Kentucky, a state famous among other things for its picturesque mountains and its bourbon, features knife laws that mix extensive rights for blade owners with strict yet vaguely worded restrictions on concealed carry. A 2013 legislative effort to enact a preemption law, unifying and rationalizing the knife law of the state and eliminating contradictory local ordinances, failed and left the laws in a chaotic state.
Though relatively few localities have their own knife laws in effect, those that do often differ from state rules in significant ways, raising issues of shifting legality as knife owners move about the state.
Overall, Kentucky is a very knife-positive state when it comes to ownership and open carry, but can be problematic for those who prefer concealed carry. Knife enthusiasts should also pay attention to possible municipal or county knife rules that may be more stringent than the state’s.
Legality of Knife Possession
The state places no limitations whatsoever on owning knives or blades. All types of knife can be bought, sold, displayed, and carried on the owner’s property or in their home as desired. This includes all “regular” types of knives, such as pocket knives, clasp knives, Bowie knives, hunting knives, utility knives, daggers, stilettos, bayonets, KA-BAR blades, and so on. Exotic knives and edged implements are similarly legal, such as swords, machetes, sword-canes, throwing knives, martial arts throwing stars, balisong knives, undetectable knives, and disguised knives (belt buckle knives, comb dirks, dagger necklaces, and so forth).
Even knives typically illegal in most other American states can be legally owned in Kentucky, such as gravity knives, switchblades, ballistic knives, and similar implements. Kentucky law does not forbid ownership of any knife based on its method of opening, technique of use, length, or any other criterion.
All knives are also permitted for open carry. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the police consider it to be legal to open carry a sword or machete anywhere that a rifle can be open carried. Concealed carry is much more restricted, however, and the rules for this practice are notable vague and use generalized descriptions rather than measurements.
Knife Length Limit
Kentucky state law does not impose legal limits on the length of knives. Any knife length is acceptable for ownership and open carry. Concealed carry implies a maximum blade length but does not specify it.
Concealed Carry of Knives
While the State of Kentucky permits the concealed carrying of specific knives, this right is sharply curtailed except for those with a license to do so. Section § 527.020 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) of 2012 forbids carrying deadly weapons concealed without a license, and punishes violations as a Class A misdemeanor. KRS § 500.080 defines all knives with the exception of “ordinary pocket knives and hunting knives” as deadly weapons and therefore ineligible for unlicensed concealed carry.
The law provides no definition of an ordinary pocket knife or of a hunting knife, thus leaving permissible lengths unclear. An ordinary pocket knife is presumably one with no mechanical assist to blade deployment, a bias towards closure, and/or a detent. Defending the concealed carry of a hunting knife is likely made easier if the carrier is in possession of a current, valid hunting license.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Kentucky
While Kentucky state law bans knives from the grounds or buildings of schools, prisons, and courthouses, some towns add additional “no-go zones.” Queensboro, for example, also forbids knife carrying in parks. Generally speaking, open carry is the legally safest option, and indeed is the only viable option for any knife except a pocket knife or a hunting knife.
For those strongly interested in legal concealed carry, KRS § 237.110 provides the procedure needed to acquire a 5-year concealed deadly weapons license. These licenses are issued on a “shall-issue” basis, meaning the application cannot be denied if the applicant is 21 years old or older, passes several criminal and citizenship background checks, receives appropriately documented training, and meets a few other commonsense qualifications.
Resources and Further Reading