Stretching from the Atlantic to the picturesque folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina permits wide-ranging legal knife ownership and open carry rights, while sharply limiting lawful concealed carry. In general, all knives are legal to own and open carry, even large knives, switchblades, and gravity knives, with the exception of ballistic knives or other blades deployed in an “explosive” manner. Most knife owners will experience little difficulty in acquiring and carrying most types of knives.
Concealed carry in vehicles is largely governed by a series of somewhat conflicting case law precedents rather than actual statutes, but any knife or other weapon carried in such a way as to be inaccessible to the car’s occupants is generally legal. Many communities maintain their own knife ordinances due to the absence of a preemption rule in North Carolina.
Legality of Knife Possession
Individuals living in or visiting the Tar Heel State can own a range of knives legally. These range from pocket knives to large single-edge or double-edge fixed-blade or folding knives such as Bowie knives, KA-BAR knives, daggers, dirks, and stilettos; machetes and swords; disguised knives such as belt-buckle blades or dipstick knives; balisong knives; hunting and fishing blades; and even switchblades and gravity knives, provided they are not deployed explosively.
Open carry of legal knives is permitted in North Carolina law with no restrictions on blade length. Schools, courthouses, and prisons are off-limits for open carry, as are some additional locations described in section § 14-277.2 of the state’s statutes. Knives cannot be carried openly or concealed at parades, funeral processions, or picket line deomonstrations at health care facilities.
A handful of knives are illegal to own, buy, sell, manufacture, transport, receive, or give away in the state of North Carolina, according to statute § 14-269.6. Even police officers are forbidden to own these weapons, and can only have them in their possession when collecting or examining them as evidence during an investigation, or for training purposes. These knives are ballistic knives and spring-loaded projectile knives.
Knife Length Limit
North Carolina law enforces no blade length limits on knives that are legal to own or open carry. Ordinary pocket knives must have a “small” blade to quality for concealed carry, but “small” is not clarified with an actual measurement in the statutes.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Most knives are banned from concealed carrying in North Carolina by section § 14-269, Subchapter IX, Article 35 of the state’s law codes. This prohibition extends to dirks, daggers, stilettos, Bowie knives, switchblades, gravity knives, razors, “shurikin,” or “other dangerous weapons” similar to these. Since this assortment includes thrown, fixed-blade, single-edge, double-edge, and folding examples, it essentially bans all concealed carry for knives.
A single exemption is made in subsection (d), which exempts ordinary pocket knives. This subsection provides a detailed, though not complete, description of a pocket knife. This knife is a folding type whose edge and point are fully enclosed by the handle when in the closed position. Furthermore, the blade must be “small” (with no precise measurement given) and the knife must fit inside a pocket or purse. Any knife opened by spring-loading, throwing, or “explosive” action is excluded from this exemption.
Subsection (b1)(2) of the same section also allows concealed carry of a knife while engaged in an activity where the blade might be necessary, or on the way to or returning from that activity. A hunter with a hunting license, actually engaged in hunting, could therefore legally carry a hunting knife, while fishermen, farmers, construction workers, and trappers presumably gain the same exemption.
Other Knife Law Considerations in North Carolina
Though North Carolina is generally friendly to ownership and open carry of knives, and strictly against most concealed carry, its failure to include preemption statutes means dozens of local ordinances enforce a different set of knife laws on the municipal level. These include blade length limits for carrying, prohibition of carrying in public parks, and similar extensions of knife rights limitations that make complying with knife law a complex matter in the Old North State.
Resources and Further Reading