The windswept Great Plains state of Iowa, a notable manufacturing state despite its agricultural history, maintains a set of knife laws which are complex but generally favorable from a knife owner’s point of view. Only a single type of knife, the ballistic knife, is illegal to even own or keep in the owner’s house or on their property. Beyond this single exception, people are allowed to own and carry any edged implement they wish at home.
The law introduces more complicated rules when it comes to actually carrying these knives in public, however. Excepting the illegal ballistic knife, there are no restrictions on the kinds of blades that can be open carried in Iowa. Concealed carry uses several layers of legality, including those knives legal to conceal if they are 5” long or shorter, and those which cannot be legally concealed regardless of their length.
Knife rights are broad and compliance with the law is fairly easy in Iowa, but knife owners should gain a clear grasp of the rules before carrying outside the home.
Legality of Knife Possession
The law gives Iowa residents and visitors the green light to own any kind of knife or blade they wish, and to buy, sell, display, give, or receive such knives, with the lone exception of the ballistic knife. Ballistic knives are illegal even at home in the Hawkeye State. Beyond this, however, legal adults may possess pocket knives, fixed blade knives such as a Bowie knife or dagger, balisong knives, stilettos, disguised knives including sword canes and lipstick blades, hunting knives, and so on.
All legal knives may be open carried except on school, courthouse, and prison grounds, with one exception. Knives and edged weapons with disguised blades longer than 5 inches cannot be openly carried, and therefore, though owning them is perfectly legal, they must be left in the house or apartment.
These include sword canes, knife canes, and so on. The reason for this ban is straightforward: since the knives are built in such a way that they are always concealed, they objectively cannot be “openly carried” and thus violate the law if borne in public places. Note, however, that disguised knives with blades 5” long or less can be carried publicly, as they are eligible for concealed carry. Belt buckle knives, lipstick blades, and knife-pens usually meet this stricture since the actual blade needs to be small to fit inside the concealing object.
Ballistic knives are classified as “offensive weapons” and are illegal in all circumstances within Iowa’s borders. As Iowa Code of 2012, section § 724.3, describes, owning one of these blades is a Class D Felony, not a misdemeanor.
Knife Length Limit
The state of Iowa imposes no blanket blade length restriction on knives, so swords, machetes, sword canes, and extremely long Bowie knives, bayonets, and the like are all lawful to possess. Length limits of 5” are imposed on concealed knife blades, however, and carrying a knife longer than 8” hidden exposes the violator to stricter penalties.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Lawful and unlawful concealment of a knife are covered by the laws found in section § 724.4 of the Iowa Code of 2012. The concealment law makes no distinction between folding and fixed blades, relying on blade length to determine legality. Any knife not otherwise banned can be hidden on your person if the blade is 5” long or shorter.
If the blade is longer than 5” but does not exceed 8”, carrying it is a “serious misdemeanor,” while carrying a blade longer than 8” concealed is reckoned as committing and “aggravated misdemeanor,” calling for a stiffer penalty.
One exception to the length rule is provided by § 724.4.3.h, which specifies a hunting or fishing knife can be carried concealed, regardless of length, if the carrier is actually engaged in lawful hunting or fishing. Obviously, to qualify for this exemption, the sportsman must be seeking game or fish with their rifle or rod, or on their way to that activity – with a valid hunting or fishing license where appropriate.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Iowa
Though Iowa leans strongly towards sturdy knife rights provisions, the state’s law does not preempt local rules or ordinances on the subject. The cities of Council Bluffs and Cedar Rapids, for example, enforce a ruling that only knives with blades less than 3” long can be carried concealed; even those exactly 3” long must be open carried or not carried at all in these locations. Knife owners can best protect themselves from unpleasant legal surprises by researching local ordinances, and, when in doubt, opting for open carry.
Resources and Further Reading