Maine Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

Illegal to Carry Concealed

  • Bowie knife
  • Dirk
  • Stiletto

Legal to Carry Openly

  • Potentially any knife, some concern over statutory language, see below.
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Maine Knife Law Overview

Despite some recent advances in cleaning up their legislation of spurious and outdated knife laws, as well as legalizing switchblade knives wholesale, Maine is definitely lagging behind the rest of the U.S. when it comes to clear, concise and easy-to understand carry laws for knives.

Maine does specifically forbid certain named classes of knives from being carried, but it also fails to define exactly what those knives are in the eyes of the law, so any legal interpretation will be dependent on a fact-finding mission by the courts. Some exemptions are possible for outdoor activities, but further constraints on the types of knives suitable for those activities make the whole endeavor tricky to figure out.

A lack of statewide preemption further cools an already lukewarm reception. We’ll take a look at Maine’s somewhat messy statutes below.

Relevant Maine State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • Title 12-10001 Definitions
  • Title 17A-2 Definitions
  • Title 25-2001A Threatening display and carrying of concealed weapons

As mentioned above, Maine is not generous with their definitions, and the right ones, clearly stated, could go a long way to easing the heartburn knife carriers feel in the state. Our first batch is found in Title17A-2:

2. Definitions

As used in this code, unless a different meaning is plainly required, the following words and variants thereof have the following meanings.

1. “Act” or “action” means a voluntary bodily movement.

2. “Acted” includes, where appropriate, possessed or omitted to act.

3. “Actor” includes, where appropriate, a person who possesses something or who omits to act.

5. “Bodily injury” means physical pain, physical illness or any impairment of physical condition.

8. “Deadly force” means physical force that a person uses with the intent of causing, or that a person knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily injury. Except as provided in section 101, subsection 5, intentionally, knowingly or recklessly discharging a firearm in the direction of another person or at a moving vehicle constitutes deadly force.

9. Dangerous weapon.

A. “Use of a dangerous weapon” means the use of a firearm or other weapon, device, instrument, material or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which, in the manner it is used or threatened to be used is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.

B. “Armed with a dangerous weapon” means in actual possession, regardless of whether the possession is visible or concealed, of:

(1) A firearm;

(2) Any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury; or

(3) Any other device, instrument, material or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which, in the manner it is intended to be used by the actor, is capable of producing or threatening death or serious bodily injury. For purposes of this definition, the intent may be conditional. [1977, c. 510, §10 (RPR).]

C. When used in any other context, “dangerous weapon” means a firearm or any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury. [1977, c. 510, §10 (RPR).]

D. For purposes of this subsection, proof that a thing is presented in a covered or open manner as a dangerous weapon gives rise to a permissible inference under the Maine Rules of Evidence, Rule 303 that it, in fact, is a dangerous weapon. [2001, c. 383, §1 (AMD); 2001, c. 383, §156 (AFF).] [ 2001, c. 383, §1 (AMD); 2001, c. 383, §156 (AFF) .]

10. “Dwelling place” means a structure that is adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or sections of any structure similarly adapted. A dwelling place does not include garages or other structures, whether adjacent or attached to the dwelling place, that are used solely for the storage of property or structures formerly used as dwelling places that are uninhabitable. It is immaterial whether a person is actually present.

23. “Serious bodily injury” means a bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or loss or substantial impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or extended convalescence necessary for recovery of physical health.

The key takeaways from the definitions above are “dangerous weapon” and of course “deadly force and serious bodily injury.” The key descriptor for classifying knives would be whether or not the knife is “designed and capable” of producing serious bodily injury.

Is a knife designed for utilitarian purposes designed to produce bodily injury? No. Can it produce severe bodily injury? Of course. But it is not designed and capable of producing severe bodily injury. But is not any knife potentially a weapon, a cutting or piercing weapon..?

Now you are getting it. The statutes offer not additional clarification on the matter, and Maine has in the past had to rely on inquiry into whether or not a specific knife has been designed for use against people either on attack or defense. Something to think about when selecting your knife.

We can go deeper in 25-2001A, which sets forth law on the display and carrying of weapons:

2001-A. Threatening display of or carrying concealed weapon

1. Display or carrying prohibited. A person may not, unless excepted by a provision of law:

A. Display in a threatening manner a firearm, slungshot, knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person; or [2003, c. 452, Pt. N, §2 (NEW); 2003, c. 452, Pt. X, §2 (AFF).]

B. Wear under the person’s clothes or conceal about the person’s person a firearm, slungshot, knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person. [2003, c. 452, Pt. N, §2 (NEW); 2003, c. 452, Pt. X, §2 (AFF).] [ 2003, c. 452, Pt. N, §2 (NEW); 2003, c. 452, Pt. X, §2 (AFF) .]

2. Exceptions. The provisions of this section concerning the carrying of concealed weapons do not apply to:

A. A handgun carried by a person to whom a valid permit to carry a concealed handgun has been issued as provided in this chapter; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

A-1. A handgun carried by a person who is 21 years of age or older and is not otherwise prohibited from carrying a firearm or is 18 years of age or older and under 21 years of age and is on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States or the National Guard or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or the National Guard and is not otherwise prohibited from carrying a firearm; [2015, c. 327, §2 (NEW).]

B. Disabling chemicals as described in Title 17-A, section 1002; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

C. Knives used to hunt, fish or trap as defined in Title 12, section 10001; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

D. A handgun carried by a law enforcement officer, a corrections officer or a corrections supervisor as permitted in writing by the officer’s or supervisor’s employer; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

E. A firearm carried by a person engaged in conduct for which a state-issued hunting or trapping license is required and possessing the required license, or a firearm carried by a resident person engaged in conduct expressly authorized by Title 12, section 11108 and section 12202, subsection 1. This paragraph does not authorize or permit the carrying of a concealed or loaded firearm in a motor vehicle; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

F. A handgun carried by a person to whom a valid permit to carry a concealed handgun has been issued by that person’s state of residence if that person’s state of residence honors a permit to carry a concealed handgun issued under this chapter; [2015, c. 144, §1 (RPR).]

G. A handgun carried by an authorized federal, state or local law enforcement officer in the performance of the officer’s official duties; [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

H. A handgun carried by a qualified law enforcement officer pursuant to 18 United States Code, Section 926B. The qualified law enforcement officer must have in the law enforcement officer’s possession photographic identification issued by the law enforcement agency by which the person is employed as a law enforcement officer; and [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).]

I. A handgun carried by a qualified retired law enforcement officer pursuant to 18 United States Code, Section 926C. The qualified retired law enforcement officer must have in the retired law enforcement officer’s possession:

(1) Photographic identification issued by the law enforcement agency from which the person retired from service as a law enforcement officer that indicates that the person has, not less recently than one year before the date the person carries the concealed handgun, been tested or otherwise found by that agency to meet the standards established by that agency for training and qualification for an active law enforcement officer to carry a handgun of the same type as the concealed handgun; or

(2) Photographic identification issued by the law enforcement agency from which the person retired from service as a law enforcement officer and a certification issued by the state in which the person resides that indicates that the person has, not less recently than one year before the date the person carries the concealed handgun, been tested or otherwise found by that state to meet the standards established by that state for training and qualification for an active law enforcement officer to carry a handgun of the same type as the concealed handgun. [2011, c. 691, Pt. A, §24 (RPR).] [ 2007, c. 555, §1 (AMD); 2011, c. 298, §§4, 5 (AMD); 2011, c. 396, §§1-3 (AMD); 2015, c. 144, §1 (AMD); 2015, c. 327, §2 (AMD) .]

3. Firearm safety brochure. Upon purchase of a handgun, a person exempt under subsection 2, paragraph A-1 shall sign in the presence of the firearm dealer an acknowledgment that the person was provided a basic firearm safety brochure in accordance with section 2012, subsection 2, paragraph A. The purchaser shall retain the acknowledgment. The Department of Public Safety shall post on the department’s publicly accessible website a basic firearm safety brochure, an acknowledgment form and a list of safety programs certified by a national nonprofit membership organization that provides a volunteer safety program, including the training of people in the safe handling and use of handguns.

The named classes of knives- bowie, dirk and stiletto- accompany the generic “dangerous or deadly weapon” when the statute describes what you cannot do with them, namely display them in a threatening manner and wear under your clothes or otherwise conceal on or about your person.

The statutes, once again, do not define these knives, and offer no guidance as to their description or classification. Does one use the dictionary definition, or the strict technical one? How far might an unscrupulous or prosecution-happy cop or attorney go to snare you with the widest possible interpretation? All are serious concerns.

Under exceptions, any knife used to hunt, fish or trap with is exempted, but one more time the statutes offer no guidance whatsoever on what those knives are, and many hunting, camping and field knives share many characteristics with the above named classes of knife.

If this makes you a little worried to trust in the law on this front it means you have a functioning brain.

I left in many of the closest statutes on the exceptions list that pertain to firearms because they reveal more about the state of affairs on knife carry than the knife-specific passages do.

One in particular, 2F, makes it clear that the state-issued or equivalent out of state concealed weapons permit is only good for handguns, not knives or any other weapon. You’d be making a big mistake to assume otherwise.

Land of Confusion

I hear you, and yes I am telling you that, no the state does not define its restricted classes of knife, and that, yes, any knife potentially fits the descriptor of dangerous or deadly weapon.

No, the state does not define what a threatening display is, and whether it is fact and action dependent or perception dependent, i.e. you carrying a 5” sheath knife openly on your belt is not threatening if your behavior is not threatening, versus your 5” sheathed belt knife scared the britches off Liberal Lisa who called then called the cops who subsequently arrest you for threatening display because she felt threatened.

Folks, if all this seems infuriatingly vague, circular and an awful lot like pigeon religion, it is because it is.

The state of Maine has essentially put out impossible to decipher and damn near impossible to follow laws that the public has to guess around at following, never knowing if they are within the confines of the law, or not, or if it even matters!

If so much of the law is up to the opinion of cops, judges, prosecutors and the like, we cannot really say we even have laws.

It is for this reason I must urge the uttermost caution and discretion in Maine if you choose to carry any knife openly or concealed.

No-Go Zones

Schools and courthouses. Various school laws and codes prohibit the carry of any kind of knife in public or private schools. One should also pay attention to any secured area that prohibits the carry of weapons; even if not explicitly illegal to carry, you can cause a ruckus and risk confiscation or worse should your knife be discovered at a checkpoint.

Preemption

None. There is no preemption for knives in Maine. You’ll be responsible for keeping abreast of all the fuzzy, incoherent and vague knife laws no matter where you go in Maine. Pay particular attention to larger cities and towns, as most of them will have their own ordinances on knives and other weapons.

Bottom Line

Maine is of the “two steps forward, one step back” school of knife legislation, in recent years making legal switchblades writ large, but doing nothing to clean up, clarify or illuminate their sparse, nebulous and unhelpful knife laws on the books that govern concealed and open carry.

You’ll need to choose wisely, be discreet and pray you do not run into some police officer with a grudge against civilians who carry knives.

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About Tom Marlowe

Tom Marlowe
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.

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