Hawaii, America’s Pacific paradise, falls firmly in the middle when it comes to knife laws and knife carrying rights. Pocket knives and most types of single-edged blades are legal to possess and carry, with no length limitations imposed by statute. Double-edged blades, switchblades, gravity knives, ballistic knives, and balisongs are illegal for either open or concealed carry. Penalties for violation include confiscation and destruction of the offending implement.
A troubling omission from Hawaiian knife law is any official ruling on the legal status of a double-edged diver’s knife. The relevant sections of Hawaii’s knife law could be read to support either the legality or illegality of such blades, meaning the exact interpretation will depend on law enforcement and the courts.
The issue of a diver’s knife’s legality is obviously of some importance in a state consisting of oceanic islands and visited by huge numbers of people wishing to swim, dive, or otherwise engage in seaside recreation. A diver’s knife can mean the difference between life or death for someone tangled in sunken netting or fishing line. However, Hawaii’s knife laws enable other legal options than a double-edged blade for diving.
Legality of Knife Possession
Hawaii’s knife laws are summed up concisely in criminal code sections §134-51, §134-52, and §134-53, which deal with deadly weapons, switchblade knives, and butterfly knives respectively. Legal knives in Hawaii include regular pocket knives, Bowie knives, machetes, small or large single-edged fixed blade knives, undetectable knives provided that they are single-edged, and similar blades. These knives can be both possessed and carried, either openly or concealed.
Daggers, dirks, stilettos, and other double-edged knives can be owned and carried within the owner’s private premises, but are illegal to carry in public either on the owner’s person or in a vehicle. Throwing stars, disguised blades like sword canes or lipstick knives, and belt buckle knives can also be owned but not carried outside the home. Carrying any double-edged knife is illegal, subjecting the possessor to arrest and misdemeanor charges, plus the destruction of the knife.
Double-edged diver’s knives exist in a legal gray area in Hawaii due to the wording of the law, specifically section §134-51. On the one hand, they clearly fall into the category of “dirks or daggers,” due to their double edge. On the other hand, when carried by someone actually engaged in swimming or diving, they no longer qualify as “deadly or dangerous weapons” because such weapons are blades with no purpose other than fighting or inflicting injury, while a diver’s knife in the possession of a diver is clearly a utility item intended to cut lines, netting, and obstructions rather than function in combat.
This matter was partially addressed in State v. Giltner, heard before the Supreme Court of Hawaii in 1975. The appellant, Howard Giltner, successfully appealed his conviction for carrying a 6.5” Sea Hunter diver’s knife due to the fact that it had a lawful use and therefore did not qualify as a dagger. The stop-and-frisk carried out by the arresting officer was also deemed unconstitutional since Giltner was not engaged in suspicious behavior. This case might establish a precedent for the legality of double-edged diver’s knives in appropriate settings (that is, in or near the ocean), but might also only provide a “positive defense” following arrest.
Switchblades, gravity knives, ballistic knives, and balisongs (described as “butterfly knives” in Hawaiian state law) are illegal not only to carry, but to buy, sell, make, or possess. Any blades functioning in a similar fashion are likewise illegal. Possession, carrying, use, or transport of these knives is a misdemeanor.
Knife Length Limit
Hawaii sets no legal length limits on knives, instead using the number of cutting edges and the method of deploying a folding blade as the benchmarks of legality.
Concealed Carry of Knives
All legal knives are legal to carry either openly or concealed. All illegal knives are illegal to carry either openly or concealed in Hawaii. There is no separate concealed carry law for knives in this jurisdiction.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Hawaii
Relatively straightforward and moderately knife-friendly, Hawaii’s state knife laws permit owning and carrying single-edged blades of any size while banning most double-edged blades. The “usual suspects” – switchblades, gravity knives, balisongs, and ballistic knives – are prohibited by law. People engaged in diving, swimming, and boating can probably safely carry double-edged diver’s knives for utility and safety while on or near the water, but should remain aware of the dubious legal status of these blades when choosing whether or not to use them.
Resources and Further Reading