Know Your Knife Laws: Pennsylvania


Five days after Delaware, Pennsylvania ratified the United States Constitution on December 12th, 1787. Since then, the Pennsylvania state legislature has only seen fit to keep one knife law on the books. But that single state law isn’t the end of the story about knives in the Keystone State…

As I mentioned in the first 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.

That being said, PA state law is refreshingly simple: no switchblades, and no weapons in schools. Everything else, including fixed blades and balisongs, seems to be fine.

But PA knife law is also infuriatingly vague, and there is no preemption of more restrictive local ordinances. This lack of preemption lets Philadelphia get away with the most stupidly restrictive knife law I’ve ever heard of anywhere in the United States: complete prohibition, as in  ‘no cutting weapons in public.’ Period. Ever. Unless you’re actually using one in your job in public.

There may be other crazy local knife ordinances in Pennsylvania, but Philly’s really takes the cheesecake. Internet forum chatter would tell you that Philly cops won’t hassle you for having a Benchmade clipped in your pocket. This might be so, but remember that the City Of Brotherly Love has some of the most corrupt police in the country. The threat of a $300 fine and 90 days in the hoosegow will probably convince you not to press the issue if you find yourself being shaken down by Officer Winchell and his partner, Sergeant Dunkin.

Conclusion: Beware of local PA knife laws when visiting. If you live there, lobby for state preemption and tell your state representative to read David Kopel’s constitutional law article. It’s up to us to get this crap repealed.


  1. Matt in FL says:

    Philly cops may not hassle people as a general rule, but as long as that law’s on the books it’s available, should they decide they want a chat.

  2. Bob says:

    A cop buddy of mine who works in a small city (IE not phily) said “no switch blades and no double sided blade. In general keep the blade shorter than the width of your hand.” Though I have walked past cops while openly caring a full sized Ka-Bar with no problems.

    1. joe blow says:

      So basically… your cop buddy was just making up his own rules? There is no law saying anything about the “width of your hand”, nor double sided knives.

  3. gringito says:

    BTW: Does anybody know if push daggers are legal in Connecticut?

  4. Chris Dumm says:

    Hold your horses, pardner! Connecticut was the fifth state to ratify the Constitution and join the Union, and I’m still researching New Jersey and Georgia. All in good time, my Cold Steel-owning friend; all in good time.

  5. Bill from over the Hill says:

    Recently stopped in Philly while attending a hockey tournament in the Suburbs. I always have my knife clipped to my pocket. While standing near the Liberty Bell waiting for my family I was shaking my head at the armed private security and the thought that I couldn’t be armed. That’s when I remembered I had my knife clipped to my pocket! Knowing how intolerant Philly is to citizen’s freedom, I quickly unclipped my knife and dropped in into my pocket. I wonder how this would have gone down had I elected to go into the Liberty Bell building? Probably would have lost my Liberty. The irony is not amusing.

  6. Philly Jo says:

    Summer 2011: I asked the Parks officer if I should do something about my pocket knife. He asked what it was and I replied, “a butterfly knife.” I produced it (4.25″), and he said it was ok to visit the Liberty Bell with it. Also, I was with a girl and wearing a Phillies cap.

    Upon visiting NYC I asked the same question of the attendant to the Empire State Bldg. and he recommended I return to my hotel, don’t come back. I dropped of the piece at the hotel, returned and fortunately he wasn’t working then. I later found out I could have easily been arrested.

    Bottom line, without specific laws it’s up the the person in charge at the moment.

    1. Matt says:

      Butterfly knives have special status in NYC. Mistakenly the NYPD considered them gravity knives. Until that was overturned in court.

      They are considered locking knives. The method of opening is considered by the court to be locking. As such any 3 inch blade butterfly knife is legal in NYC. Fully.

      1. Roman says:

        Every butterfly knife is more than 4″ means illegal in NYC.

  7. JackMaster says:

    Living in PA is a pain in the ass, not a day goes by that I don’t ask why my parents decided to settle in this state while all the other family moved to the west coast states. Anywho, It is true you are not allowed double sided blades, and I’ve heard no fully mechanical, such as switchblades. I have also “heard” nothing with a blade longer than the width of your hand. This is in no way PA law verbatim. These laws, like so many others, are daft to say the least: you can’t carry a blade longer than your palm but go into any kitchen and pull out a 12″ chef knife or an even longer bread knife. Some places have more restrictions on knives than guns. A felon can’t own a knife but he can have a steak knife to cut his pork chops…redundant. Get around these laws by carrying a box of kitchen knives in your car,say they’re a gift. lol. It really depends on the police officer and were you are. IF you are caught in the middle of town with a 12″ knife you will more than likely get a fine. If you are in the mountains, they’ll probably let you slide. Just another reason to harass a man in the land of the “FREE”.

    1. Joe says:

      Jack, what makes you think that you’d be any better off on the west coast? Cali has some of the most restrictive weapons laws in the country. You wouldn’t be any more free to own a switchblade there and you would be a hell of a lot LESS free regarding guns.

      1. Woody says:

        + you’d have to learn Spanish to communicate with the general population of California + earthquakes + the long list of dumbell gobernors they’ve had like the one who said he was so happy to be the gobernor of “Califlower.” Joe is right Jack. I’d take PA over CA. We have our own water also, and don’t have the droughts they have out there. No magazines over 10 rounds for pistols and assault rifles out there. So when Pancho Via and his banditos come for you with their high capacity magazine AK-47’s, you’ll wish you were in PA then as we can have high capacity magazines!

    2. Kevin Burns says:

      But as far as your other rights, like your right to carry a firearm has never been impeded upon here in this great state. Get a license to carry and carry a gun is my response, this is one of the better states to live in compared to natzi states like NJ or CA.

  8. Jeff P. says:

    I live in PA and I have heard anywhere from 3″ is legal to 4″ is legal and the old width of the palm. I use knives as tools for work and I’m just sayin, I don’t think I’d need one to defend myself, maybe scare someone away at the most, but that could get ugly. Better to use them as tools unless its life and death, leave it in my pocket. I think basically, use it for it’s intended purpose and I won’t have any problems. Just seems stupid to use a knife as a weapon, legally (lawsuit-wise and police-wise) and most people end up cutting themselves in the process. It’s nice to know all my knives are legal… Also, I worked at a place that sold automatic knives, as a packer in the warehouse. We’d check them out when we could. Most were slow, slow like molasses, hit the button and watch the blade slowly move into place. Not worth the money, not worth the legal trouble, not even cool and fast opening. Reminded me of switchblade COMBS, not deadly weapons. Which makes me wonder “WHY are they illegal?” amongst other things…. BTW I can open quickly and close all my knives (assisted openers, un-assisted frame locks and liner locks with ONE hand and I have 25 (two more in the mail).

  9. It'sAlwaysRainyInPittsburgh says:

    As far as I’m aware, the hand width issue is the Boy Scout rule. PA as of early 2013 gives no restrictions aside from switchblades, as Chris mentioned. The law is concerned with intent to use as a weapon. I’ve carried balisongs and fairly large knives in my purse for work and on body while hiking. I EDC a Spyderco Endura, and the blade is definitely bigger than my hand width. Being one to chat with cops, I’ve asked their thoughts. Most were completely ignorant of the law and would arrest based on what they assumed it was (they were all of very different opinions). I’ve been thanked for clearing it up and directing them to research it so they don’t get dinged for false arrest! Follow your knife laws, know them well, and be able to quote them to police AND your lawyer. If you also carry a gun, you might get a pass – if you are already shooting them, stabbing the perp with a double edged, serrated, push knife seems like less of a deal.

  10. charlesgoodroe says:

    I asked this question to my cousin who is a Philadelphia police officer..she said Philadelphia has no law regarding the size of the knife as long as its not being used in a crime. butterfly,push button knife and gravity active knife where you flip your wrist to open are illegal

  11. Jack Barr says:

    Chris, I don’t think people in Philadelphia know how to “click a link” or they wouldn’t ask silly questions.

    §10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places. [180]

    (1) Definition.

    Cutting Weapon. Any knife or other cutting instrument which can be used as a weapon that has a cutting edge similar to that of a knife. No tool or instrument commonly or ordinarily used in a trade, profession or calling shall be considered a cutting weapon while actually being used in the active exercise of that trade, profession or calling.

    (2) Prohibited Conduct. No person shall use or possess any cutting weapon upon the public streets or upon any public property at any time.

    (3) Penalty. The penalty for violation of this section shall be a fine of not less than three hundred (300) dollars and imprisonment of not less than ninety days.

  12. Ben says:

    Roughly one year ago I went to Philadelphia to visit the Müter Musuem with the girl I was dating. Coming from a small town where everyone dips, drives a truck, and owns a gun, I clipped my knife to my pocket like I did everyday. While we were paying to go in, there was a security guard standing at the front doors. My knife wasn’t hidden and I believe he saw it, however, he said nothing of it. We spent the whole day down there and it never left it’s place in my pocket. Even when we met her uncle for lunch (who happens to be a Philadelphia police officer), he said nothing of it.

    1. Mastro says:

      No one really cares about normal people with knives in Philly- too much gun crime to worry about that.

      I carry a leatherman on my belt- I use it for work. Never had a problem in public.

      I doubt an art museum would like knives- the Mutter- the jars of spllens are OK with it.

  13. Rich says:

    Living in philly most everyone I know edcs a folder. Most carry firearms(concealed) legally as well with no issues. I carry a small Kershaw in my pocket and a Leatherman on my belt and general consensus from police I have spoke with as long as you are not being a jackass or doing something to draw attention to yourself you shouldn’t have a problem( i have shown officers my knives and multitool and nothing was ever said of carrh)Some officers may give you a problem but many do not. NYC will give you a problem for it just being visible in your pocket. I have had friends arrested for just having a knife and I had one confiscated on Broadway while walking with Gf and her family. But Gf felt bad and got me a new Kershaw blur so it worked out. I guess.

  14. Jim West says:

    I live in PA, my wife runs a jewerly home party business as well as a home craft show business. I was thinking of buying knives, for her to sell so the wives have something to take home to their husbabds/sons.. the cheap ones you see by the jillions at gun shows. is there anything illegal about this assuming the knves are legal.

  15. rod says:

    Are butterfly dagger knives legal in PA?

    1. Charles Goodroe says:

      They are Illegal. Buttefly knives, Gravity knives, daggers, stiletto, push buttons are all Illegal to carry in Pa. Size of the blade doesn’t matter in PA.

    2. Rich PHL-knives says:

      To the best of my knowledge a balisong is legal but not a dagger balisong. I’m 99 % sure all double edged daggers, dirks etc. Are illegal in PA unless they’re for collection purposes only. They can’t be carried for sure.

      1. Rich PHL-KNIVES says:

        Also autos are illegal as well as someone said above. I think balisong knives are not considered gravity knives any more. Any push button opening, automatic OTF or Stiletto is illegal for everyone unless it’s for curio, or active duty military or law enforcement.

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Know Your Knife Laws: Pennsylvania

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