Though a sweeping renovation of Pennsylvania knife law is in debate in 2015 in the form of PA House Bill No. 230, Session of 2015, which would greatly increase knife rights, the Keystone State’s knife laws remain among the most restrictive in the United States until such time as HB-230 may be signed into law. All switchblades and similar knives are banned even from possession, as are “daggers” – an extremely broad category including all knives with a double edge. Knives with a clipped point and the clipped section sharpened also count as double-edged daggers and cannot be owned or carried.
The state does not currently recognize self-defense as a specific lawful reason for carrying a knife. Philadelphia is even stricter with its local ordinances, taking advantage of the lack of a preemption law to enforce its own statutes. In the City of Brotherly Love, it is illegal to own or carry any kind of knife outside the house with the exception of a work knife, and then only when it is actually being used on the job.
Legality of Knife Possession
Pennsylvania outlaws a number of knife types, as described in Title 18, section § 908 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. These knives are illegal to own or carry in the owner’s home, and furthermore cannot be legally made, bought, sold, or transferred to other people within the boundaries of the Keystone State. These include daggers (any double-edged knife), machetes, any knife which serves no common lawful purpose, razors, and any kind of switchblade or automatic knife.
The definition of “common lawful purpose” is largely up to police and the courts to decide. Claiming a lawful purpose for a knife does not necessarily mean that purpose will be legally recognized, or as applying in any given case. Use for food preparation or consumption, work use of a knife, and the use of a hunting or fishing knife while engaged in such pursuits are strong claims likely to hold up in court.
Legal knives in Pennsylvania include pocketknives, pen knives, Bowie knives (provided they are single-edged only), hunting knives, fishing knives, utility knives, balisong knives, and disguised knives such as dipstick knives or belt-buckle blades. These knives can be carried for lawful purposes only, and can get the bearer into legal trouble if they are unable to demonstrate a convincing lawful purpose.
Knife Length Limit
The state of Pennsylvania does not use the length of knife blades to determine the legality of a knife or its eligibility for carrying.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Daggers, automatic knives including switchblades and gravity knives, and sword-canes are all illegal to carry concealed. Hunting knives and other knives can be carried concealed, provided that immediate lawful purpose can be demonstrated. Carrying a hunting knife while in the field with a valid hunting license during hunting season is lawful; carrying the same knife concealed (or open) while grocery shopping is illegal, since there is no lawful purpose for a hunting knife while shopping.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s knife laws are written to restrict knife ownership, knife carrying, and knife rights in general very sharply. Nevertheless, some municipalities outdo the state laws in their strictness, in particular Philadelphia, PA.
Philadelphia’s ordinance § 10-820, “Cutting Weapons in Public Places,” out and out forbids possessing, using, or carrying any knife whatsoever, even a pocketknife, with the sole exception of a knife actually being used at that moment in the “active exercise” of a trade. Violation of this blanket ban carries a minimum sentence of both $300 in fines and 90 days in jail. Knife owners in Pennsylvania are well-advised to be extremely careful and to always err on the side of caution.
Resources and Further Reading