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  • Sheathed Knife Open-Carry Laws in California for Bikers Navigating Municipal Codes

    CA Knife Open-Carry Laws for Bikers Navigating Municipal Codes

This topic keeps many criminal defense lawyers busy and flush with cash. The throw-down knife is a favored method for bad cops to make false arrests and the subject of many a police misconduct review. The competing interests of revenue and career-enhancing arrests versus natural law, self-defense (Second Amendment), and freedom are highlighted even more when a non-conformist biker gets targeted for carrying a knife. A veteran Marine Rider or Leathernecks LMCI member could be arrested for carrying a KABar in one city but not the other. Knife crime and knife-related offenses can be used as a pretext to regulate law-abiding. What’s crazy is even a Swiss Army Knife can kill a person. California knife law can make anything a dangerous and deadly weapon or not.

Understanding the intricacies of California knife laws as a Biker is enough work to make you into an outlaw for life. Local laws, particularly those involving municipal knife regulations, can be tricky, especially for bikers who travel through different cities. But it is in every biker’s best interest know the laws so they can legally carry. It’s a good move to research where you will travel in California and learn regulations to avoid legal trouble. It’s your duty to stay safe for your brothers and out of court, too.

The Hodge Podge of California Knife Laws

California knife laws, including fixed-blade knives, belt buckle knives, and even a switchblade knife, are confusing enough for a lawyer. Imagine being in an Outlaw MC from Arizona or Nevada carrying a fixed-blade knife openly or even concealed in your saddlebags. Even some folding knives could be banned in one municipality and not the other one.

When you have one hanging in a sheath from under your cut, it could be enough to get you pulled over by police. Below, we outline an overview of California’s knife laws, specifically focusing on the open carrying of sheathed knives. We’ll also provide tips on how bikers can navigate these rules in small towns with different municipal laws defining a prohibited knife. 

Many knives in the state are banned from sale or possession, including knives disguised as other objects.

This could include:

  • Belt buckle knives
  • Lipstick knives
  • Air gauge knives
  • Writing pen knives
  • Cane swords
  • Knives that metal detectors can’t detect (Think: ceramic or crystal blades).

The Basics of Knife Laws in California 

The State of California allows for the open carry of sheathed knives, subject to certain restrictions. According to Penal Code (PC) Section 20200, these deadly weapon limitations revolve around the type of knife, its blade length, and where it can be legally carried. For example, certain knives like butterfly knives and knives disguised to escape detection are illegal.

The key stipulations include: 

  1. Automatic Knives California enacted its dejure switchblade/ejector knife restriction in 1957. The original definition has been changed at Penal Code Section § 17235 for “Switchblade knife” as follows: As used in this part, ‘switchblade knife’ means a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring…” Switchblades with a blade length exceeding 2 inches are illegal to carry (Automatic knives like gravity knives can be charged as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 1 year in county jail). A separate code prohibits any undetectable knife in the sterile area of a “public transit facility.” (Plan on riding the bus?) Fun Fact: If it can only be opened with thumb pressure on the blade itself, via an attached thumb stud on the blade, or mechanism that places resistance on the blade that makes it want to close, it does not meet the statutory switchblade definition.
  2. Daggers or dirks: A “dirk” or “dagger” is any knife or other instrument, with or without a handguard, that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon and may inflict great bodily injury or death. They should always be carried openly in a sheathed scabbard. Carrying a concealed dirk or dagger is a wobbler offense in California. Ergo, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. (See Penal Code 21310) Concealed carry means tucking into a waistband or other article of clothing, carrying in a pocket, purse, briefcase, backpack, or container. Open Carry: A person may carry a dirk or dagger openly in public if contained openly within a sheath.
  3. Certain locations, such as public schools and government buildings, prohibit the carry of these items regardless of type or length. Penal Code 626.10(a)(2) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail. It makes it a crime to bring or possess on the grounds of a K-12 school: a razor blade or a box cutter. Switchblades on federal property: 15 USC 1241-44 makes it a federal offense to introduce or transport a switchblade in interstate commerce or “possess a switchblade on federal or Indian lands, or lands subject to federal.. [jurisdiction]”
  4. Selling, lending, or giving an illegal knife to a minor is a wobbler offense.
  5. Manufacturing, importing, selling, or exposing switchblades for sale can be prosecuted as a felony.

Other Potential Criminal Knives

  • Stilettos
  • Chef’s knives
  • Ice picks
  • Fixed blade knives
  • Bowie knives
  • Knitting needles
  • Scissors.

The State of California law allows open carry for most legal knives.

Can I lawfully conceal and carry a folding knife?

Yes, a folding knife can be opened by applying pressure to the blade and a mechanism that provides resistance when the blade is opened. Pocket, Swiss Army, and utility box cutters are considered folding knives.

Under California Penal Code Section 17235, folding knives are legal in the state and can be legally concealed if they are in the folded position. There is no restriction on the blade length when owning or possessing one.

CAVEAT: It remains illegal to carry concealed “dirks or daggers, other dangerous weapons, or switchblades with a blade length over two inches. This is why a folding knife is Michael Ehline’s choice to carry sheathed openly when riding. The above knives are just some restricted ones capable of landing you in jail.

Now, where it can get tricky for our biker friends is navigating city-specific regulations. Are folding knives banned in some small cities or even some large ones? Countless smaller municipalities within California have their own set of laws, which might differ from those at the state level. So, if you are planning a ride that will take you through different towns, doing a little homework first is essential. When in doubt, consultants or attorneys specializing in weapon regulations can be invaluable.

Let’s take a look at some of the cities and their specific laws: 

San Diego Municipal Codes

Switchblades with a blade length greater than 2 inches are prohibited in San Diego. It’s also illegal to carry dirks, daggers, or stilettos – these are classified as concealed, regardless of whether they are visible or not.

Los Angeles City Municipal Laws

The City of Los Angeles, on paper, goes further than the state rules, making it illegal to carry in plain view any knife, dirk, or dagger having a blade 3″ or more in length, along with any ice pick or similar sharp tool, any straight-edge razor or any razor blade fitted to a handle. (See Los Angeles City Code § 55.10.) There are certain exceptions for a knife used in a “lawful occupation, for lawful recreational purposes, or as a recognized religious practice,” ergo, Sikhs.

Los Angeles County Local Ordinances Regulating Knives

“Any knife having a blade of three inches or more in length; any spring-blade, switch-blade or snap-blade knife; any knife any blade of which is automatically released by a spring mechanism or other mechanical device; an ice pick or similar sharp stabbing tool; any straight-edge razor or any razor blade fitted to a handle.” (See LA County Ordinances § 13.62.010-020.) So basically, it’s illegal in Los Angeles County to carry any knife with a blade of 3″ or longer, sheathed, displayed on your hip or not. Similar sportsman and religious exemptions apply at the county level. (See LA County Ordinances § 13.)

San Francisco

San Francisco imposes greater restrictions on carrying knives in public.

We’re diving into the deeper guidelines of Article 17, Section 1292 of the SF Municipal Code. Here, you’ll find it listed that it’s considered illegal to be loitering while toting a weapon. In this context, weapons encompass knives with blades longer than 3″ and spring-type knives (we’ll expand on this in the following section), among other destructive tools. In contrast to this municipal code, California state law does not prescribe a length limit, meaning this 3″ rule only actually comes into play if you’re caught loitering, a vague and complicated offense. 

Moving on, Article 17, Section 1292 also takes a firm stance against switchblades – no exceptions. Stricter than state law, which generally allows for switchblades under 2″ in length, this statute goes a step further to say “no” to “any knife, any blade of which is automatically released by a spring mechanism or other mechanical device.” In our interpretation, this could extend to banning assisted openers. 

Then, we’ve got Article 17, Section 1293. In short, it prohibits giving or selling ANY knife to a minor unless you’re their parent or guardian. However, it’s good to note that it doesn’t mention anything against ownership by minors. 

Sacramento’s Draconian Knife Laws (2024)?

Under Title 9 Chapter 9.32 here, and summarized if you carry as follows:

  • 9.32.020: Always illegal if carried while you “hide, lurk or loiter upon or about the premises of another.”
  • 9.32.030: “…to engage in any fight or to participate in any other rough or disorderly conduct upon any public place or way or upon the premises of another.”
  • 9.32.040: “…loiter about any place where intoxicating liquors are sold or any other place of public resort.”
  • 9.32.050: Unlawful “in any automobile, any dangerous or deadly weapon…” But “…this restriction shall not be deemed to prohibit the carrying of ordinary tools or equipment carried in good faith for uses of honest work, trade or business or for “legitimate sport or recreation.”
  • 9.32.060: “It is unlawful for any person to sell or give to anyone in the city any push-button or spring-blade knife.”

There are more cities we still need to cover so if you have data, send it!

Specific occupational groups enjoy some exemptions.

  • Active or retired law enforcement officer
  • Military personnel in the course of duties
  • Firefighter, or EMT.

These laws may look a little different for you. Their job functionalities or status often require them to carry knives. Hence, the law loosens its grip in their case. These exceptions might also carry over to their ability to carry concealed knives.

Work or Hunting/Fishing?

For hunting and fishing purposes, some exemptions may apply over legality, specific circumstances, or any local ordinances. There are exclusions to open-carry knife laws, usually with specific stipulations. For example, you might be allowed to carry a substantial fixed-blade knife on an excursion. But sometimes, they require permits and legal documentation.

Now, our data is helpful, but it’s not exhaustive. Before you hit the road, it’s crucial to research each city’s specific regulations to stay out of trouble. Even a quick online search can save you a lot of hassle. Trust us, it’s much easier than an unexpected encounter with local law enforcement. Each city in California may have local ordinances that modify or elaborate on the state’s knife laws. Here’s what you need to know to protect your interests and respect these local rules: 

  • Check with the local courthouse: They usually store records of the actual municipal laws. Therefore, consider inquiring directly from local courthouses besides conducting a virtual search.
  • Watch the length: In some cases, smaller municipalities impose additional blade length restrictions beyond what’s outlined in state laws.
  • Don’t overlook ‘concealed carry’: Although we’re mainly focused on open carry laws here, also be aware of concealed carry laws as some local jurisdictions have stricter interpretations.
  • Remember the zones: School zones, government buildings, and other sensitive places often have stricter knife rules. Be aware of these “gun-free” zones when traveling.
  • Be resourceful: Even where the open carry of sheathed knives is allowed, and don’t go brandishing or using threatening behavior can get you into legal trouble.

Remember, this list doesn’t exhaust all the unique twists and turns of local knife laws across California. But it is a blueprint that will help you prevent unintended run-ins with the law. Stay informed, stay respectful, and enjoy the ride!

Penalties Bikers face for Breaking these Laws?

In California, the penalties for breaking the laws related to the open carrying of sheathed knives can vary significantly based on the specific circumstances and the exact code that is violated. Generally, these penalties can range from fines to imprisonment or a combination of both.

Firstly, if a biker is found guilty of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, a felony under California Penal Code Section 21310, they could face imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year or in state prison. This law applies even if the knife is sheathed and carried openly but is designed in such a way that it could be used as a stabbing instrument.

Secondly, under California Penal Code Section 20200, carrying a sheathed knife that is not a switchblade in a public place is a misdemeanor. The penalty for this offense can be a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, or both.

Lastly, it’s important to note that individual municipalities in California may have additional restrictions and penalties related to the open carrying of sheathed knives. For example, in Los Angeles, it is illegal to carry a knife with a blade longer than three inches in any public place, street, or parking lot. Violating this municipal code can result in a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

Furthermore, if a biker has prior convictions, the penalties for breaking these laws can be even more severe. For instance, a second conviction for carrying a concealed dirk or dagger could result in a longer prison sentence. These penalties can have long-term consequences beyond the immediate fines and imprisonment. A conviction for a knife-related offense can result in a criminal record. This can prevent or hinder future employment, access to secure housing, certain licenses, and benefits.

The Golden State, known for its storied legislation, has unique knife laws that may differ from laws in other states. You must know these regulations as a resident or visitor coming in with loud pipes and a cut. A weekend biker zooming down the vast Pacific Highway or a hiker traversing Yosemite’s breathtaking landscapes via a chopper should know these rules. 

Firstly, knowing that a sheathed knife carried openly isn’t generally illegal under California law is essential. According to Penal Code Section 20200, carrying most knives out in the open is perfectly legal. Don’t let this give you a false sense of security, though; not all blades are created equal in this respect. For example, switchblades have a blade longer than 2 inches, and dirks or daggers can’t be carried openly or concealed. 

Summary of CA Knife Law From Reddit

CA knife laws in a nutshell:

  • “No restriction on knives based solely on length
  • open carry is legal regardless of length, both fixed and folding
  • concealed carry of a fixed blade knife is ILLEGAL
  • concealed carry of a folding knife locked in the open position is a felony(I only mention this cause its hilariously silly, but true)
  • Assisted opening knives are legal
  • knives disguised as other objects are ILLEGAL” (Reddit Link)

Freedom and Open Air

Now, what about the bikers and their passion for mobility and freedom? Well, beloved bikers, while cruising through the beautiful landscapes of smaller towns in California, remember that the knife laws can shift quickly. Municipal codes in smaller cities frequently have different, often stricter, rules. Some may completely prohibit open-carry knives, while others might enforce specific length limitations. Ignorance of these local laws is no excuse, so keep yourself educated and updated. 

So, to keep the wind in your hair and avoid any unwanted legal trouble, it’s best to verify the varying municipal codes before you set off on your journey. Usually, these codes can be found on a city’s official website or by contacting the local law enforcement agency. A moment’s delay in researching these regulations can save you from a significant headache. As an additional measure, you could consider carrying your knife in a locked container while traveling through different municipalities.

Keeping your knife out of sight and mind may not give you the cowboy aesthetic, but it will undoubtedly keep you on the right side of the law when faced with illegally carrying charges. If you get into a motorcycle accident, the other motor vehicle driver may try to tell the cops you were brandishing, etc., to deflect liability for the accident. Be smart; the best defense is to have a legally concealed weapon that is not visible.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.