Washington Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

Legal to Carry Openly

  • Any knife is nominally allowed, see below

Legal to Carry Concealed

  • Statutes unclear; potentially no knife allowed for concealed carry

Illegal to Possess

  • Switchblades and gravity knives; assisted opening okay
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Washington Knife Law Overview

Washington State is an exemplar of restrictive laws on the ownership and use of arms, and knives are no exception.

From unclear statutes that seemingly ban knives outright for the purposes of concealed carry to murky interpretations of common words and legal concepts including where your own home begins and ends, Washington proves once more there is no place so promising and beautiful that Leftist leadership can’t screw it up for everyone.

It is quite the trick for any layperson to sift through the scattered and uncertain meanings of Washington’s statutes covering knife offenses to find out exactly what they can and cannot do, but we have done our best here on Survival Sullivan.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss the most relevant statutes as well as some case results that changed legal precedent in the state.

Hold your nose and let’s dive in.

Relevant Washington State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • RCW 9.41.250
  • RCW 9.41.251
  • RCW 9.41.270
  • RCW 9.41.280

Relevant Cases of Importance to Legal Interpretation

  • State vs. Byrd, 1994
  • State vs. Spencer, 1994
  • State vs. Myles, 1995
  • State vs. Smith, 2003

Washington State’s laws explicitly prohibit the possession of dangerous weapons, included in that definition are switchblades, automatics and gravity knives. Unless one is actively employed with a law enforcement agency, fire department, emergency medical service (EMT, etc.) or the military, you cannot even posses one.

Additionally, no-good, untrustworthy civilians employed by a knife maker or distributor of knives are allowed to possess the banned types for testing and demonstration. That’s it. No switchblades for us peasants!

This sad-sack state has even made it a crime to dispose of one, so you’ll be a criminal if you throw your illegal knife away, weld it shut or chop it up. Isn’t government grand!

Before you ask, assisted opening knives are explicitly allowed by language that is also found in federal mandates on the subject, so you should have no issues with mere ownership, though carrying it is another clam entirely. You can read all about this sorry state of affairs in RCW 9.41.250:

RCW 9.41.250 Dangerous weapons—Penalty.

(1) Every person who:

(a) Manufactures, sells, or disposes of or possesses any instrument or weapon of the kind usually known as slung shot, sand club, or metal knuckles, or spring blade knife;

(b) Furtively carries with intent to conceal any dagger, dirk, pistol, or other dangerous weapon; or

(c) Uses any contrivance or device for suppressing the noise of any firearm unless the suppressor is legally registered and possessed in accordance with federal law, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW.

(2) “Spring blade knife” means any knife, including a prototype, model, or other sample, with a blade that is automatically released by a spring mechanism or other mechanical device, or any knife having a blade which opens, or falls, or is ejected into position by the force of gravity, or by an outward, downward, or centrifugal thrust or movement.

A knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires physical exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist, or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife is not a spring blade knife.

From this section we see that it is also a crime to “furtively carry with intent to conceal” any dagger or dirk, or any other dangerous weapon, included in which common knives of all kinds must surely be since they can all, nearly without exception, cause lethal wounds.

If you are wondering what constitutes “furtive” carry in Washington, keep wondering; there is no clear answer, and since case law and judge opinion has not yet solidified on the concept (see State vs. Miles, 1995), what opinions and tea-leaves readings we have do not codify the law.

Nominally, as written, the law would require all the components named in 1(b) to be present for a crime to be committed, but the extremely vague nature of “furtively” means that anyone who merely keeps a common, short pocketknife in their pocket is liable to be charged under the right circumstances. Carry concealed at your own risk!

The following section, RCW 9.41.251 explains who is exempt from the preceding dangerous weapons laws under what circumstances:

RCW 9.41.251 Dangerous weapons—Application of restrictions to law enforcement, firefighting, rescue, and military personnel.

(1) RCW 9.41.250 does not apply to:

(a) The possession or use of a spring blade knife by a general authority law enforcement officer, firefighter or rescue member, Washington state patrol officer, or military member, while the officer or member:

(i) Is on official duty; or

(ii) Is transporting a spring blade knife to or from the place where the knife is stored when the officer or member is not on official duty; or

(iii) Is storing a spring blade knife;

(b) The manufacture, sale, transportation, transfer, distribution, or possession of spring blade knives pursuant to contract with a general authority law enforcement agency, fire or rescue agency, Washington state patrol, or military service, or pursuant to a contract with another manufacturer or a commercial distributor of knives for use, sale, or other disposition by the manufacturer or commercial distributor;

(c) The manufacture, transportation, transfer, distribution, or possession of spring blade knives, with or without compensation and with or without a contract, solely for trial, test, or other provisional use for evaluation and assessment purposes, by a general authority law enforcement agency, fire or rescue agency, Washington state patrol, military service, or a manufacturer or commercial distributor of knives.

(2) For the purposes of this section:

a) “Military member” means an active member of the United States military or naval forces, or a Washington national guard member called to active duty or during training.

(b) “General law enforcement agency” means any agency, department, or division of a municipal corporation, political subdivision, or other unit of local government of this state or any other state, and any agency, department, or division of any state government, having as its primary function the detection and apprehension of persons committing infractions or violating the traffic or criminal laws in general.

(c) “General law enforcement officer” means any person who is commissioned and employed by an employer on a full-time, fully compensated basis to enforce the criminal laws of the state of Washington generally. No person who is serving in a position that is basically clerical or secretarial in nature, or who is not commissioned shall be considered a law enforcement officer.

(d) “Fire or rescue agency” means any agency, department, or division of a municipal corporation, political subdivision, or other unit of local government of this state or any other state, and any agency, department, or division of any state government, having as its primary function the prevention, control, or extinguishment of fire or provision of emergency medical services or rescue actions for persons.

(e) “Firefighter or rescue member” means any person who is serving on a full-time, fully compensated basis as a member of a fire or rescue agency to prevent, control, or extinguish fire or provide emergency medical services or rescue actions for persons. No person who is serving in a position that is basically clerical or secretarial in nature shall be considered a firefighter or rescue member.

(f) “Military service” means the active, reserve, or national guard components of the United States military, including the army, navy, air force, marines, and coast guard.

Open carry is not entirely without risk of legal mishap, either- in Washington, the law states that any carrying, exhibition or display of a dagger, sword, knife or other cutting instrument in a particular manner (see below) that manifests as intent to intimidate or “warrants alarm” for the safety of others is a gross misdemeanor.

The statute does exempt those in their “abode” or fixed place of business, and it also exempts those in the act of protecting themselves against an unlawful use of force.

But before you get too comfy with the idea of carrying a knife on your own frickin’ property, consider one case from 2003, State vs. Smith, which determined, in fact, that a deck, outbuilding or yard was not considered part of the “home”, and there would be no defense against the prohibition on carry or display while outside the walls of the primary dwelling. I’m not kidding.

You can look that up for yourselves and check out RCW 9.41.270 for the rest of the story on carry and display law in WA:

RCW 9.41.270 Weapons apparently capable of producing bodily harm—Unlawful carrying or handling—Penalty—Exceptions.

(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm, dagger, sword, knife or other cutting or stabbing instrument, club, or any other weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.

(2) Any person violating the provisions of subsection (1) above shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor. If any person is convicted of a violation of subsection (1) of this section, the person shall lose his or her concealed pistol license, if any. The court shall send notice of the revocation to the department of licensing, and the city, town, or county which issued the license.

(3) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to or affect the following:

(a) Any act committed by a person while in his or her place of abode or fixed place of business;

(b) Any person who by virtue of his or her office or public employment is vested by law with a duty to preserve public safety, maintain public order, or to make arrests for offenses, while in the performance of such duty;

(c) Any person acting for the purpose of protecting himself or herself against the use of presently threatened unlawful force by another, or for the purpose of protecting another against the use of such unlawful force by a third person;

(d) Any person making or assisting in making a lawful arrest for the commission of a felony; or

(e) Any person engaged in military activities sponsored by the federal or state governments.

No-Go Zones

Schools, public or private, no exemptions made for length or type of knife. Guns are exempted if you have a permit and are dropping off or picking up a student.

You can also keep the weapon locked in your car if you have a legitimate reason to be at the school and not a student. All pertinent sections and subsections from 9.41.280 below:

RCW 9.41.280 Possessing dangerous weapons on school facilities—Penalty—Exceptions.

(1) It is unlawful for a person to carry onto, or to possess on, public or private elementary or secondary school premises, school-provided transportation, or areas of facilities while being used exclusively by public or private schools:

(a) Any firearm;

(b) Any other dangerous weapon as defined in RCW 9.41.250;

(c) Any device commonly known as “nun-chu-ka sticks,” consisting of two or more lengths of wood, metal, plastic, or similar substance connected with wire, rope, or other means;

(d) Any device, commonly known as “throwing stars,” which are multipointed, metal objects designed to embed upon impact from any aspect;

(e) Any air gun, including any air pistol or air rifle, designed to propel a BB, pellet, or other projectile by the discharge of compressed air, carbon dioxide, or other gas; or

(f)(i) Any portable device manufactured to function as a weapon and which is commonly known as a stun gun, including a projectile stun gun which projects wired probes that are attached to the device that emit an electrical charge designed to administer to a person or an animal an electric shock, charge, or impulse; or

(ii) Any device, object, or instrument which is used or intended to be used as a weapon with the intent to injure a person by an electric shock, charge, or impulse.

(3) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to:

(c) Any person who is involved in a convention, showing, demonstration, lecture, or firearms safety course authorized by school authorities in which the firearms of collectors or instructors are handled or displayed;

(d) Any person while the person is participating in a firearms or air gun competition approved by the school or school district;

(e) Any person in possession of a pistol who has been issued a license under RCW 9.41.070, or is exempt from the licensing requirement by RCW 9.41.060, while picking up or dropping off a student;

(f) Any nonstudent at least eighteen years of age legally in possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon that is secured within an attended vehicle or concealed from view within a locked unattended vehicle while conducting legitimate business at the school;

(g) Any nonstudent at least eighteen years of age who is in lawful possession of an unloaded firearm, secured in a vehicle while conducting legitimate business at the school; or

(6) Except as provided in subsection (3)(b), (c), (f), and (h) of this section, firearms are not permitted in a public or private school building.

Preemption

There is no preemption for knives in Washington State, though there is for firearms. RCW 9.41.290 makes no mention at all of knives or other dangerous weapons aside from firearms:

RCW 9.41.290 State preemption.

The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components.

Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter.

Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.

Bottom Line

Washington is wishy-washy when it comes to carrying knives, and I would be very cautious of taking any chances when carrying anything openly.

While the language governing what kind of knives you can own is clear enough, even with what case precedents there are the laws are too vague when it comes to carrying them on or about your person. Proceed with extreme care.

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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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