Illinois Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

  • Illegal on Public Property Without Security Clearance: Knife with blade over 3”, Switchblade, Stiletto, Dirk, Dagger, Hatchet, Axe, Any other deadly or dangerous weapon
  • Illegal to Sell, Make, Buy or Possess with intent to use unlawfully: Switchblade, Ballistic Knife, Shuriken (throwing star)
  • Illegal to Possess or Carry with intent to use unlawfully: Dirk, Dagger, Razor, Stiletto, Broken bottle or piece of glass, “Dangerous knife”, Any other dangerous or deadly weapon
flag of Illinois

***DISCLAIMER: This article is not to be treated as legal advice. The author is not an attorney. Neither this website, its principals, owners, operators, contractors or employees, or the author of this article, claim any criminal or civil liability resulting from injury, death or legal action resulting from the use or misuse of the information contained in this article. Any comprehensive self defense plan will include preparing for the legal aftermath of any self-defense encounter. The reader should hire and consult with a competent attorney as part of your preparations. ***

Illinois Knife Law Overview

Illinois suffers from an immense body of law restricting and governing the ownership, carry and use of knives, and nearly all of their statutes have been put to the test in court, and as a result carries with it a positively enormous body of case law covering intent and evidence as it pertains to the legislature.

Beyond the state laws, county and city laws and ordinances are likely to apply and are themselves immensely complex and lengthy thanks to the lack of preemption law. To crown everything off nicely in a big, fat, Big Gov’t. Sundae, the statutes covering the sentencing of offenders are some of the most complex and byzantine in the country.

Make no mistake: Illinois is not friendly to knives or knife owners. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to highlight and steer you toward the passages in the law that are most important for anyone carrying a knife.

It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but you must do it if you want to have any chance of keeping a blade on you, and staying out of the clink.

Relevant Illinois State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • Part I, Article 2, Illinois State Constitution
  • 720 ILCS 5/21-6 – per se weapons
  • 720 ILCS 5/24-1 – unlawful use of weapons
  • 720 ILCS 5/33A-1 – Automatics and Ballistic Knives
  • 720 ILCS 5/33A-3 – Sentencing provisions for various offenses committed with weapons

As unbelievable as it might seem, Illinois does indeed include the right to keep and bear arms in its State Constitution. Surprise! It is completely neutered, including explicit language that it is subject to police powers of the government. What a shocker:

SECTION 22. RIGHT TO ARMS

“Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Right away we are off to a bad start and it gets worse from there. Illinois bans several kinds of knives and blades from certain situations entirely by class, and others that are banned if you have ill intent to use them criminally. This is very, very tricky.

The two types of knives that are banned are those known as “per se,” or Cat. II weapons, which are illegal to possess on any public lands regardless of intent, and then so-called “UUW” weapons, which fall under 720 ILCS 5/24-1, aka the “Deadly Weapons Act.”

Illinois law is filtered through an exceptional amount of precedents that have grown from actual court cases.

This is not all bad- terms that pop up in the statutes like “dangerous or deadly weapons” which is nominally very broad and subject to interpretation in other locales has been visited at the bench, so many times that proper legal “guidance” as to what that phrase actually means (in the context of prosecuting a crime) is generally well established.

Still, this does nothing to help the layman who is trying to sift all of this out. In the following sections, I will do my best to direct you to the statutes that apply to knife carry and ownership, as well as steer you to additional sources that will further refine your understanding of the Illinois legal landscape.

Reader, I cannot impress upon you enough how important it is to contact a local authority, preferably a seasoned self-defense instructor or attorney who lives in the state of Illinois if you will be living or traveling there with any weapons.

Illinois has its reputation for a reason, and it is all too easy to get pulled into the merciless gears of their great legal machine; if that happens, you won’t be making it out in one piece, that you can depend on.

Before continuing, we need to understand what knives or knife characteristics constitute a given class of weapon. 720 ILCS 5/24-1 defines “UUW” blades:

720 ILCS 5/24-1

(a) A person commits the offense of unlawful use of weapons when he knowingly:

(1) Sells, manufactures, purchases, possesses or carries any […] metal knuckles or other knuckle weapon regardless of its composition, throwing star, or any knife, commonly referred to as a switchblade knife, which has a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in the handle of the knife, or a ballistic knife, which is a device that propels a knifelike blade as a projectile by means of a coil spring, elastic material or compressed gas; or

(2) Carries or possesses with intent to use the same unlawfully against another, a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto, broken bottle or other piece of glass, stun gun or taser or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument of like character; or

(9) Carries or possesses in a vehicle or on or about his person any pistol, revolver, stun gun or taser or firearm or ballistic knife, when he is hooded, robed or masked in such manner as to conceal his identity;

(b) Sentence. A person convicted of a violation of subsection 24-1(a)(1) through (5) […] commits a Class A misdemeanor. A person convicted of a violation of subsection […] 24-1(a)

(9) commits a Class 4 felony; […] A person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of subsection […] 24-1(a)(9) commits a Class 3 felony. The possession of each weapon in violation of this Section constitutes a single and separate violation.


One small respite: butterfly knives have “tested out” and do not meet the definition of switchblade. The other category of weapons you have to worry over in the text of the law is “Per Se” blades, which are ones you cannot possess on any public property. The following are Per Se blades:

  • Knife with blade over 3”
  • Switchblade
  • Stiletto
  • Dirk
  • Dagger
  • Hatchet
  • Axe

So between that wall of legalese and the subsequent list of other restricted blades, the only knives you can reliably, safely carry in public in at least some parts of Illinois are knives with blades under three inches, and thanks to the Per Se language just above you can forget about double edged blades, too.

Now, concealing a knife in the state of Illinois is not an issue, though many of the cities, and, of course, Chicago have hideously restrictive laws on possession and carry far in excess of even the state laws.

Throughout Illinois, aside from the likelihood that you’ll fall afoul of proscriptions against general carry or the type of blade and where you have it, you are also likely, if caught carrying by the wrong person, to be subjected to scrutiny as to you intent based on circumstantial evidence and direct evidence, i.e. the knife itself.

Since Illinois will take the measure of the blade as the entirety of the non-handle part of the knife, it is easy to get tripped up on knife-selection: sure, the edge might be 2 ¾”, but the overall length minus the handle tips the measure at 3.1136 inches. Ooh, bummer… Watch your head, sir.

Worse, Illinois is most buggy regarding self-defense. In short, if they had it entirely their way, you wouldn’t be able to. Case law has established that carrying a weapon as an anticipatory response to the possibility of being attacked is a highly limited legal defense.

Think this through, readers: if you could predict or say with certainty that you were going to be attacked, you wouldn’t go to the place where you would be attacked in the first place. Without knowing when, where, why and even if you’ll be attacked, the average citizen rightly carries as a precautionary message.

No-Go Zones

Illinois furnishes plenty of places you cannot go armed with even so much as a knife of your choosing, and you’ll doubtless find many more in the city of Chicago and elsewhere.

The two most rigidly prohibited places are gatherings that charge an admission fee of some kind in some way and any place that serves alcohol. Note: any place that serves alcohol. This could be a restaurant.

The law also explicitly prohibit the carry of UUW-statute weapons in the following place:

  • School buildings or grounds
  • Any school activity, gathering, or bus
  • Any penal institution
  • Public transportation- including subways and buses
  • Courthouses
  • Public housing

Preemption

There is absolutely no preemption law in the state of Illinois, and many localities have taken the opportunity to further restrict the carry of arms including knives.

The most infamous among them is Chicago. While normally do not delve too deeply into any local city or county laws in these articles, this one bears special mention if only to underscore just how restrictive and labyrinthine Illinois is as a whole.

Chicago Ordinance 8-24-020. covers deadly weapons:

8-24-020. Sale or possession of deadly weapons.

(a) No person shall sell, offer for sale, keep, possess, purchase, loan or give to any person any bludgeon, blackjack, slung shot, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, or other knuckle weapon regardless of its composition, throwing star, switchblade knife or ballistic knife; provided that this subsection shall not apply to the purchase, possession or carrying of a black- jack or slung shot by a peace officer.

(b) No person shall sell, offer for sale, loan or give to any person 18 years of age or under any type or kind of knife with a blade which is two inches in length or longer.

(c) No person 18 years of age or under shall carry, possess or conceal on or about his person, any knife, the blade of which is two inches in length or longer.

(d) No person shall carry or possess with intent to use unlawfully against another, or carry in a threatening or menacing manner, without authority of law, a dagger, billy, dangerous knife, razor, broken bottle or other piece or glass, stun gun, taser, or other dangerous or deadly weapon of like character.

(f) No person shall carry concealed on or about his person a dagger, any knife with a blade more than two and one-half inches in length, or other dangerous weapon. Provided, however, that this provision shall not apply to the following officers while engaged in the discharge of their official duties: sheriffs, peace officers, and corrections officers; nor to the following employees or agents while engaged in the discharge of the duties of their employment: conductors, baggagemen, messengers, drivers, watchmen, special agents and policemen employed by railroads or express companies; nor to persons lawfully summoned by an officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace, while so engaged in assisting such officer.

(g) Unless the enhanced penalty imposed by subsection 8-4-350(b)(3) or subsection 8-4-355(b)(3) of this Code applies, any person violating this section shall be fined $200.00 for each offense, or shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

And this is just the city ordinances; Cook county (Chicago’s county) has its own restrictive ordinances on knives you’ll have to abide by, in addition to Chicago’s which are in addition to the State’s. Talk about a jawbreaker.

Bottom Line

Illinois is a borderline hostile state for knife owners thanks to odious restrictions that become even more headache inducing the closer you get to the larger cities and places of civilization.

From bans by type and length to suffocating restrictions on where you can carry, keeping abreast of knife laws in the state of Illinois is a full-time job.

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