Wisconsin Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

The Essentials

  • Legal to Carry Openly or Concealed: Any knife
  • Illegal Knives: None specifically named; persons restricted from owning firearms cannot be in possession of knives.
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Wisconsin Knife Law Overview

Wisconsin is a surprisingly pro-knife state, and especially so since a 2016 overhaul of their knife laws in favor of citizen’s rights to bear arms.

There is no knife explicitly named that you are prohibited from owning or carrying, no features or action and no length of blade that is prohibited. Add in newly-minted statewide preemption and you are in a veritable knife owner’s paradise!

Wisconsin’s knife laws for the most part revolve around criminal intent and only name knives specifically when referring to them in light of other crimes or named places where it is forbidden to carry them. All in all, Wisconsin is good to go!

Relevant Wisconsin State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • 66.0409 – Local regulation of weapons
  • 939.22 – Definitions
  • 941.23 – Carrying concealed weapon
  • 948.60 – Possession of a dangerous weapon by person under 18
  • 948.605 – Gun-free School Zones

Perhaps most importantly, no knives or other bladed weapons are categorized under the label “dangerous weapon” in 939.22. While any device, weapon or tool can be categorized as a dangerous weapon if it is employed as one, your knife cannot get you into to trouble on its own merits just because you are carrying it. The pertinent statutes in this section read:

939.22 Words and phrases defined.

“In chs. 939 to 948 and 951, the following words and phrases have the designated meanings unless the context of a specific section manifestly requires a different construction or the word or phrase is defined in s. 948.01 for purposes of ch. 948:


(4) “Bodily harm” means physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.


(6) “Crime” has the meaning designated in s. 939.12.


(10) “Dangerous weapon” means any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded; any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm; any ligature or other instrumentality used on the throat, neck, nose, or mouth of another person to impede, partially or completely, breathing or circulation of blood; any electric weapon, as defined in s. 941.295 (1c) (a); or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm.


(14) “Great bodily harm” means bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury.


(18) “Intentionally” has the meaning designated in s. 939.23.


As you can no doubt read, no knives nor any other bladed implements are mentioned anywhere within the definition of dangerous weapon in (10).

Anything you do intend use though, including a knife, to inflict great bodily harm or when used does inflict great bodily harm is a dangerous weapon. This sounds like splitting frog hair three ways, and it is, but the way a law is written actually makes an enormous difference on whether or not the law is predisposed against you.

Reading on further in 941.23, which covers carrying of concealed weapons, we find nothing else to give us pause or otherwise dissuade one from carrying any kind of knife or other blade for a lawful purpose, and specifically excludes “knife” from inclusion with the category of dangerous weapon again:

941.23 Carrying concealed weapon.

(1) In this section:

(ag) “Carry” has the meaning given in s. 175.60 (1) (ag).

(ap) Notwithstanding s. 939.22 (10), “dangerous weapon” does not include a knife.

(ar) “Destructive device” has the meaning given in 18 USC 921 (a) (4).

(b) “Firearm silencer” has the meaning given in s. 941.298 (1).

(c) “Former officer” means a person who served as a law enforcement officer with a law enforcement agency before separating from law enforcement service.

(d) “Law enforcement agency” has the meaning given in s. 175.49 (1) (f).

(e) “Law enforcement officer” has the meaning given in s. 175.49 (1) (g).

(f) “Machine gun” has the meaning given in s. 941.25 (1).

(g) “Qualified out-of-state law enforcement officer” means a law enforcement officer to whom all of the following apply:

1. The person is employed by a state or local government agency in another state.

2. The agency has authorized the person to carry a firearm.

3. The person is not the subject of any disciplinary action by the agency that could result in the suspension or loss of the person’s law enforcement authority.

4. The person meets all standards established by the agency to qualify the person on a regular basis to use a firearm.

5. The person is not prohibited under federal law from possessing a firearm.

(2) Any person, other than one of the following, who carries a concealed and dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor:

(a) A peace officer, but notwithstanding s. 939.22, for purposes of this paragraph, peace officer does not include a commission warden who is not a state-certified commission warden.


(d) A licensee, as defined in s. 175.60 (1) (d), or an out-of-state licensee, as defined in s. 175.60 (1) (g), if the dangerous weapon is a weapon, as defined under s. 175.60 (1) (j). An individual formerly licensed under s. 175.60 whose license has been suspended or revoked under s. 175.60 (14) may not assert his or her refusal to accept a notice of revocation or suspension mailed under s. 175.60 (14) (b) 1. as a defense to prosecution under this subsection, regardless of whether the person has complied with s. 175.60 (11) (b) 1.

(e) An individual who carries a concealed and dangerous weapon, as defined in s. 175.60 (1) (j), in his or her own dwelling or place of business or on land that he or she owns, leases, or legally occupies.


Nowhere in the above statutes is “knife” collated, in any way, with illicit and illegal carry of weapons. Unless, as mentioned, you actively use the knife to commit an offense.

So whatever knife you have, manual or auto, fixed blade or folder, long or short, carry it concealed or openly however you please!

There are a few other laws to be conscious of in Wisconsin, like the prohibition of dangerous weapons in the possession of anyone under 18 years of age.

While knives are not named specifically, common weapons of “concern” like guns, brass knuckles, nunchaku and throwing stars are, and it would not be a stretch to lump in “knife” to “dangerous weapons” for the purposes of prosecuting you if a youngster went off to do something terrible or just negligent with the knife you gave them.

Once again, I am not an attorney, definitely not your attorney and I don’t play one on TV. Consult a practicing Wisconsin attorney fluent in weapons law as part of your preparations in this state.

The full text of the section is below:

948.60 Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.

(1) In this section, “dangerous weapon” means any firearm, loaded or unloaded; any electric weapon, as defined in s. 941.295 (1c) (a); metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles; a nunchaku or any similar weapon consisting of 2 sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather; a cestus or similar material weighted with metal or other substance and worn on the hand; a shuriken or any similar pointed star-like object intended to injure a person when thrown; or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends.

(2)

(a) Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

(b) Except as provided in par. (c), any person who intentionally sells, loans or gives a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 years of age is guilty of a Class I felony.

(c) Whoever violates par. (b) is guilty of a Class H felony if the person under 18 years of age under par. (b) discharges the firearm and the discharge causes death to himself, herself or another.

(d) A person under 17 years of age who has violated this subsection is subject to the provisions of ch. 938 unless jurisdiction is waived under s. 938.18 or the person is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of criminal jurisdiction under s. 938.183.

(3)

(a) This section does not apply to a person under 18 years of age who possesses or is armed with a dangerous weapon when the dangerous weapon is being used in target practice under the supervision of an adult or in a course of instruction in the traditional and proper use of the dangerous weapon under the supervision of an adult. This section does not apply to an adult who transfers a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 years of age for use only in target practice under the adult’s supervision or in a course of instruction in the traditional and proper use of the dangerous weapon under the adult’s supervision.

(b) This section does not apply to a person under 18 years of age who is a member of the armed forces or national guard and who possesses or is armed with a dangerous weapon in the line of duty. This section does not apply to an adult who is a member of the armed forces or national guard and who transfers a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 years of age in the line of duty.

(c) This section applies only to a person under 18 years of age who possesses or is armed with a rifle or a shotgun if the person is in violation of s. 941.28 or is not in compliance with ss. 29.304 and 29.593. This section applies only to an adult who transfers a firearm to a person under 18 years of age if the person under 18 years of age is not in compliance with ss. 29.304 and 29.593 or to an adult who is in violation of s. 941.28.

Take to heart the seriousness with which Wisconsin treats violators of this statute; don’t hand out knives willy-nilly, and especially to youngsters you don’t know, or do not implicitly trust.

No-Go Zones

Predictably, you cannot possess knives on the property of any school or any public building owned by the state. This includes elementary, middle and high schools, colleges, technical schools and so on.

No matter what kind of knife you have, don’t bring to any school building! Public buildings are the usual suspects like courthouses, municipal buildings and so forth.

66.0409 Local Regulation of Weapons

(3)

(a) Nothing in this section prohibits a county from imposing a sales tax or use tax under subch. V of ch. 77 on any knife or any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, sold in the county.

(b) Nothing in this section prohibits a city, village or town that is authorized to exercise village powers under s. 60.22 (3) from enacting an ordinance or adopting a resolution that restricts the discharge of a firearm. Any ordinance or resolution that restricts the discharge of a firearm does not apply and may not be enforced if the actor’s conduct is justified or, had it been subject to a criminal penalty, would have been subject to a defense described in s. 939.45.

(c) Nothing in this section prohibits a political subdivision from enacting or enforcing an ordinance or adopting a resolution that prohibits the possession of a knife in a building, or part of a building, that is owned, occupied, or controlled by the “political subdivision”, which is a $10 word for a city, town or county.

Preemption

Since 2016, Wisconsin has one of the most strongly worded preemption clauses in the region. It makes an allowance for prohibiting the carry of knives and other weapons into a building that is part of the political and governmental apparatus, but is otherwise quite comprehensive:
66.0409 Local Regulation of Weapons.

(1)  In this section:

(a) “Firearm” has the meaning given in s. 167.31 (1) (c).

(b) “Political subdivision” means a city, village, town or county.

(c) “Sport shooting range” means an area designed and operated for the practice of weapons used in hunting, skeet shooting and similar sport shooting.

(2) Except as provided in subs. (3) and (4), no political subdivision may enact or enforce an ordinance or adopt a resolution that regulates the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration, or taxation of any knife or any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.

Bottom Line

Wisconsin is an extremely liberal state for knife ownership and carry in the classical sense: mostly unrestricted with very little in the way of regulation, a few off-limits buildings in various localities notwithstanding. You can carry with confidence in Wisconsin.

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