West Virginia’s knife laws are mostly concerned with preventing people from carrying what the law considers to be dangerous knives concealed. There are no limitations on the kinds of knives that can be owned in this state – even the frequently banned ballistic knife may be legally possessed, bought, sold, and manufactured in West Virginia. Similarly, there are no limits on peaceful open carry of any knife.
However, knives that can be carried concealed are strictly limited. Any knife with a blade longer than 3.5” is illegal to conceal carry without a concealed weapons permit, as are gravity knives and switchblades of any length. These permits require firearms training and are only available to people 21 years old or older, but are issued on a “shall issue” basis.
Knife law preemption does not exist in West Virginia, leaving local governments free to enact knife ordinances even more restrictive than state law if they wish. Most imitate the limits imposed by state law, however. Knife owners should nevertheless remain alert and educate themselves on municipal or county ordinances to remain legal.
Legality of Knife Possession
It is fully legal to own any kind of knife or bladed instrument whatsoever in West Virginia, without restriction. Pocketknives, Bowie knives, daggers, dirks, KA-BAR knives, swords, sabers, stilettos, hunting knives, sword canes, lipstick knives and other disguised blades, spears, machetes, throwing stars, throwing knives, bayonets, utility knives, balisong knives, switchblades, automatic knives, gravity knives, and ballistic knives are all covered by this umbrella permissiveness. The one exception are trench knives from World War I due to a parallel ban on metal knuckles (these knives often have metal finger rings).
With the exception of courthouses, schools, schools grounds, and certain posted government buildings, legal knives can be open carried anywhere in the state (unless local ordinances dictate otherwise). Of course, such actions become illegal if the knife is used to threaten or harm another person.
Knife Length Limit
West Virginia has no knife blade length limit for possession or open carry, but concealed carry is limited to knives with blades 3.5” or shorter.
Concealed Carry of Knives
Highly restrictive concealed carry knife laws are found in West Virginia Code Chapter 61, Article 7. Section §61-7-3 proclaims that it is a misdemeanor punishable by $100 to $1,000 in fines and a possible prison sentence of up to 1 year in jail for concealing any “deadly weapon” without a license to carry deadly weapons. On second and subsequent offenses, unlawful concealed carry is a felony carrying penalties of $1,000 to $5,000 and 1 to 5 years in prison.
West Virginia’s laws are exceptionally clear in defining what is and is not a deadly weapon, describing the knives which are exempted and those which are not in section §61-7-2. Knives which are not legally counted as knives are pocketknives with blades 3.5” long or less, plus hunting, fishing, or recreational knives being used for their appropriate purpose. These may be carried concealed lawfully without a license.
All other knives, including all with blades longer than 3.5” such as daggers, dirks, poniards, and stilettos, plus gravity knives and switchblade knives of any length, are deadly weapons and cannot be carried concealed without a license. All implements capable of inflicting a cutting or stabbing wound not otherwise exempted are also deadly weapons.
A license to carry deadly weapons, including knives, can be obtained through means described in section §61-7-4 of the West Virginia Code. This license allows concealed carry and is the only legal way to carry knives that count as “deadly weapons” hidden. The applicant pays a $75 fee to the local sheriff’s office and must meet a set of qualifications. These include being 21 years old or older; having no addiction to liquor or drugs, and no more than one DUI in the past three years; no felony convictions; no misdemeanor convictions within the past 5 years; having no record of mental incompetence or involuntary admission to a mental hospital; and pass a criminal background check. The license is valid for 5 years.
Other Knife Law Considerations in West Virginia
West Virginia’s preemption law does not cover knives and local ordinances therefore add to the complexity of the legal knife situation. However, many of these ordinances simply echo the state law on concealed carry, which is already nearly as restrictive as possible short of a total ban. The Mountain State’s ownership and open carry laws are quite permissive, by contrast, allowing considerable freedom to knife owners in these matters.
Resources and Further Reading