Alabama Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

Legal to Carry Concealed with No Permit

  • Everything except a Bowie knife or knife of like kind

Legal to Carry Concealed on your Own Property

  • All knives including Bowie knives.

Illegal to Carry or Keep in Vehicle

  • Bowie knives or knives of like kind.
flag of Alabama

Alabama Knife Law Overview

Alabama is another excellent state for knife carrying citizens, with a few odd quirks, one of which is there is no statewide preemption law. Also in Alabama, you can carry legally and without a permit all kinds of knives.

Almost any knives you can think of! You can carry pocket knives, daggers, dirks, automatics, butterfly knives, boys’ knives, push knives, karambits, fixed blade knives, even ballistic knives, spikes, you name it! Everything that is except…

Bowie knives?! What?!

It’s true. One of the most quintessentially American knives is not okay for carry in Alabama. You can own one, you can carry one concealed on your property but you cannot concealed carry a Bowie.

What on earth? Why? It’s just a big, well, knife! Yes it is and, for the record, Alabama also forbids carrying a knife too like a Bowie for comfort. What does that mean? We’ll get to that.

Alabama is still a very knife-friendly and permissive state, aside from the city of Montgomery with a blade length restriction, but the Bowie issue is a puzzler. At least, it is until you dig into your history, and read about the story of the famous Jim Bowie and the knife that bears his name.

Seems in the aftermath of Bowie’s famous sandbar fight all kinds of people wanted a piece of the legend, and that meant a Bowie knife to call their own.

As late as the twilight years of the 19th century dueling in America was still in vogue for settling disputes among men, especially in honor-bound cultures like the South and Greater Appalachia.

One of the weapons of choice were large knives that all men seemingly carried constantly, especially in hardscrabble working cities or frontier areas.

There was such a rash of fights settled decisively with Bowies and other similarly large knives that the Alabama state legislature sought to curb the violence the only way they know how: by passing a law that expressly forbid the act in question, and then slapping a blanket ban on the thing only tangentially related to the troubles at hand.

In typical government fashion, Bowie knives were banned by type and for good measure verbiage was included lumping in any knife “of like kind,” meaning that here all the way down the line over a century later we are still, in 2019 and beyond, dealing with this ridiculous proscription and suffering the fallout from it.

Relevant Alabama State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • Alabama State Constitution Art. 1, Section 26 (See Amendment 888)
  • Section 13A-11-50
  • Section 13A-11-57
  • Section 16-1-24.1

The Alabama State constitution enshrines the right to keep in bear arms for citizens and residents of the state devoutly, and omits the vaguely ominous verbiage that Tennessee includes, saying this:

Section 26 – Right to Bear Arms

(a) that every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state. Any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

(b) No citizen shall be compelled by any international treaty or international law to take an action that prohibits, limits, or otherwise interferes with his or her fundamental right to keep and bear arms in defense of himself or herself and the state, if such treaty or law, or its adoption, violates the United States Constitution.

Boom. So far so good. Additionally, you will see that there is no knife rendered truly illegal in Alabama.

Anything goes. Even compared to the “Last Continental Frontier” of Florida, which bans ballistic knives, Alabama allows them.

They do ban the concealed carry of Bowie knives. You can own one, carry it openly, and carry it concealed on your property; you just cannot conceal it out and about, or keep it locked in your vehicle. The state of Alabama treats both as no-nos, saying in:

Section 13A-11-50 – Carrying concealed weapons

Except as otherwise provided in this Code, a person who carries concealed about his person a bowie knife or knife or instrument of like kind or description or a pistol or firearm of any other kind or an air gun shall, on conviction, be fined not less than $50.00 nor more than $500.00, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months.

Interesting how they effectively consider a Bowie knife as dangerous as a gun, and as bad as an illegally carried pistol for the sake of the criminal code. That just makes me want one more! What exactly defines a Bowie knife, legally?

In Alabama, it is ambiguous, a fact that has led to the convictions of folks who carried common large kitchen knives for defense, as well as other large blades like machetes.

Anytime you have ambiguity in definitions like this there is room for abuse. “Any knife of like kind or description;” there is way too much room for some oily prosecutor to turn that around on you.

A proper Bowie’s exact specifications are somewhat ambiguous today, often entailing any large, fixed blade knife with a crossguard and clip point, but are generally agreed upon by the majority of bladesmiths and enthusiasts to entail the following characteristics and features:

  • At least 8” blade length
  • Clip point, false edge
  • Crossguard, full
  • Coffin shaped handle

In practice, a Bowie knife will be whatever some attorney can convince people it is, at least in Alabama.

Choose and carry with care. In fact, Alabama is so crazily worried about Bowies they have another special law calling them out, regarding transferring one of these weapons of mass destruction to a minor, section 13A-11-57:

Section 13A-11-57 – Selling, ,, pistol or bowie knife to minor

(a) Any person who sells, gives or lends to any minor any pistol, except under the circumstances provided in Section 13A-11-72, bowie knife, or other knife of like kind or description, shall, on conviction, be fined not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500).

(b) This section does not apply to a transfer by inheritance of title to, but not possession of, a pistol, bowie knife, or other knife of like kind or description to a minor.

Once again, the Bowie knife menace! I do declare! I think I have the vapors! Like it or not this law remains on the books today.

Hopefully, Alabama will follow suit with GA and TN and abolish these antiquated, vague laws which only serve to muddy and confuse a sector of law that needs more specificity, not less.

No-Go Zones

Finally, Section 13A-11-72 makes it clear you cannot have a knife or a bunch of other weapons on school property:

Section 13A-11-72 – Certain persons forbidden to possess pistol

(c) Subject to the exceptions provided by Section 13A-11-74, no person shall knowingly with intent to do bodily harm carry or possess a deadly weapon on the premises of a public school.

(d) Possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to do bodily harm on the premises of a public school in violation of subsection (c) of this section is a Class C felony.

(g) The term “public school” as used in this section applies only to a school composed of grades K-12 and shall include a school bus used for grades K-12.

(h) The term “deadly weapon” as used in this section means a firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purposes of inflicting death or serious physical injury, and such term includes, but is not limited to, a bazooka, hand grenade, missile, or explosive or incendiary device; a pistol, rifle, or shotgun; or a switch-blade knife, gravity knife, stiletto, sword, or dagger; or any club, baton, billy, black-jack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles.

It might seem loosely worded, but you’d be a fool to carry your knife into a school, and risk being detected in this day and age.

The city of Montgomery also infamously maintains a law against the carry of any knives with blades longer than 3”.

This is a result of the state’s lack of preemption laws; laws that prevent localities from overriding the state’s law as it pertains to the rights of citizens.

In other words, if Alabama had a preemption law, Montgomery could not set a maximum length on the length of a knife carried since, at the state level, there is no such law.

Bottom Line

Hinkiness over Bowie knives aside, Alabama is a generously forgiving and permissive state for the ownership, use and carry of all kinds of blades. If you don’t have your heart set on James Black’s most famous creation for your edged tool of choice, you’ll get along fine in Alabama.

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