Catch us live on BlogTalkRadio every

Tuesday & Thursday at 6pm P.S.T.

Thursday, June 6, 2019



First thing: don't get nervous. If you've read this, you're not going to be breaking any knife laws.  California's knife laws are actually pretty decent, better than most states (even the shall-issue gun permit ones).  If you're nervous, the cop will read that, and he won't know what to think - but the conversation WILL go downhill.
If you're walking past a cop with a legally concealed knife, DO NOT "pat the knife" to make sure the concealment is still effective.  That's the number one way cops spot people packing guns illegally.  They'll think that's what you're doing.  The resulting conversation won't be pleasant.
If there's any chance at all that the guy is gonna search you, politely declare that you're carrying a "pocketknife legal under state law".  Got that?  Tell him where it is on you, let him take control of it.

 Don't reach for nuthin' unless he tells you to do so.  At all times, act like this is just a normal business transaction.
So what if he/she thinks your piece(s) is/are illegal?
You explain that California knife law has changed a bunch of times starting in 1997 and twice more that you know of, so you're not terribly surprised there's confusion.  Calmly explain as much of the relevant Penal Codes as you can recall...if you're into big folders, PC653k and the bit in 12020 about "not readily available if concealed in the closed position" is a start.  If he ain't buying, calmly ask for a supervisor.
If he wants to confiscate your cutlery, ASK FOR A RECEIPT.

  If he says anything about "that'll mean you'll get a ticket too, and/or an arrest", stand your ground and calmly ask for a receipt.  He's bluffing because he wants your knife.  Sorry if any cops reading this are offended, but it happens - I've met enough people it's happened to to be a believer, although it hasn't happened to me.  If he just plain takes it without a receipt, get his badge number and/or car number (if the latter is all you can get, record the TIME).  If it was a city or county cop, make a THEFT complaint in detail with your nearest California Highway Patrol station (they investigate local wrongdoing).  If it was CHP, hmmm...complain to the CHP supervisors maybe, or the Sheriff, but for God's sake don't let 'em off clean.


You have two choices: get the hell out of there ASAP and travel far and fast, because odds are, crooks that get chased off by an armed citizen love to file a "he threatened me" complaint and bust YOU.  Bug out.  NOTE: we're talking about a situation in which you haven't committed a crime, and since no actual violence occurred neither did anybody else.  So "fleeing the scene" rules don't really apply.  And you also don't want the SOB coming back with reinforcements and/or heavy artillery.  Time to go!
If that's not possible, because the crook knows where you are or who you are (or have your car's license plate number), jump on 911 and report an attempted crime, pronto.  There are too many lazy cops that just believe the first complaint.  Make yours first.  You'll probably have one major advantage: the crook will have a violent record and you won't.


When the cops show up, there are only three things you should say: I was in fear of my life, I'm too shaken up to talk, I want a lawyer.  (If there are witnesses you know of, point them out to the cops and tell the cops to talk to them.)
Bernie Goetz didn't do that.  He was furious at the four attempted muggers, he made that anger plain in a long discussion down at the station, and he ended up getting charged with murder and attempted murder when it was absolutely clear-cut self defense.
When a cop gets involved in a shooting, they understand that immediately afterwards, he's too shaken to explain clearly what happened.  So most departments give him 24 hours to settle down before talking to him.  But if you're involved in lethal force, some will take advantage of your rattled state to pry garbled statements out of you.  You HAVE the right to remain silent.  Use it.
I'm assuming here that if you drew or used steel, you had a damned good reason.  That's a subject for a much more detailed (not to mention PROFESSIONAL) treatment - see Introduction for some reference works.
Disclaimer - I am not a lawyer. The following information is for reference only. The discussion and interpretation is my own. So, please bear that in mind. If you need qualified consultation or legal advice, please contact a licensed criminal attorney and/or local Sheriff's office. The discussion is regarding the lawful knife carry, nothing else!
Like I said above, the laws are complicated. In US to make things more complicated we have Federal and State laws, and in addition to that local counties and cities can have their own laws. Which particular law takes priority for any given issue depends on the laws and I guess particular case as well. In relation to knife carry, the state law is generally more or less universal, however, particular cities and towns have their own, as usual more strict laws regarding the knife possession and carry. I'll discuss that below, but as a rule of thumb, just because California state law allows particular blade doesn't mean it is legal in all places. Always check your local town/city penal code. E.g. San Francisco and Oakland have 3" blade length limit, which isn't in the state law. Same is true for Los Angeles.

One more thing to keep in mind is that not all the law enforcement officers know penal code all that well. For starters, if you get asked whether or not you have a knife on you, tell the truth, but better yet, state that you have a blade legal under California law. You may get some problems, because the officer thinks you have violated the law. In other words, LEO doesn't know the knife carry law in details. In that case, better not to argue the point, calmly explain they you believe you're not in violation of the law, that your knife is legal under California law, including citing penal codes we're discussing here and either ask the officer to contact superiors or get the receipt if he/she is confiscating the knife and later contact the department. Aggravating the situation will most likely result in additional charges against you and possible arrest. However, if your piece gets confiscated you must be issued a receipt. If the officer is refusing to do so(i.e. issue a receipt) or threatening with additional problems he's in the wrong, not you. Without confrontation, ask for the receipt and if he(or she) still refuses, write down his/her badge number, name, time and place where the incident took place and report it to the nearest police station. For more details on dealing with law enforcement and various situations involving knives including their use please visit Jim March's excellent article
California Knife Laws: A Comprehensive Guide.

Knife Carry Related Laws

California penal code has two main sections interesting to us in this discussion: 653K and 12020653Kbelongs to the section 639-653.2 - Of Other And Miscellaneous Offenses and 12020 belongs to the section 12020-12040 - Unlawful Carrying and Possession of Weapons, that is in the link provided at the beginning of this paragraph. Penal code 653K defines what is a legal pocket knife and what is a switchblade and gravity or ballisong knife. Pocket knives, most likely that'd be a folding knife are legal, while switchblades, gravity and ballisong knives are illegal. Penal code 12020 deals with the street carry laws. There are other penal codes dealing with knife carry in specific places. Those are: penal code 626.10 which deals with the knife school carry rules. There is also penal code 171.b which deals with the knives in public buildings.
Simply put, the law defines what is illegal, so if your knife and carry isn't what the law defines as illegal you should be fine. Once again, keep in mind the local laws. Details below.

Very Short Summary

State California allows for concealed carry of the folding knives and there is no limit to the blade length. As long as the knife is not banned by PC 653K it is legal. 653K does not make Assisted Openers(AO) illegal. However, depending on the particular AO mechanism and other details some AOs may fall under switchblade category. Kershaw Speed Safe is not one of them, it is perfectly legal, details further down. As far as the state law goes, fixed blades must be carried openly, in the sheath, on the waist. I can't find where does the law ban either double edged blades or dirks and daggers. As the wording is, those are ok for open carry. No knives longer than 2.5"in the school, but folders are ok in the Universities and Colleges. Unless, they were banned by local authorities. No knives longer than 4" in public buildings or buildings open to public meetings, e.g. courts, city halls, police stations, city council meetings, etc.

Penal Codes 


- Defines legal and illegal pocket knives. Full text of the penal code 653K. The most interesting part of the penal code is the following definition of the switchblade knives:
For the purposes of this section, "switchblade knife" means a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife or any other similar type knife, the blade or blades of which are two or more inches in length and which can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or is released by the weight of the blade or by any type of mechanism whatsoever.
Basically, this section outlaws switchblades, or automatic knives, plus ballisongs, or butterfly knives. Also whatever else can be opened with the flick of the wrist. However, there are lots of legitimate knives that also fall under that category.

 Next section clarifies that part:

"Switchblade knife" does not include a knife that opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position.
The paragraph above was added to the PC 653K thanks to SB 274, or Karnette amendment(California state Senator Betty Karnette of the 27th district introduced it in 2002). This is an important clause that makes legal regular folding knives which can be opened with one hand. The knife must have some sort of thumbstud to move the blade into the open position and has to have some sort of mechanism to keep it in the closed position and provide some sort of resistance to overcome when opening it. For the record, a thumbstud doesn't necessarily has to be affixed to the side(s) of the blade, but can be on the top like on Kershaw Shallots.
Kershaw Speed Safe AO - The Karnette amendment is also what makes Kershaw Speed Safe assisted opening knives perfectly legal in California. Speed Safe satisfies 3 conditions instead of minimum two, not to be a switchblade, i.e. it has a thumbstud on the blade, which the knife operator has to push to open the knife, second Kershaw AOs have a detent, and just those two would be enough to comply switchblade law, but the torsion bar of the Speed Safe mechanism also forces the blade to stay in closed position, i.e. provides bias towards locked position.

Blade Length Limit - As you can see there is no length limit ever mentioned in this code. So, normally unless there is a specific law restricting the blade length in any given local area, you can carry folding knives of pretty much any length, not outlawed in 653K.12020

- Deals with knife carry and prohibits several types of knives. Code 12020 is way too long to cite it here completely, thus only the most relevant parts here. For The reference - full text of the penal code 12020.
12020. (a) Any person in this state who does any of the following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison:
This part is pretty clear. You violate any of the sections of this law and you're in jail for a year. Now, let's check the interesting details.

Section one prohibits and bans several different types of knives, I'll provide only relevant fragments of it:
(1) Manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses ... any ballistic knife, ... any belt buckle knife, any lipstick case knife, any cane sword, any shobi-zue, any air gauge knife, any writing pen knife, ...
So, not only you can't carry, but you can't even posses any of the listed in above. Some of it makes sense, some not so much. THe same section bans slungshots, but slingshots are ok. Yup, that's right, no slingies in California. Half of those things are most likely unknown to general public and probably knife enthusiastas as well. For your information, Shurikens are also included in this section. They are not exactly knives, but still edged weapons. Ok, moving on.

(4) Carries concealed upon his or her person any dirk or dagger. - We'll go through definitions later, but this one says no toconcealed dirks and daggers. By the way as this one is, it doesn't prohibit them, just states they have to be carried openly, on the waist as we'll see later in open carry definition. The only thing is, open carry definition is stuck somewhere in large-capacity magazine definition, as subdivision d. What do those two have in common I don't know. Sad part is that dirk (and dagger) definition in the law, see #24 in 12020 definitions, covers pretty much anything, because ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death applies to the screwdrives and pens just as well. And those things do get used in crimes as a stabbing weapon.


- Tells you what you can and can not carry in public buildings and meetings. For the reference - Full Text Of Penal Code 171. 171.b starts with:
(a) Any person who brings or possesses within any state or local public building or at any meeting required to be open to the public pursuant to Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 54950) of Part 1 of Division 2 of Title 5 of, or Article 9 (commencing with Section 11120) of Chapter 1 of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of, the Government Code, any of the following is guilty of a public offense punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or in the state prison:
   (1) Any firearm.
   (2) Any deadly weapon described in Section 653k or 12020.
   (3) Any knife with a blade length in excess of four inches, the blade of which is fixed or is capable of being fixed in an unguarded position by the use of one or two hands.
Thus no knives longer than 4" in state and public buildings. Exact definition of the state or local public meeting and open to public buildings can be found in 171.b(c). In short, those are state or local government owned or leased buildings such as courts, police stations, city halls, etc. Meetings mean wherever those officials get together to conduct regular or irregular work, e.g. city council meetings.


- As stated above defines knives school carry. Again, this one is way too big. For the reference - full text of the penal code 626.10. Subdivision a prohibits you can not bring a fixed blade knife longer than 2.5", a folding knife, ice pick, etc to the school. Subdivision b is pretty much identical, applies to universities and colleges, same restrictions, but folding knives are ok. Subdivisions c, d, e, f make exemptions. E.g. Knives for food preparation and other work places are ok. Students can bring knives if directed so by school or university employees. Subdivision a is below:
(a) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses any dirk, dagger, ice pick, knife having a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches, folding knife with a blade that locks into place, a razor with an unguarded blade, a taser, or a stun gun, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 244.5, any instrument that expels a metallic projectile such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO 2 pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun, upon the grounds of, or within, any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison.