Oregon is a state of stark contrast. On one side, you can own any kind of knife you want, and there are no outright restrictions on blade length.
On the other side, there are intricate, lengthy and widely scattered laws covering everything from when, where and how you can carry concealed if you can carry your knife at all at one of many restricted locations.
Topping it off, an absence of statewide preemption means you’ll need to deal with increasingly restrictive and baffling knife restrictions in various cities and settlements throughout the state.
Worse yet, a frightening amount of legal precedent is derived from case law and opinion, not necessarily found anywhere among the statutes where a lay person could easily find or access them.
This means that it is tough for even a motivated and intelligent person to come up with all the info they need to have confidence in making a correct decision without the benefit of attorney oversight where knives are concerned.
Prepare yourself: Oregon’s laws on weapons violations are verbose and difficult to track through all their loops, twists and turns.
We have done much of the hard homework already in order to bring you this article, but as always you will be the one on the hook if you should run afoul of law enforcement while carrying a knife that is prohibited or just carrying a legal knife in a prohibited way in the Beaver State.
Disclaimer. This article is not legal advice. I am not an attorney, and I am definitely not your attorney. You should seek the counsel of a practicing legal professional in the State of Oregon before committing to carry of any knife as part of your self-defense plan. Ignorance of the law is never a defense.
Relevant Oregon State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives
The statutes covering weapons, knives among them, in Oregon are extensive, and we’ll be crisscrossing back and forth through them as we try to make sense of the law. A few of the most important we’ll be looking at:
- 161.015 Definitions
- 161.085 Even more definitions
- 166.240 Concealed Weapons
- 166.260 Exceptions
- 166.270 Possession of weapons; felons
- 166.360 Still more definitions
- 166.370 Prohibited places
We’ll start down the rabbit hole the same way we always do- with definitions!
It is imperative you pay attention to the definitions in both sections presented below since much of it will be of extreme importance in the following sections, and in Oregon, nuance is a you-know-what. See 161.015 and 161.085 below:
Section 161.015 – General definitions.
As used in chapter 743, Oregon Laws 1971, and ORS 166.635, unless the context requires otherwise:
(1) “Dangerous weapon” means any weapon, device, instrument, material or substance which under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.
(2) “Deadly weapon” means any instrument, article or substance specifically designed for and presently capable of causing death or serious physical injury.
(3) “Deadly physical force” means physical force that under the circumstances in which it is used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.
(6) “Physical force” includes, but is not limited to, the use of an electrical stun gun, tear gas or mace.
(7) “Physical injury” means impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.
(8) “Serious physical injury” means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
(9) “Possess” means to have physical possession or otherwise to exercise dominion or control over property.
(10) “Public place” means a place to which the general public has access and includes, but is not limited to, hallways, lobbies and other parts of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence, and highways, streets, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds and premises used in connection with public passenger transportation.
Straight away we can see Oregon uses the broadest possible language to classify dangerous and deadly weapons.
Knives can fit into either category, and many “defense-oriented” or larger field knives will instantly go into the “deadly weapon” category.
Physical injury and serious physical injury are notions that all students of self-defense and security should be familiar with.
Note here in (10) we see our first appearance of “Public place” a concept which is woven throughout Oregon’s intricate and confusing restricted locations laws.
Keep that in mind when we come up on 166.370. For now, we’ll carry on with the definitions in 161.085:
Section 161.085 – Definitions with respect to culpability.
(2) “Voluntary act” means a bodily movement performed consciously and includes the conscious possession or control of property.
(3) “Omission” means a failure to perform an act the performance of which is required by law.
(6) “Culpable mental state” means intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence as these terms are defined in subsections (7), (8), (9) and (10) of this section.
(7) “Intentionally” or “with intent,” when used with respect to a result or to conduct described by a statute defining an offense, means that a person acts with a conscious objective to cause the result or to engage in the conduct so described.
(8) “Knowingly” or “with knowledge,” when used with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, means that a person acts with an awareness that the conduct of the person is of a nature so described or that a circumstance so described exists.
(9) “Recklessly,” when used with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, means that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists.
The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
(10) “Criminal negligence” or “criminally negligent,” when used with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, means that a person fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists.
The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
The terms above are similarly found throughout Section 161. These are especially pertinent with regards to concealed carry and carry in prohibited places. From here, we stumble into 166.240 which begins to scratch the surface of Oregon’s concealed carry laws:
Section 166.240 – Carrying of concealed weapons.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, any person who carries concealed upon the person any knife having a blade that projects or swings into position by force of a spring or by centrifugal force, any dirk, dagger, ice pick, slungshot, metal knuckles, or any similar instrument by the use of which injury could be inflicted upon the person or property of any other person, commits a Class B misdemeanor.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section applies to any peace officer as defined in ORS 133.005, whose duty it is to serve process or make arrests. Justice courts have concurrent jurisdiction to try any person charged with violating any of the provisions of subsection (1) of this section.
All kinds of modern knives can fall under the sway of (1), above, not just the obvious targets which are switchblades.
Assisted opening knives classify here also, lacking as the statute does the increasingly common language that protects assisted opening knives that have a “bias toward closure.” Don’t concealed carry a switchblade or an assisted opening knife in Oregon. Cops, of course are exempt from this statute.
Oregon makes special mention that felons are prohibited from possessing certain named types of knives in 166.270:
Section 166.270 – Possession of weapons by certain felons
(1) Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the law of this state or any other state, or who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the Government of the United States, who owns or has in the person’s possession or under the person’s custody or control any firearm commits the crime of felon in possession of a firearm.
(2) Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the law of this state or any other state, or who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the Government of the United States, who owns or has in the person’s possession or under the person’s custody or control any instrument or weapon having a blade that projects or swings into position by force of a spring or by centrifugal force or any blackjack, slungshot, sandclub, sandbag, sap glove, metal knuckles or an Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology device as defined in ORS 165.540, or who carries a dirk, dagger or stiletto, commits the crime of felon in possession of a restricted weapon.
So no automatics, switchblades or assisted opening knives at all, and felons cannot carry dirks, daggers or stilettos.
At the end of the preceding sections, we still have no statutory guidance on what constitutes “concealed” or not.
The “test” used in Oregon was trundled out as the result of, you got it, a test case! 2008 saw the Oregon vs. Turner case hit the docket and with it, the opinion that concealed carry constitutes the carrying of a weapon by a person that makes the weapon not readily identifiable as such or an attempt to obscure the fact that you are carrying a weapon at all.
What does that mean? Beats me. Is a knife clipped in your front or back pocket concealed? You can tell it is a knife, right, so no issue..? Maybe. What else has a pocket clip? Flashlights. Pens. Other things. Some guns, even.
Ultimately, there is precious little case law to fortify that optimistic opinion, so you’d be best keeping knives out of your pockets entirely.
Based on laws covering the carry of firearms, in which a gun carried openly and visibly holstered on the belt is not a violation of the concealed firearm statutes, the same is commonly thought to apply to knives, but, once again, this is occlusive based on the wording of the knife statutes, which does not explicitly state that open carry is A-OK.
Many, among them hospitals, schools of every type and kind, city government buildings, courtrooms and more. We’ll get to the big list, but first, more definitions:
Section 166.360 – Definitions for ORS 166.360 to 166.380.
As used in ORS 166.360 to 166.380, unless the context requires otherwise:
(1) “Capitol building” means the Capitol, the State Office Building, the State Library Building, the Labor and Industries Building, the State Transportation Building, the Agriculture Building or the Public Service Building and includes any new buildings which may be constructed on the same grounds as an addition to the group of buildings listed in this subsection.
(2) “Court facility” means a courthouse or that portion of any other building occupied by a circuit court, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court or the Oregon Tax Court or occupied by personnel related to the operations of those courts, or in which activities related to the operations of those courts take place.
(5) “Juvenile court” has the meaning given that term in ORS 419A.004.
(7) “Local court facility” means the portion of a building in which a justice court, a municipal court, a probate court or a juvenile court conducts business, during the hours in which the court operates.
(8) “Probate court” has the meaning given that term in ORS 111.005.
(9) “Public building” means a hospital, a capitol building, a public or private school, as defined in ORS 339.315, a college or university, a city hall or the residence of any state official elected by the state at large, and the grounds adjacent to each such building.
The term also includes that portion of any other building occupied by an agency of the state or a municipal corporation, as defined in ORS 297.405, other than a court facility.
(10) “Weapon” means:
(a) A firearm;
(b) Any dirk, dagger, ice pick, slingshot, metal knuckles or any similar instrument or a knife, other than an ordinary pocketknife with a blade less than four inches in length, the use of which could inflict injury upon a person or property;
(c) Mace, tear gas, pepper mace or any similar deleterious agent as defined in ORS 163.211;
(d) An electrical stun gun or any similar instrument;
(e) A tear gas weapon as defined in ORS 163.211;
(f) A club, bat, baton, billy club, bludgeon, knobkerrie, nunchaku, nightstick, truncheon or any similar instrument, the use of which could inflict injury upon a person or property; or
(g) A dangerous or deadly weapon as those terms are defined in ORS 161.015.
We run into a major jam on definitions here: “ordinary pocketknives” once again make an appearance, and are seemingly okay so long as they possess a blade of less than 4” in length, but just below in (g) we see that any dangerous or deadly weapon as mention in 161.015 is forbidden.
Based on those two definitions waaayyy back up in that section, even a common pocketknife is forbidden.
The next section, 166.370, informs us where we can and cannot carry our knives:
Section 166.370 – Possession of firearm or dangerous weapon in public building or court facility; exceptions; discharging firearm at school.
(1) Any person who intentionally possesses a loaded or unloaded firearm or any other instrument used as a dangerous weapon, while in or on a public building, shall upon conviction be guilty of a Class C felony.
(2)(a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection, a person who intentionally possesses:
(A) A firearm in a court facility is guilty, upon conviction, of a Class C felony. A person who intentionally possesses a firearm in a court facility shall surrender the firearm to a law enforcement officer.
(B) A weapon, other than a firearm, in a court facility may be required to surrender the weapon to a law enforcement officer or to immediately remove it from the court facility. A person who fails to comply with this subparagraph is guilty, upon conviction, of a Class C felony.
(b) The presiding judge of a judicial district or a municipal court may enter an order permitting the possession of specified weapons in a court facility.
(3) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to:
(g) A person who is licensed under ORS 166.291 and 166.292 to carry a concealed handgun.
(j) Possession of a firearm on school property if the firearm:
(A) Is possessed by a person who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing the firearm; and
(B) Is unloaded and locked in a motor vehicle.
(4)(a) The exceptions listed in subsection (3)(d) to (j) of this section constitute affirmative defenses to a charge of violating subsection (1) of this section.
(8) As used in this section, “dangerous weapon” means a dangerous weapon as that term is defined in ORS 161.015.
Note that, on school property, the statute says you may keep your firearm locked in your vehicle, but not a knife. It says “firearm” for the purposes of carrying on school property without violating the statutes, not “deadly weapon,” “dangerous weapon,” “knife” or anything else.
While you would not be incorrect in thinking a “lesser” weapon like a knife would be covered under the same law, that would be an assumption, and assumptions are dangerous things when being wrong could get you a felony.
Again, reader, only you can make the call for your own sake, but I highly, strongly recommend you consult an experienced self-defense trainer or attorney in the State of Oregon before you carry anything more dangerous than a toothpick, especially if you want to carry it concealed.
There is no statewide preemption in Oregon. Accordingly, you’ll be forced to contend with even more restrictive laws infringing your rights depending on where you are.
While beyond the scope of this article, Portland and Salem both have restrictive ordinances concerning knives, as you’d probably expect.
Make sure you do your homework; an analysis of both or either is beyond the scope of this article.
Oregon is a tough state to decipher on knife laws. On the surface, you can own any kind of knife you want, but carrying it is an entirely different matter.
Open carry is your safest bet, but far from foolproof in a state with such legal boilerplate. Concealed carry is far riskier even, potentially, if you have a permit, which is specifically for handguns.
Ultimately you’ll have to navigate this legal maze every time you want to head into new or unknown territory, thanks to the lack of preemption. The Beaver State is a bear of state for knife carriers.
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.