Knife Laws in Montana

Though Montana’s knife laws are mostly clear-cut and follow the pattern of other “middle of the road” states as far as knife rights are concerned, they contain some interesting corner cases. Switchblades, for example, are mostly illegal, yet there is a method by which a “bona fide” collector can legally own them. Concealed carry is limited to knives with blades of 4” in length or less except sparsely inhabited regions, when longer knives can be carried hidden for personal use and protection without violating the law.

Open carry rights are extensive in Montana, though with the usual caveats regarding carrying on school grounds and several other types of public buildings. Montana issues general concealed carry permits for dangerous weapons, rather than just handguns, meaning that acquisition of such a license allows nearly unlimited concealed carry of knives, also.

Legality of Knife Possession

Most knives and bladed implements except switchblades are legal to own in Montana. In addition to pocket knives, balisong knives, swords, machetes, sword-canes, Bowie knives, hunting knives, large single-edged or double-edged fixed knives, dirks, daggers, push knives, stilettos, shuriken, throwing knives, belt buckle knives, lipstick blades and other disguised knives, and similar types can all be bought, sold, and owned.

Open carry is allowed with all legal knives. However, no knife with a blade longer than 4” can be carried in a school or on school grounds. Unusually, knives can be carried open or concealed inside the owner’s personal vehicle.

Ownership of a switchblade knife is illegal in most, but not all, instances. According to section § 45-8-331, switchblades with blades shorter than 1.5” do not count as illegal switchblades. Another exemption exists for collectors who are “bona fide” and register their collection with the county sheriff’s office in the county where the collection is physically stored and displayed. Anyone else caught with a switchblade may be subject to penalties of 6 months in jail or a $500 fine, or both together.

Obtaining a CWP (Concealed Weapons Permit), though centered around handguns, also provides the right to carry knives of any length concealed (though switchblades are, of course, still banned). To apply, the applicant needs to be 18 years old at a minimum, a resident of Montana for at least 6 months, and have a state-issued photo I.D. such as a driver’s license. A firearms safety course must be completed, and the material presented to the local sheriff’s office. The sheriff decides whether to issue a 4 year permit.

Knife Length Limit

Montana imposes no legal knife or blade length limit, with the exception of concealed carry. In this case, a hard limit of less than 4” applies except in a few special cases.

Concealed Carry of Knives

Section § 45-8-316 of the Montana Annotated Code of 2014 makes it illegal to concealed carry a knife with a blade length ranging from 4” upward. Note that the blade must be under 4” to be legal; a blade exactly 4” long is unlawful to hide wholly or partially on your person. Any knife of any length can be carried concealed inside the knife owner’s vehicle, however (or openly, if desired).

However, the immediately following section, § 45-8-317, provides several useful exemptions. Given Montana’s rugged character, one of the most important of these is in subsection (i). This exemption allows people to carry knives of any length concealed provided that they are farming, ranching, hiking, hunting, trapping, fishing, backpacking, or otherwise in the great outdoors participating in an activity where a concealed knife provides utility or personal protection.

In order for the exemption in § 45-8-317(i) to apply, the knife carrier must be in outside the official bounds of any town or city, and cannot be in a camp for the housing of railroad workers, lumberjacks, miners, or loggers.

Other Knife Law Considerations in Montana

Montana’s knife law combines strong controls on concealed carry with broad ownership and open carry rights. Though preemption is absent and some locations have knife ordinances, these are often quite similar to the state laws. Billings, MT bans knives at city council meetings, also. Montana’s laws for concealed carry of larger knives away from populated areas is a boon to hikers, hunters, fishermen, and other outdoorspeople.

Resources and Further Reading