Know Your Knife Laws #16: Tennessee

Image courtesy United States Census

Tennessee’s knife laws are changing so quickly (and for the better) that writing about them is like snapping a picture of a waterfall. Suffice to say that they’re generally knife-friendly, and that the state legislature seems receptive to making them even more so. Make the jump for the details.

First I have to give the typical disclaimer: I am a lawyer by trade, but I’m not trained or licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Everything I write here is for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you need to know which of your knives you will be allowed to carry (or how, or where) in Tennessee next summer, you’ll have to contact a Tennessee attorney. Now that that’s out of the way…

Prohibited Knives

Image: Benchmade

Basically, this. Unless and until Knife Rights’ newest legislation is signed into law, automatic knives are completely prohibited in Tennessee. No Benchmade Auto-Spikes for you, Clay. (Editor: I can now! – heh.)-And no balisongs either: they’re probably lumped in with spring-opening autos, because they operate ‘by gravity or inertia.’

Except for the continuing paranoia over ‘switchblades’ you can own any other kind of knife you want, including assisted openers. A spring-opening knife is only a ‘switchblade’ if it opens with a button or lever in the handle, and assisted openers have their openers on the blade.

So you can own anything except automatics. Can you carry them?

Knife Carry

Deadly weapons are governed by Tennessee Code ch. 39-17-1301 et. seq., which prohibits open carry or concealed carry ‘with the intent to go armed’ of any knife with a blade longer than four inches. This doesn’t effect the EDC crowd much, because most folders and assisted openers are under four inches. (Not that this makes the law any less stupid.)

The blade length limit doesn’t apply when you are engaging in the outdoors activities of hunting, trapping, camping, fishing or sport shooting. This is all nice, but keep in mind that wearing Gore-Tex and putting a collapsing fishing rod in your briefcase does not transform your Nashville commute to work into a fishing trip.

As in most states, knives are prohibited in schools and courthouses.

Local Restrictions? We Don’t Need No Stinking Local Restrictions!

Tennessee used to be a patchwork of contradictory local knife laws, but these were repealed last year with the passage of Knife Rights’ pre-emption bill. We love those guys, and you should too.

Pending Legislation

At press time (February 2014) even more Knife Rights-sponsored changes are working their way through the Tennessee state house. SB 1438 would repeal the automatic knife ban and allow the open and concealed carry of any size knife you want. Similar provisions failed last year, but Knife Rights has done a lot of lobbying of the law enforcement groups which helped kill them last time around.

If you live or work in Tennessee, you should contact the legislature and urge them to pass these bills. With their passage Tennessee would become a Promised Land of rational (meaning: nonexistent) knife restrictions.


The Volunteer State’s knife laws are only a little bit silly right now, and they’re on the verge of perfection.


Update 7-4-14: (HCA)
SB 1438 was signed into law in April and went into effect on July 1, 2014. Or as we like to call it “Tennessee Knife Freedom Day“. 


  1. Dillon says:

    I found this to be very informative, but I have carbon fiber knife (see link below) that I’d like to carry with me when I go jogging and would like to be prepared to defend myself if things got rough.
    The blade length is well under 4 inches and it’s not really meant for cutting, but rather for self-defense/stabbing because the “blade” of it is naturally extremely dull.
    Do you happen to know if that is legal?

  2. Jimmy M says:

    A knife,especially a long knife,like a KaBar,could be considered an Arm.The 2nd Amendment does not specify Arms as only FIREarms. The right of the people to keep and bear arms,shall not be infringed.In some circumstances of closein self defense a KaBar is superior to a Ruger LCP 380.In defense of the nation against either a tyrant or a foreign invader,SILENT knives have stealth applications against the personnel of an occupying force. Ask the SAS or Green Berets.

  3. Jimmy M says:

    I can legally carry a handgun and a rifle, but not a knife? Im a black belt trained to use knives for self defense.Now I can finally carry my 3 KaBars and 1 Cold steel blades legally. I could never understand how taxed knives could be illegal to carry.

  4. Jimmy M says:

    It would make deathcamp guards more nervous to know that tens of millions of victims might be carrying 9″ bladed KaBar knives under their clothes. The WW2 Nazi SS guards could have been hard pressed,even with MP40 submachine guns ,to subjugate teeming crowds of Jews,if those millions of Jews had even a big knife.The knife can get them the gun,then the gun gets them other guns.When ammo runs out,the knife ( and stealth ) still works,

  5. Bill Briggs says:

    Please keep me updated on this issue I’m a knife carrier and prefer a straight bladed knife! I was told that the law had changed and I could carry a longer length?

  6. Chris says:

    what is the legal carry age now that there is no illegal knife..?

    1. I haven’t been able to get a clear answer. It is subjective, but you would probably not get in trouble at 5 years. Just don’t be stupid. They won’t charge you with “knives” per se, you will get hit with child endangerment if your 4 year old is carrying a blade as long as your leg and hurts him/herself. If they cut themselves on a SAK isn’t as shocking to non-knife folks as a big fixed blade.

      1. Chief car; says:

        so you are saying my 13 yr old can carry

  7. What is the legal blade length for an open carry fixed blade sheath knife in TN.?

    1. As of Jul 1, 2014, there is no length restriction for knives, carried openly or concealed, in Tennessee.

  8. Nelson OBrien says:

    While I applaud this right of people and the carrying of knives.A little common sense, should be used. When I witness a man in Walmart produce section, with a copy of a Rambo knife on hip. I start looking for VC.Common sense!!!

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Know Your Knife Laws #16: Tennessee

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