Virginia, the “Mother of Presidents,” has knife laws which are somewhat knife-friendly in certain ways and quite restrictive in others. Knife ownership rights are relatively wide but not unlimited, with a general ban on owning, buying, or selling throwing stars, ballistic knives, and switchblade knives. Open carry rights are similarly broad, with any legal knife eligible for open carrying anywhere except the usual off-limits sites such as schools. Even on school grounds, pocketknives with short blades are permissible.
Hints of remote historical times when Bowie knives were a major “issue” due to the duels once fought with them remain in Virginia’s concealed carry laws, however. Many knife types are completely illegal to concealed carry, including most of the larger knives. Complex case law precedents govern what constitutes concealed carry when a knife is in a private automobile.
A preemption bill was proposed at the start of 2015 but legislatively defeated due to negative press. Local knife ordinances remain in full force across the Old Dominion State.
Legality of Knife Possession
Section § 18.2-311 of the Virginia Code provides a concise summary of the knives which it is illegal to own within Virginia state lines. Switchblades, ballistic knives, and throwing stars or “oriental darts” are illegal to sell in the state. Since the same law declares that possessing one of these knives is taken to be proof of the intent to sell it, the criminalizing of selling also criminalizes ownership of these knife types as a Class 4 Misdemeanor.
All other knives are legal to own (as well as buy, sell, manufactured, give and receive as gifts, etc.). They may be carried openly or concealed in the home or while on the owner’s private property without breaking the law. They include balisong knives, Bowie knives, KA-BAR knives, machetes, swords, daggers, dirks, stilettos, hunting knives, clasp knives, pocketknives, utility knives, sword canes, disguised knives, and any other types not explicitly banned by section § 18.2-311.
All legal knives are eligible for open carry, with the exception of those which cannot be readily recognized as knives. This means that sword canes and disguised knives (such as belt-buckle knives and lipstick knives) may be owned, but not carried in public, since by their very construction they are always concealed.
Section § 18.2-308.1 makes it illegal to carry any knife except an ordinary folding pocketknife with blade shorter than 3” in a school or on school grounds. This makes Virginia one of a limited handful of states where it is lawful to carry any knife at all at a school.
Knife Length Limit
Blade length is only an issue in Virginia knife law when determining if a pocketknife is legal to carry on school property or premises. In this case, any blade 3” long or longer is illegal.
Concealed Carry of Knives
The concealed carry of knives in Virginia is regulated by section § 18.2-308 of the Virginia Code. This section forbids carrying the following knives and bladed implements concealed: dirks, Bowie knives, switchblade knives, ballistic knives, machetes, razors, shuriken, throwing stars, and any other knife at all similar to these.
The “similar” clause means that the list of non-concealable knives also includes daggers, stilettos, hunting knives, large single-edged and double-edged fixed blade knives, swords, gravity knives, throwing knives, and, probably, balisong knives. Exceptions include knives being transported from the point of purchase to the home or from the home to a place of repair (as long as they are “securely wrapped”), plus the usual exemption for knives actually being used while legally hunting.
Knives such as sword canes, belt-buckle knives, dipstick knives, and other disguised blades are automatically illegal to carry in public. They are considered to always be concealed, and count as Bowie knives, dirks, or machetes depending on their size and construction.
Other Knife Law Considerations in Virginia
With the failure of SB.1811 in early 2015, preemption does not currently exist in Virginia, and the Old Dominion State remains dotted with municipal and county ordinances enforcing additional regulations on knives. Amherst County and Culpepper County, VA, for example, ban knives with blades of 3” or longer from carrying in public parks, even for open carry. Many counties and towns have similar bans on carrying a knife while operating a taxicab. Knife owners should familiarize themselves with local ordinances or leave their knife at home when traveling around the state.
Resources and Further Reading