Knife Laws in Maryland

Maryland’s knife laws use a mixture of knife type and intent to determine the legality of carrying. There is no limit on what kind of knives can be owned within the state’s boundaries. Even ballistic knives and throwing stars, those types of blade most frequently banned in the United States, are fully legal to own and, in many cases, to carry.

The state of Maryland’s legislation does not use blade length to determine legality in any cases. However, its laws do not preempt those of townships, cities, or counties within it. A number of these impose length limits in addition to the existing carrying restrictions imposed by the state itself. Some even ban knife ownership that is allowed elsewhere in the state. This makes the legal situation complex and, at times, inconvenient for knife owners who move about the state with their blade in their possession, rather than staying in one place.

Legality of Knife Possession

Private individuals have unlimited rights to buy, sell, and own knives and blades, as far as the Maryland state legal system is concerned. In most of the state, people can possess all kinds of folding knives, including simple pocket knives, switchblades, assisted opening knives, and other automatic knives; gravity knives and balisong blades; special knives such as concealed blades (belt buckle knives or key knives) and sword canes; fixed blade knives with single or double edges, such as Bowie knives, hunting knives, KA-BAR knives, daggers, stilettos, and similar; and even ballistic knives, throwing knives, and throwing stars (which are legally known as “star knives”).

Open carry is permitted for all of these knives as long as the intent is not to use them against other people. The right to open carry naturally does not extend onto school grounds, inside schools, in courthouses, or on prison grounds. In all these cases, knives are totally banned, except for those in the possession of serving police officers. Concealed carry, however, is vastly more limited.

All types of knife carrying are forbidden to minors (people younger than 18 years of age) from 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise in a specific set of counties. This limitation, which is imposed by section § 4–101 of the Code of Maryland (Statutes), applies to minors in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, Cecil County, Harford County, Kent County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, St. Mary’s County, Talbot County, Washington County, and Worcester County, though minors participating in a “bona fide” hunting trip or organized civic or military gatherings that would require use of a knife as a tool are exempted from the ban.

Knife Length Limit

The state of Maryland itself imposes no maximum blade length limit on knife owners. Blade size is not used to judge a knife’s eligibility for concealed carry.

Concealed Carry of Knives

Section § 4-101 also covers Maryland’s rather strict concealed carry rules. Any knife which it classifies as a “dangerous weapon” is automatically barred from legal concealed carry. This is an important rule to observe, considering that the penalties are stiff for violating this ban – up to 3 years in prison, $1,000 in fines, or both. The specifically banned “weapons” include star knives, dirks (that is, fixed-blade double-edged knives), Bowie knives (single-edged, fixed-blade knives), switchblade knives (which likely includes gravity knives and balisongs), and razors.

A folding pocket knife of any length, which must be opened manually rather than with a spring-loaded trigger button of some sort, is legal for concealed carry. Intriguingly, the 1991 case of Bacon v. State set a precedent providing a broader than usual definition of an ordinary pocket knife (or “pen knife” as Maryland’s archaic legal text terms it).

The opinion, 586 A.2d 18, ruled in favor of Gilbert Clayton Bacon, Jr.’s claim that his folding bladed “buck knife” was still a pocket knife despite its 5” blade, open position of the implement when he was arrested, and mechanism to lock the blade open. The court ruled that a pen knife (pocket knife) remains a pen knife regardless of its size or the presence or absence of lockback mechanisms because its blade cannot be deployed instantly in the manner of a switchblade or gravity knife.

Other Knife Law Considerations in Maryland

Maryland’s knife law situation is made more complicated by local ordinances. These frequently impose length limits on top of the state’s already fairly comprehensive limitations. Both Cambridge, MD and Frederick, MD ban concealed carry if the blade is longer than 3”, while Cheverly, MD sets the length at 2.5”. Laurel, MD outlaws switchblades entirely, even for ownership. This checkerboard of conflicting rules could present difficulties to knife owners who frequently move around the state while carrying.

Resources and Further Reading