Recently, I had some people inquire about California knife laws due to their fear of government actions taken in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Specifically, some women were asking “Is it legal to carry a folding knife in California in a purse or bag or do I have to carry it in a sheath?”
They were interested in laws pertaining to concealed weapons because some of them utilize UBER and LYFT ride sharing services extensively and recently became concerned by the growing amount of sexual assault cases, worsened by news of sexual predators being released from prison due to the Coronavirus concerns.
There is a lot of information on the internet about this topic, however, some of that information is contradictory or doesn’t paint a complete picture. So, I am going to share some of my observations of the current California knife laws to supplement what you may find out there on the internet.
- Generally, in California, folding knives are legal to concealed carry. There are no state-level restrictions regarding blade length.
- Be careful about the distinction between a folding knife and a switchblade. That difference has been blurred by a carve out exception for a folding blade with a thumb stud. Automatic blades and flick blades are generally going to be illegal for all purposes, unless they contain blades under 2 inches in length (e.g., a legal automatic OTF blade such as a Microtech Exocet; blade length 1.98 inches). Accordingly, wherever you purchase your folding knife, make sure you ask the salesperson about the legality of that knife (i.e., ask them to tell you how it is a folding knife and not a switchblade).
- Remember that individual cities may have stricter laws in their jurisdiction regarding knives than the State of California does. For instance, the City of Los Angeles has an arguable prohibition against any knife, carried open or concealed, with a blade length over 3 inches. I say “arguable” here because there is always an argument to be made whether a city has the authority to further restrict the rights of their citizens, in this context, from where the State has already set them.
- In California, you can carry fixed blade knives in plain sight, meaning that they are not concealed, including folding knives in the open position, as long as they are sheathed. Note that the City of Los Angeles, as well as some other cities in California, has more restrictions on this topic regarding type of knives and blade length.
- More important than all the “laws” is the reality of carrying a knife. Like any weapon, if you don’t have any training on how to carry, conceal, deploy and utilize the weapon in many different scenarios, then you are potentially holding that knife for someone else to use against you. The State of California has some basic ownership requirements that must be met before someone can purchase a handgun, including the demonstration of basic weapon handling skills. The same does not hold true for a knife, although it is much more difficult to use PROPERLY. I suggest that before you decide to carry a knife you get some instruction on knife fighting, blade manipulation, and/or offensive/defensive knife tactics. This may sound a bit ridiculous, but some local martial art schools and weapons training facilities (see Pentjak Silat, Filipino Kali martial arts, Krav Maga, Weapons & Tactical Instructors at firing ranges for more information) may provide you with real confidence in bladed self-defense — and maybe the confidence you develop will actually prevent you from having to ever have to deploy the weapon to begin with.