my first “good” knife at the beginning of my senior year in high school (I’m 19 now and graduated in 2013) and have carried at least one folder ever since. I’ve done a bit of research on the knife laws in my area and I’ve found two contradicting laws about blade length. One says that anything 4″ or less is legally considered a tool, but the other says 2.5″ is the limit. I’ve also heard that it can’t be longer than an officers badge, which is +/- 3.5″. Half of my knives are assisted openers, however, which seem to lie in a legal gray area. My usual edc is a sog vulcan; its a manual opener with a flipper tang, making it just about as quick as any assisted or auto knife I’ve seen. I didn’t realize this at the time I bought it, but its black blade coating probably won’t help my “its a tool” argument. I’ve found that it really doesn’t matter whether or not you have a “legal” knife in your pocket, as long as its not conspicuous and you’re not doing anything to shady. Having been mugged twice I started crying two semi-large folders (3.75″ tanto-point assisted and 3.5″ manual) on me at all times. I came across an ordinance a while back that basically said you can conceal pretty much any reasonable knife as long as you can justify it to an officer if they stop you, but I’m not sure that “self-defense” would be good enough. Moral of the story: if you have a knife you plan to conceal, think of a legitimate reason for why you have it. I use a 3.5″ to open boxes at work, which any reasonable cop should understand.

    • I grew up in Shaker. My buddy Ian (who wrote the Extrema Ratio review a while back) is a LEO in OH, and he says that pretty much any knife can be held against you if the officer wants to be a jerk.

      And IIRC “self-defense” is absolutely an invalid reason. I believe it is verboten by statute.

  8. The laws in Ohio may be completely whacked but I’ve lived in the state for almost 30 years and I’ve never had a cop ask me about a knife even when I might have been doing something I shouldn’t (speeding mostly, I did get a ticket for trespassing once but it was dropped because I didn’t know I was trespassing). I don’t know anyone that has ever been arrested for knife issues. I’m sure things are different in liberal enclaves of Cleveland and Columbus. But for the most part law abiding citizens don’t have a lot to worry about IMO. I don’t worry about carrying a pocket knife. I use it a lot but not for killing people.

  9. To me this all raises a larger question. Let’s assume I carry a knife and find myself in a situation where I actually have to use it to defend myself. What are the ramifications if upon defending myself, I mortally wound, or otherwise injury someone with it? If the result is automatic guilt and prison time because of the use of the knife in self defense, then why carry it in the first place? It seems you would be better off just obtaining a CCW and carrying a gun. Just my $0.02 worth.

    • Your logic makes sense. Guns are sexy, for both pros and antis. The pendulum swings faster for them than it does knives. However, knife rights are advancing slowly but steadily, even in states as hostile to guns as Connecticut.

      If you haven’t read this yet, please do so:

      http://www.thetruthaboutknives.com/2014/12/more-on-tuesdays-connecticut-supreme-court-ruling-volokhs-take/

      It seems that even if a jury convicted you (not a sure thing in the Buckeye, they are fairly pro defense) an appeal based on that recent CT precedent would be interesting. Not that it wouldn’t suck for you while it played out.

      For that reason you are certainly correct re carrying a gun.

      In Tennessee, knife laws are a little more relaxed. As are the attitudes. I feel very confident in being judged by 12 if I ever am involved in a DKU.

  10. yeah, ohio sucks for knife laws.
    I got pulled over one time years ago and they found a carpet knife in my LOCKED glove box and proceeded to ‘detain’ me for about half an hour trying their best to get me to admit that the knife was for ANYTHING OTHER than cutting carpet.
    I just kept repeating myself that the knife was in there to carry when I needed to cut carpet. Finally they gave up but it was very clear they wanted me to say that it was for using against a person for defending myself so they could arrest me.

    I have a CHL, so I guess Im law abiding when I pack a gun…but toss a pissy little CASE knife in my pocket and now Im a felon.

    Ohio…you SUCK.

  11. Ohio law does not restrict the concealed carry of any specific knife except for what it calls a “dangerous ordnance” which includes ballistic knives. The concealed carry statute simply makes it illegal to conceal carry any deadly weapon. The Ohio Supreme Court said in State v. Anderson, that to convict a defendant of carrying a concealed deadly weapon, the state must prove that the instrument is capable of inflicting death and that it is either designed or adapted for use as a weapon or that it is being carried as a weapon. Some knives that are very likely to be found to deadly weapons, and therefore illegal to conceal carry include:

    Dirks, daggers, or other stabbing knives
    Switchblades
    Balisong, or butterfly knives
    Gravity knives
    Stilettos

    The law does restrict both open and conceal carry of any dangerous weapon in a school zone or a Courthouse, but you may open carry any type of knife on your person or in your vehicle.

  12. Personally, I like Ohio’s knife laws. While things do get extremely vague in the concealed carry department, open carry is anything goes and I prefer to carry knives in sheaths attached to my belt or clipped onto backpack straps. My pockets are full enough already.

  13. I have a friend that was charged with having a Concealed Weapon once. He had a Bowie knife in a bag in the back seat of his car from a recent camping trip and had forgotten to take it out. He got pulled over for a moving violation. My friend looks a little different, one would think he’s a stoner but he’s never touched a drug and doesn’t get into trouble. The cops proceeded to search his car probably hoping to find drugs, but found the bowie knife instead. Because it was in arms reach from the driver seat they charge him with Concealed weapons charges…

    Moral of the story, always be cautious. Sure you can open carry anything you want, but you better make sure you transport it securely, locked in a trunk or something way out of reach. If the cop wants to be a pain, they can be.

  14. So what about a sword cane? Would that be considered concealed carry because it’s sheathed inside the cane, or open carry because because the cane is being carried in the open? I’ve been searching for a couple of days and can’t find an answer anywhere.

  15. listen to this one, it happened in aurora ohio, portage county, a friend that is a hard worker, young but a hard worker, it just so happened his folks did some investing for his future, and it panned out for him, so by the time he was able to drive he bought the low end dodge stelth, pretty nice and not cheap, well one day he was on his way to pay his car insurance policy, well he gets pulled over, young kid in a nice sports car, when he gave the officer his driver license, the cop seen he had a wad of cash, which he had a bank receipt to prove it was his, well the cop decided to search his vehicle and discovered little round plastic vials, and small razor blades, which he used them at work to open and cut boxes up, and actually the company provided these for employees, well even though no drugs or anything illegal was found, they took him in, arrested and booked him, impounded his car, confiscated his money, he then had to end up hiring 2 attorney’s to get him out of a jamb he should have never been in, i do believe he ended up suing the dept. but wth!! is that insane or what?..this was in the early 90’s.

  16. In Ohio, many municipal corporations (cities or villages) have ordinance restricting what knife you can carry and with significant penalties (“not less than six months” – Cleveland. APplies to all “knives” with blades over 2.5″. Don’t pick up a knife at Micky D’s.) Sooo the invisible and moving line also moves as you move across municipal boundaries.

  17. I live just north of Cincinnati, I carry a DA OTF everyday. It is 3.25 plain cutting edge, it has no lock but does have a pocket clip. I shoot 3 gun with a bunch of Leo and have asked them about the legality of my chosen cutting tool. The most common answer is if they can see the pocket clip it’s not concealed. And more than that they all want to play with it lol. I carry my OTF and use it probably 20 times a day at work I also carry a hand gun. 90% of the Leo have in one way or another said the samething “your not carrying it for protection you have a side arm for that.” And it’s completely true when asked my cutting tool is exactly that a tool.

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