Virginia Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

  • Legal to Carry Openly: Open carry of knives not expressly forbidden
  • Illegal to Carry Concealed: Dirk, Bowie knife, Switchblade, Ballistic knife, Machete, Razor, Throwing star, Oriental dart, Any weapon of like kind*
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Virginia Knife Law Overview

Virginia is not a state where you can concealed carry nearly any knife, or at least do so with any kind of certainty that you won’t get tossed in jail on your head. Several exclusions for named types of knives, along with sweepingly broad language regarding similar knives means concealed carry is out.

Open carry should be permissible, but the litigious nature of the state combined with ill-favored legal precedents resulting from various trials and court matters means you’ll need to play it safe with your blades in the Old Dominion.

Make no mistake, Virginia’s laws are easy enough to understand, they are just not amicable to easy and permissive carry of weapons, including knives.

Funny, that the State’s motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, “Thus always to tyrants,” has not been taken off the state seal; they are plenty tyrannical when it comes to abrogating their citizens’ rights to bear common knives.

At any rate, you are here for info, not exposition, so read on and I’ll try to help you make sense of the State’s legal landscape when it comes to possession and carry of edged weapons.

Relevant Virginia State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • VA Title 18.2-282.1
  • VA Title 18.2-283
  • VA Title 18.2-307.1
  • VA Title 18.2-308
  • VA Title 18.2-308.1A
  • VA Title 18.2-311

Some knives are explicitly verboten in VA, including switchblades, aka automatic knives, throwing stars (shuriken), oriental darts and ballistic knives. You cannot own it, sell it, or give it away in the great state of Virginia. Title 18.2-311 ennumerates:

18.2-311. Prohibiting the selling or having in possession blackjacks, etc.

If any person sells or barters, or exhibits for sale or for barter, or gives or furnishes, or causes to be sold, bartered, given or furnished, or has in his possession, or under his control, with the intent of selling, bartering, giving or furnishing, any blackjack, brass or metal knucks, any disc of whatever configuration having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart, switchblade knife, ballistic knife as defined in § 18.2-307.1, or like weapons, such person is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. The having in one’s possession of any such weapon shall be prima facie evidence, except in the case of a conservator of the peace, of his intent to sell, barter, give or furnish the same.

The devil is in the details; the entire passage simply sounds like you cannot sell those weapons in VA, right up until the last sentence which clarifies that merely having it in your possession is proof of intent to sell, ergo having it is illegal.

Virginia law then goes on to specify that several makes of knife cannot be carried in a concealed manner, though the law is curiously silent regarding the open carry of such knives. One specific provision in the passage is the source of much consternation and wailing regarding knife law in the state, as it is far too broadly inclusive when it lumps “similar” knives together. Before any of you laissez-faire armchair lawyers start blabbering about judgments, precedent and so forth, save your breath: been there, done that, and it did not pan out well for the intrepid soul who assumed the same. Chapter 18.2-308 states:

18.2-311. Prohibiting the selling or having in possession blackjacks, etc.

A. If any person carries about his person, hidden from common observation, (i) any pistol, revolver, or other weapon designed or intended to propel a missile of any kind by action of an explosion of any combustible material; (ii) any dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, metal knucks, or blackjack; (iii) any flailing instrument consisting of two or more rigid parts connected in such a manner as to allow them to swing freely, which may be known as a nun chahka, nun chuck, nunchaku, shuriken, or fighting chain; (iv) any disc, of whatever configuration, having at least two points or pointed blades which is designed to be thrown or propelled and which may be known as a throwing star or oriental dart; or (v) any weapon of like kind as those enumerated in this subsection, he is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A second violation of this section or a conviction under this section subsequent to any conviction under any substantially similar ordinance of any county, city, or town shall be punishable as a Class 6 felony, and a third or subsequent such violation shall be punishable as a Class 5 felony. For the purpose of this section, a weapon shall be deemed to be hidden from common observation when it is observable but is of such deceptive appearance as to disguise the weapon’s true nature. It shall be an affirmative defense to a violation of clause (i) regarding a handgun, that a person had been issued, at the time of the offense, a valid concealed handgun permit.

B. This section shall not apply to any person while in his own place of abode or the curtilage thereof.


So you cannot carry any of the specifically named types of knives above or, and I emphasize, any weapon of like kind.

What constitutes like kind? Glad you asked, reader, because apparently any knife is “of like kind” to a banned one when you are in the hot seat in this nanny state.

hat’s not hyperbole; one of the above terms save ballistic knife and throwing star are defined in the state’s statutes! This means a judge and/or a jury could kick your ass right through the uprights in court.

Consider this. A dirk is broadly defined as a short or long thrusting dagger. A bowie knife is often defined as a large, fixed blade fighting knife with a crossguard.

A switchblade is a knife that releases and deploys the blade from its closed position by actuation of switch set into the handle. A machete is a large, wide knife used for agricultural or combative purposes.

Now, any of you knife nuts in the audience are surely ready to let it rip in the comments, and that’s fine; those definitions are what you might call the layman’s terms, not the aficionados’ or the experts’.

Do you think a layman will appreciate that there is so much more to a bowie knife’s taxonomy than being a big fixed blade with a guard? Will they appreciate that a true bowie has a clip point and not, let’s say, let’s just say, a tanto point?

Surprise! You don’t have to wonder. Behold Virginia Supreme Court case Gilliam v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 2007. Long version made short: a man was arrested carrying a concealed knife after he already had a felony record. Since his knife was not an explicitly named type he argued, unsuccessfully, that he was not in violation of the statutes.

The court saw it differently: not only did they find his fixed, 6”, single-edged, black handled knife was indeed a weapon of like kind, but they did so explicitly stating that it was not a bowie, dirk or other knife named as forbidden in the statutes, but lacking the bowies distinctive clip point and guard.

Even so in the court’s opinion the subject knife’s “single sharp edge, dull, flat edge and a point” made it of like-kind to a bowie.

That’s important. The defendant in the above case had a record, and was riding his bike drunkenly around a parking lot when detained with the said knife on his person. “But that’s not me!” you say. No, it isn’t, but that legal precedent that was set will affect your court date if it ever comes up.

If you are in doubt, open carry your knife but you had better choose carefully. It is still a crime to brandish a knife in VA, with 18-2-282.1 explaining:

18.2-282.1. Brandishing a machete or other bladed weapon with intent to intimidate; penalty.

It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold, or brandish a machete or any weapon, with an exposed blade 12 inches or longer, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons and in a manner that reasonably demonstrates that intent. This section shall not apply to any person engaged in excusable or justifiable self-defense. A person who violates this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor or, if the violation occurs upon any public, private, or religious elementary, middle, or high school, including buildings and grounds or upon public property within 1,000 feet of such school property, he is guilty of a Class 6 felony.

You best bet to stay legal in VA is a belt knife of modest size, and you had better make sure it cannot become concealed by accident.

No-Go Zones

You cannot carry most knives on school grounds or in school buildings from elementary through high school, and you cannot carry a knife to a place of worship while a religious meeting is taking place. Now, the latter may seem to allow common knives, but based on what we learned above I cannot for a moment suppose that is the case and neither should you. More on that in a moment. Chapter 18.2-308.1 codifies:

18.2-308.1. Possession of firearm, stun weapon, or other weapon on school property prohibited; penalty.

A. If any person knowingly possesses any (i) stun weapon as defined in this section; (ii) knife, except a pocket knife having a folding metal blade of less than three inches; or (iii) weapon, including a weapon of like kind, designated in subsection A of § 18.2-308, other than a firearm; upon (a) the property of any public, private or religious elementary, middle or high school, including buildings and grounds; (b) that portion of any property open to the public and then exclusively used for school-sponsored functions or extracurricular activities while such functions or activities are taking place; or (c) any school bus owned or operated by any such school, he is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.


We have all seen similar language in the statutes of other states: you cannot have your knife anywhere at all on a school grounds unless it is, ostensibly, a folding pocket knife with a blade under three inches long. But if you’ll refer back to what we learned about weapons of like-kind, you’d be making a mistake, in my untrained opinion, to do so.

Regarding taking your knives to church or temple:

18.2-283. Carrying dangerous weapon to place of religious worship.

If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

What’s a good reason? If it is not legally defined, how can I know if my reason is good and I am allowed to do it? No one at the state level is clarifying and that is on purpose: the more chances they have to keep the peasantry in line and under their thumb the better. Once more, it is simply too risky to take your knife, any knife, to a church or other religious place of worship if you want to stay on the right side of the law.

No Preemption

There is no statewide preemption in the state of Virginia. In theory, it is possible for a local municipality to declare all knives are welcome and welcome concealed, but in practice no such city exists in Virginia. You’ll have to play by State’s rules while you are within the confines of Virginia.

Bottom Line

You are not forbidden from owning most knives in the state of Virginia, but they do not allow you to conceal carry any without going blindfolded legally, and it is still in this author’s opinion very dicey to carry any knife openly. You can get by with a gun easier than you can any knife in VA.

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