Straightforward and unambiguous, Delaware’s knife laws leave little room for doubt among knife owners or the law enforcement personnel monitoring the public’s use of blades. As might be expected from a coastal state where fishermen both casual and commercial operate or have operated in the past, many knife types are legal both to possess and to carry outside the home.
Knife owners enjoy robust open carry rights, while, by contrast, concealed carry is highly limited. Obtaining a deadly weapons permit, though a somewhat complex process whose outcome remains discretionary even when all prerequisites are fulfilled, is the only method by which individuals can potentially gain the legal right to carry large knives concealed.
Switchblades and gravity knives are illegal to carry and possess, including on the knife user’s property. Unusually, Delaware also enforces a specific ban on martial arts throwing stars, such as those frequently seen in films featuring ninjas, alongside a legal provision outlawing undetectable knives. Balisong knives represent the one point where Delaware’s knife laws lapse from their characteristic clarity and leave an as-yet-undefined gray area.
Legality of Knife Possession
Most knives are legal to own and carry in the state of Delaware, including the pocket knife, Bowie knife, KA-BAR knife, dirk, dagger, lock-blade knife, push knives, and other straight or folding knives. Open carry is the only legal option for most of these knives, with a single exception made for pocket knives featuring a blade 3” long or shorter.
Some knives are completely illegal in Delaware. These blades cannot be legally carried even in the home, nor may they be kept as collectibles or for display purposes. Selling them is likewise against the law. Switchblades and gravity knives are specifically disallowed, as are martial arts throwing stars and undetectable knives – those made from substances with partial or full transparency to a metal detector.
The Blue Hen State’s knife laws, though very clear in most regards, leave several corner cases and one area of legal uncertainty. Disguised knives such as belt buckle knives and lipstick blades are legal to possess, though the criminal codes do not indicate if they run afoul of concealed carry laws outside the home. Balisong knives currently occupy a legal limbo. Gravity knives are illegal, but are quite clearly defined as those opened by gravity. Since a balisong knife uses centrifugal force rather than gravity to deploy the blade, whether or not it is included in the gravity knife ban remains opaque. No specific court case yet exists to establish precedent for or against its legality.
Knife Length Limit
The State of Delaware places no legal limit on the length of openly carried knives. 3” is the state-legislated maximum blade length for a concealed pocket knife. Some locations, such as Newark and New Castle County, maintain local ordinances limiting concealed carry to pocket knives of less than 3”, a small but crucial difference from state law.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Concealed knife carry in Delaware is strictly limited by the rules set out in the 2012 Delaware Code, 11 DE Code § 222 and § 1442. § 1442 makes concealment of a deadly weapon a Class C or Class D felony, while § 222 defines all knives as deadly weapons, with the sole exception of folding pocket knives with a blade having a maximum length of 3”. A pocket knife is a simple folding knife with no mechanical method of opening and a detent or bias towards closure.
For those eager to legally carry a larger concealed knife about their person, Delaware’s Deadly Weapons Permit enables concealed carry of handguns, knives, and other weapons. It does not change the illegality of switchblades, gravity knives, throwing stars, or undetectable knives. The rules laid out in 11 Del. C. § 1441 require applicants to provide evidence of meeting substantial training requirements, five signed affidavits from “respectable citizens” attesting to the applicant’s good moral character and sobriety as well as a positive need for a concealed weapon to furnish self-defense, and a criminal background check, along with assorted fees. Issuance is discretionary on the court’s part, not automatic, even when all filing requirements are fully met.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Delaware
Delaware supports broad open carry knife rights while disallowing nearly all concealed carry. This appears to represent a legal framework based on the concept of knives as tools, allowing fishermen, workers, hobbyists, and contractors to carry a variety of knives to accomplish specific tasks, while the self-defense role of the blade is considered secondary. Collectors can also possess a variety of bladed implements, up to and including swords and sword canes, with the exception of a few rapid-deployment fighting knives. Delaware is a moderately knife-friendly state with exceptionally clear laws for ease of compliance.
Resources and Further Reading