Knife laws in Illinois are quite vague in many regards, and make use of intent as a guide to knife legality in addition to length and construction features. Evidence suggests the laws were legislated in this way to enable a crackdown on gang-related stabbings in Chicago. Any knife over 3” in length can be considered a dangerous weapon if carried with intent to be used to injure or kill another person, though the law goes on to stipulate that knives with blades 3” long or shorter also count as dangerous weapons if used to harm another individual’s “well being.”
Hunting knives are directly listed as legal to carry as long as there is no intent to use them in an assault. The law forbids only three types of knife completely: switchblades and other knives opening with the press of a button or other trigger mechanism, ballistic knives (with a curious exemption for crossbows and spear-guns); and martial arts throwing stars.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that law enforcement uses a relaxed interpretation of the law for people who are carrying knives for use in their occupation or trade, or who are simply obviously not interested in starting trouble. While this may be the case, knife owners should realize that this is a matter of forbearance on the part of the police. People likely to be “profiled” may not find the system quite so forgiving.
Legality of Knife Possession
The state of Illinois permits the ownership (and, by implication, carrying in the house) of a fairly broad selection of knives. Folding pocket knives are legal here, as everywhere else in the United States, including only those with a bias towards closure or a detent which slows deployment of the blade.
Hunting knives, Bowie knives, KA-BAR knives, daggers, and other small or large fixed-blade knives can be lawfully bought, sold, and owned. Balisong knives and, probably, gravity knives also fall into this category, as do throwing knives (as opposed to ballistic knives and throwing stars), and the law even permits ownership of concealed knives such as belt buckle blades.
The ever-distrusted switchblade is illegal in Illinois, as are throwing stars, ballistic knives, and knives that work in a closely similar manner. Not only are these knives illegal to carry, but they cannot be owned, bought, sold, or made inside the state’s boundaries. Though historic trench knives with metal finger rings are not singled out, metal knuckles and brass knuckles are illegal, too, which almost certainly outlaws knives with metal finger rings.
Section 24-1 (720 ILCS 5/24-1) of the Illinois Criminal Code of 2012 specifies that all other kinds of dirks, daggers, and knives are illegal if – and only if – they are carried or owned with the intent to use them unlawfully against another person. Broken bottles and shards of glass are also covered by this statute.
The Illinois law makes no distinction between open and concealed carry. Knives with blades 3” long or shorter are not subject to the “intent” rule, though actual use of them to threaten or inflict unlawful violence automatically reclassifies them as dangerous weapons. Courthouses, schools, public parks, and public transports ban carrying of knives.
Knife Length Limit
In Illinois, knives with blades up to 3” long are fully legal at all times they are not used for unlawful activity. Those with blades longer than 3” are legal as long as they are carried without the intent to use them to inflict harm on another person’s well being. Ultimately, this means that the legality of blades longer than 3” is a judgment call for law enforcement and the courts, though lenience is the rule when the knife owner is obviously peaceful.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Illinois knife law does not distinguish between open and concealed carry, though concealed carry in parks, schools, courthouses, or public transport is just as illegal as open carry in these locations.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Illinois
The State of Illinois is an administrative region of the U.S. which defies neat categories and is neither truly friendly nor unfriendly to knife ownership. Intent plays a large role in determining legality, though carrying a knife shorter than 3” solves this problem also.
Law enforcement usually considers possession of longer knives legal and acceptable if the knife owner projects calm and is clearly going about their daily business rather than acting in a suspicious or threatening manner. This is subject to the possible quirks of individual police officers and future changes in department policy, however.
With no preemption law to prevent them, cities and counties in Illinois are free to make their own knife ordinances. Chicago enforces a 2.5” length limit (which is still more generous than Loves Park, IL’s 1.5” limit) prompting many knife manufacturers to produce short-bladed “Chicago edition” knives legal for carrying in the Windy City.
Resources and Further Reading