Knife Laws in Michigan

Famous for its automotive industry and, to a lesser extent, for its location in the midst of three Great Lakes, the Wolverine State features complex knife laws which permit more than limited ownership and carrying of knives but are also not particularly knife-friendly. Ownership rights are quite open-ended, though as is frequently the cases, automatic knives, switchblades, and gravity knives are illegal to own as well as to buy, sell, or carry. Fortunately for knife enthusiasts, balisong knives are not included in these categories and are legal in Michigan.

Open carry of a legal knife is generally allowed by state law, while fixed-blade knives are typically illegal for concealed carry with the exception of hunting knives actually in use while hunting and a few other corner cases.

However, dozens if not hundreds of individual municipalities in Michigan maintain their own knife ordinances. Many of these locations ban open carry of knives with blades longer than 3” also, due to Michigan’s lack of a preemption law. The combination of state law and numerous, very restrictive local ordinances make carrying knives longer than 3” in Michigan a thorny, difficult matter for knife owners.

Legality of Knife Possession

Michigan law makes it illegal to own, possess, transport, buy, sell, receive, or give gravity knives, switchblades, or automatic knives (those opening with some sort of spring-loaded action). A balisong knife, also known as a butterfly knife, is exempted from this category and is a legal knife. Other legal knives run the gamut from pocket knives and clasp knives to hunting knives, Bowie knives, throwing stars, daggers, stilettos, dirks, large single-edged and double-edged fixed blade knives, undetectable knives made of ceramics or other metal detector-transparent materials, and disguised knives such as a dipstick blade or belt buckle knife.

All knives that are legal to own are also legal to open carry by Michigan state law, though this law is very frequently superseded by local ordinances. Section § 750.226 in Act 328 of the Michigan Penal Code states that any knife with a blade longer than 3” is illegal if it is carried with the “intent to harm” – with self-defense counting as an intent to harm also, as established by the 1945 precedent in People v. Vaines. The 3” blade limit appears superfluous, though, since the same legislation also states that any knife is an illegal, dangerous weapon if carried with intent to harm.

Knife Length Limit

Knives longer than 3” cannot be carried in Michigan if they are intended to be used against another person, whether offensively or defensively. In practice, however, this means that there is no state blade length limit on open carry knives as long as the carrier does not threaten or attack another person with the knife. Local ordinances frequently enforce a 3” length limit regardless of intent, however.

Concealed Carry of Knives

Concealed carry of knives in Michigan is governed by section § 750.227. This statute forbids the concealed carry of any “double-edge” knife which is has a fixed blade and can be used as a stabbing instrument. There is a specific exemption for hunting knives which are “adapted” to this purpose and carried for it. Presumably, possession of a valid hunting license and actual hunting activity establishes the legality of carrying a hunting knife concealed much more legally defensible.

Dive knives with blunt ends, which cannot be used for stabbing, are likely exempt also, though no case law precedent exists.

Knives which are illegal for concealed carry also cannot be carried in a vehicle unless they are secured in an inaccessible fashion. Placing them inside a locked box or in the trunk means that they are inaccessible and are therefore legal, since they are not being “carried.” This allows transport of knives legal to own but illegal to carry publicly.

Other Knife Law Considerations in Michigan

Michigan’s concealed carry laws are strict, while its open carry laws are theoretically broad yet frequently constrained in practice by highly limiting local ordinances. Caution and careful analysis should be used at all times by knife owners when deciding whether or not to carry a given knife.

Resources and Further Reading