In a Nutshell:
- Legal to Carry Concealed or Openly without Permit: Knife with Blade Length of 12” or less
- Legal to Carry Concealed or Openly With Permit: Knife with blade longer than 12”
Georgia has always been a more or less friendly state to the carry of knives and weapons, but before 2017 residents and visitors alike suffered under no statewide preemption laws, meaning they were vulnerable to their pocket knife being legal in their hometown, illegal two towns over, and dubiously legal in the neighboring town. Additionally carried knives could have blades no longer than 5”.
A sweeping “clarification” of the laws in 2017 did much to enhance protection for citizens as well more than double the permissible legal length of knives okay for open or concealed carry to 12” or more.
Note the emphasis, this will become important soon. Unfortunately, the resulting language and definitions are confusing to the uninitiated, and could stand some explaining; it is easy to read them as contradictory.
At any rate, Georgia is now a great state for knife carriers, open and free, and so long as you don’t desire carrying a truly huge blade more akin to a short sword, e.g. anything over 12” and length, you can do carry whatever knife you please.
Relevant Georgia State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives
- GA State Constitution
- GA Code 16-9-129
- GA Code 16-11-101
- GA Code 16-11-125.1
- GA Code 16-11-126
- GA Code 16-11-127 and 16-11-127.1
- GA Code 16-11-136
Shall not be infringed! The Georgia State Constitution ensconces the right of any citizen to keep and bear arms, including knives, though the General Assembly reserves the power to dictate the manner in which said arms may be borne. Not too bad.
Better still, is there are no expressly illegal types or makes of knives in Georgia. And I mean anything goes: fixed or folding knives, pocket knives, belt knives, boot knives, push or punch knives, daggers stilettos, machetes dirks, butterfly knives, gravity knives, automatic knives, switchblades, hidden or disguised knives, bowies, spikes, picks, hawkbills and even the much maligned and goofy ballistic knife. Truly, if it has an edge, you can carry it in Georgia.
Of potentially the most concern to residents was the increasing of the legal blade length to beyond 5” as had stood for many decades prior. As of 2017, the legal length of a blade was no more than 5”.
Today, you can carry any knife of 12” in length or less with no permit. Knives over that length meet the criteria of “weapon” and you need a permit to carry a weapon outside your home, vehicle or place of business.
Confused? Aren’t knives weapons? You aren’t alone. The law has this to say:
Georgia Code Title 16. Crimes and Offenses § 16-11-125.1
(2) “Knife” means a cutting instrument designed for the purpose of offense and defense consisting of a blade that is greater than 12 inches in length which is fastened to a handle.
(3) “License holder” means a person who holds a valid weapons carry license.
(5) “Weapon” means a knife or handgun.
(6) “Weapons carry license” or “license” means a license issued pursuant to Code Section 16-11-129.
Okay, clear as can be. A knife is a cutting instrument designed for offense or defense and has a blade longer than 12 inches that is attached to a handle. A weapon is a knife or a handgun. So knives are weapons, just like I said!
Except, no. Read the bolded sections again; a cutting instrument may be a knife, and all knives are cutting instruments, but not all cutting instruments are knives. Only knives are weapons.
Knives are cutting instruments with blades longer than 12” and designed for the purposes of offense and defense. Only weapons require a permit to carry outside your home, business or vehicle, not cutting instruments! And no other restrictions whatsoever apply for broad legality.
Yeah, clear. Clear as mud… It gets worse. The law goes on to say the following in Section 16 Chapter 11, which covers possession and carrying of firearms and weapons:
§ 16-11-126 – Possession and carrying a concealed weapon; penalty for violating licensing requirement
a) Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun or long gun may have or carry on his or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, motor vehicle, or place of business without a valid weapons carry license.
d) Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun or long gun who is eligible for a weapons carry license may transport a handgun or long gun in any private passenger motor vehicle; provided, however, that private property owners or persons in legal control of property through a lease, rental agreement, licensing agreement, contract, or any other agreement to control access to such property shall have the right to forbid possession of a weapon or long gun on their property, except as provided in Code Section 16-11-135.
e) Any person licensed to carry a handgun or weapon in any other state whose laws recognize and give effect to a license issued pursuant to this part shall be authorized to carry a weapon in this state, but only while the licensee is not a resident of this state; provided, however, that such licensee shall carry the weapon in compliance with the laws of this state.
g) Notwithstanding Code Sections 12-3-10, 27-3-1.1, 27-3-6, and 16-12-122 through 16-12-127, any person with a valid weapons carry license may carry a weapon in all parks, historic sites, or recreational areas, as such term is defined in Code Section 12-3-10, including all publicly owned buildings located in such parks, historic sites, and recreational areas, in wildlife management areas, and on public transportation; provided, however, that a person shall not carry a handgun into a place where it is prohibited by federal law.
h) (1) No person shall carry a weapon without a valid weapons carry license unless he or she meets one of the exceptions to having such license as provided in subsections (a) through (g) of this Code section.
(2) A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon without a license when he or she violates the provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection.
Read the above twice and stay with me: you can carry any knife you want anywhere that is under 12” in length since they aren’t weapons, but knives over 12” in length are weapons, and so you need a permit to carry them anywhere that is not your home, your vehicle or you place of business. You can carry a “cutting instrument that is not a weapon” concealed or openly.
The verbiage “designed for offense or defense” should not sway your decision one way or the other as it is too flimsy a requirement to meet. Any knife can be used accordingly!
What defines a design intended for offense and/or defense? Slippery slope. Some wiseass will say they can legally carry their machete with no permit since it was not designed for offense or defense.
Tell me, Legal Beagle: what practical operative difference is there between a machete and your average short sword, hm? The judge and prosecutors will have the same questions.
12” and under: good to go, no permit needed for carry. Longer than 12”: get the permit, no exceptions.
Georgia has a strong preemption law since 2017’s refinements to the legislation, and exempting schools and government installations, no locality can clip your wings when it comes to carrying your knife:
Section 16-11-136. Restrictions on possession, manufacture, sale, or transfer of knives
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) “Courthouse” shall have the same meaning as set forth in Code Section 16-11-127.
(2) “Government building” shall have the same meaning as set forth in Code Section 16-11-127.
(3) “Knife” means any cutting instrument with a blade and shall include, without limitation, a knife as such term is defined in Code Section 16-11-125.1.
(b) Except for restrictions in courthouses and government buildings, no county, municipality, or consolidated government shall, by rule or ordinance, constrain the possession, manufacture, sale, or transfer of a knife more restrictively than the provisions of this part.
Code 1981, § 16-11-136, enacted by Ga. L. 2012, p. 1141, § 1/SB 432.
That part, at least, is simple enough. No more dueling counties on matters of what’s okay to carry as far as knives are concerned.
Schools and government buildings are no-go for carry of knives longer than two inches. Schools in particular feature lengthy but reasonable restrictions on what kind of knives you can carry, but allow for adults picking up their children or coming to the school to keep them in their vehicles. The law reads as follows, with irrelevant sections removed for brevity.
16-11-127.1. Carrying weapons within school safety zones, at school functions, or on school property
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) “School safety zone” means in or on any real property owned by or leased to any public or private elementary school, secondary school, or school board and used for elementary or secondary education and in or on the campus of any public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university, or institution of postsecondary education.
(2) “Weapon” means and includes any pistol, revolver, or any weapon designed or intended to propel a missile of any kind, or any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, any other knife having a blade of two or more inches, straight-edge razor, razor blade (…)
(c) The provisions of this Code section shall not apply to:
(7) A person who is licensed in accordance with Code Section 16-11-129 or issued a permit pursuant to Code Section 43-38-10, when such person carries or picks up a student at a school building, school function, or school property or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the school or a person who is licensed in accordance with Code Section 16-11-129 or issued a permit pursuant to Code Section 43-38-10 when he or she has any weapon legally kept within a vehicle when such vehicle is parked at such school property or is in transit through a designated school zone;
(8) A weapon possessed by a license holder which is under the possessor’s control in a motor vehicle or which is in a locked compartment of a motor vehicle or one which is in a locked container in or a locked firearms rack which is on a motor vehicle which is being used by an adult over 21 years of age to bring to or pick up a student at a school building, school function, or school property or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the school, or when such vehicle is used to transport someone to an activity being conducted on school property which has been authorized by a duly authorized official of the school; provided, however, that this exception shall not apply to a student attending such school;
So, if permitted, you can carry a knife at a school function or on school property under the above auspices. Now, I am not an attorney, and don’t play one on TV.
If I were you, I would consult an actual attorney and make sure I have my I’s dotted and Ts crossed before I engaged in carry of any weapon on school grounds, and without a permit I frankly would not even deign to carry a knife with a blade under two inches onto school grounds of any kind.
Georgia of years past was a permissive state to carry knives in, if a bit wooly and messy. Georgia of today is highly permissive despite confusing legalese and citizens who carry knives there enjoy broad latitude as to what they may carry and where.
If one cares to obtain a weapons permit, you can carry quite literally anything you want, openly or concealed.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.