Knife Laws in New Jersey

The knife laws of New Jersey outlaw all knives carried for illegal purposes, and places the burden of proving legality of intent on the knife carrier. This applies even to ordinary pocketknives, as case law precedents demonstrate. In effect, carrying knives of any kind is illegal in New Jersey if a policeman or court decides that this is the case. Anecdotal evidence, including some information supplied by lawyers, suggests that a bias towards interpreting any knife as illegal exists among the Garden State’s law enforcement personnel due to the incentive of hefty fines levied against “offenders.”

Almost the only legally airtight justification for carrying a knife within the state’s boundaries is if it is in use for hunting or fishing. An actual, current, valid hunting or fishing license must be in the knife owner’s possession, however, and their location must show that they are hunting or fishing, or driving directly to or from a hunting or fishing site, in order to establish carrying these knives as legal.

Predictably, the state of New Jersey has no preemption rule regarding knife laws, so local governments are free to enforce their own ordinances about knives. Some manage to trump even the state’s strict laws by totally banning knife carrying, with no exceptions.

Legality of Knife Possession

The state of New Jersey allows ownership of many types of knives, though it does outlaw possession, buying, selling, and manufacture of several varieties, too. Section § 2C:39-3 of the New Jersey Statutes states that some knives are illegal to have in one’s possession without an “explainable lawful purpose,” listing gravity knives, switchblade knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, and ballistic knives.

The “dagger” entry on the list can easily be legally construed to cover any double-edged knife whatsoever, and “switchblade” covers any automatic knife. Since “explainable lawful purpose” is something of a subjective judgment call on the part of law enforcement and the courts, possession of any of these knives occupies a legal gray area. A hunter or fisherman with a hunting or fishing license, a collector (possibly registered with the local sheriff, if allowed) with a variety of blades, and a historical re-enactment participant with a membership in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a Civil War or Revolutionary War re-enactment society, or similar club membership, are all examples of people who would have solid, objective proof that ownership of certain “gray area” knives is fully legal. For others, legality of ownership depends on how convincing their justification is and how lenient the police officer or judge happens to be.

This leaves a number of knives that are legal to own, though perhaps not to carry outside the home. Folding pocketknives with a detent or a bias towards closure, single-edged fixed blade knives such as Bowie knives (though a clip point with the clip sharpened is likely to be interpreted as a double-edged knife), balisong knives, throwing stars, throwing knives, and disguised knives such as lipstick blades.

With the exception of felons, people with a history of serious mental illness, and intoxicated persons, any legal knife can be open carried if doing so serves an explainable lawful purpose.

Knife Length Limit

New Jersey law does not impose any specific knife length limits. All knives are potentially illegal if they are meant to be used as dangerous weapons or to inflict harm, the presumption if lawful intent cannot be proven.

Concealed Carry of Knives

While the state of New Jersey does not rule against either the open or concealed carry of a legal knife, any concealment can potentially call the lawful use of the knife into serious question. The precedent shown by State v. Wright, 96 N.J. 170, is that even an Xacto knife with a 1” blade covered by a makeshift cardboard sheath was illegal when concealed by taping it to the defendant’s ankle underneath a sock. In effect, though concealed carry itself is not illegal per se, it makes the “lawful purpose” justification considerably harder except in the cases of hunting knives and the like as noted above.

Other Knife Law Considerations in New Jersey

Local ordinances occasionally make legally carrying a knife inside New Jersey state lines even more complicated. However, most, such as section § 5.11 (7) of the ordinances of Sayreville Borough, are unlikely to ever interfere with knife rights in everyday life; this ordinance forbids carrying any knife in a public road, sidewalk, park, or square, but only if the mayor has declared a state of emergency.

Many local ordinance codes forbid carrying a knife during an official state of emergency, but otherwise make no effort to impede knife ownership or carrying beyond the state’s overall rules. Generally, the safest course is to leave all knives at home except when actually on a hunting or fishing expedition (with a current license).

Resources and Further Reading