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Thread: The Official Massachusetts Knife Law Thread

  1. #1

    The Official Massachusetts Knife Law Thread

    OK, here's the deal. As with many MA other residents, I am very frustrated in interpreting and correcting others' misinterpretations of MA law. This is even worse with firearms laws.

    My goal in this thread is to dissect the knife laws of MA and get the best legal interpretation possible. This only applies to STATE law, not local or FEDERAL.

    Here's the basic knife law for MA:
    (b) Whoever, except as provided by law, carries on his person, or carries on his person or under his control in a vehicle, any stiletto, dagger or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position, any ballistic knife, or any knife with a detachable blade capable of being propelled by any mechanism, dirk knife, any knife having a double-edged blade, or a switch knife, or any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches, or a slung shot, blowgun, blackjack, metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles, nunchaku, zoobow, also known as klackers or kung fu sticks, or any similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather, a shuriken or any similar pointed starlike object intended to injure a person when thrown, or any armband, made with leather which has metallic spikes, points or studs or any similar device made from any other substance or a cestus or similar material weighted with metal or other substance and worn on the hand, or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends; or whoever, when arrested upon a warrant for an alleged crime, or when arrested while committing a breach or disturbance of the public peace, is armed with or has on his person, or has on his person or under his control in a vehicle, a billy or other dangerous weapon other than those herein mentioned and those mentioned in paragraph (a), shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than two and one-half years nor more than five years in the state prison, or for not less than six months nor more than two and one-half years in a jail or house of correction, except that, if the court finds that the defendant has not been previously convicted of a felony, he may be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars or by imprisonment for not more than two and one-half years in a jail or house of correction.
    This is the official text from the MA website

    So here is my summary of the law in terms of carrying/owning knives:
    1. There is no language specifying concealment vs open carry, so either is legal. Same with folder vs fixed blade.
    2. There is no state limit on blade length. The 1 1/2" limit applies only to switchblades.
    3. Balisongs/Butterflys are not mentioned at all. I have heard people say that they are illegal under some sort of interpretation of switchblades, but I'm not buying it. I submit that Balisongs are legal in MA under current law. (That of course won't stop them from arresting you, but I don't think you could be convicted by what I see. With that said, I don't carry one; and don't intend to be the test case.) If anyone has some official text clarifying this, I'd appreciate it.
    4. Switchblades are said to be illegal in MA. The law actually states "carries on his person or under his control in a vehicle". It does NOT state that POSSESSION is illegal. I submit that having a switchblade in your house is not illegal under current MA law. How it got there is another story. Again, I don't want to be the test case.
    5. The "Wave" feature on Emerson and some other knives I think is actually illegal because of this phrase "device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position.
    6. Spring assist knives are on shakey ground because of the "spring release device". That could go either way in my mind, but I think it's safest not to carry one.
    7. Axis knives are ok, because the spring does not actually release the blade, it only makes it easier to flick out.

    That's all I can think of at the moment.
    Please comment on my interpretations, or add any other knife issues to discuss.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    A little off center
    My comments or thoughts on 2 of the interpretations...

    Blade over 1-1/2"... don't know that it applies to switch knifes only. As it states other items, like blowgun, blackjack, etc in the same sentence. But a 1-1/2 blade restriction is ridiculous! But it does say that those who have them in their possession during arrest will be punished. So I guess its ok to carry a blade over 1-1/2” if you haven’t committed or are not committing a crime???

    Next, “…any knife having an automatic spring release device by which the blade is released from the handle…” A spring assist does not release the blade from the handle. Your thumb or finger does and the spring assists after about 30 degrees of opening. So as I see it, spring assists are ok.

    Just my thoughts.

  3. #3
    In addition, I would like to say that the Wave feature is neither a device nor a case.

    The definition of device is: a thing made for a particular purpose; an invention or contrivance, esp. a mechanical or electrical one

    The Emerson wave feature is part of the blade and shouldn't fit under Device or Case.

  4. #4
    Thanks for the comments. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

    Lil' Foo: The 1 1/2" phrase is poorly written, as are many of MA gun and knife laws.
    I believe that the intent was for that length to apply only to the switchblades. Popular opinion also seems to bear that out. It would be nice to get a lawyer's official wording on all of these things.

    Nilaman: The Wave feature I have never seen addressed before with respect to MA law. I agree that it does not seems to fall into the category of either a "device" or a "case", but the lawyers will need to interpret it.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Shoe City of Champions
    If the phrase in question on blade length was intended to mean a limit of 1.5" on all knives, it does not stand to reason that individual cities would have their own local limits at longer lengths like Boston does (at 3" I believe). I agree that with the interpretation that there is no length restriction on knives that are not automatics.

    As for the wave, I could certainly see it being argued as illegal by a prosector and, on the other side, not prohibited to specific enough degree by a knife owner.
    ~ Nate

    Interested in old Camillus and related brands.

  6. #6
    As for the wave, I could certainly see it being argued as illegal by a prosector and, on the other side, not prohibited to specific enough degree by a knife owner.
    I agree with that. The person probably would not get convicted, but may spend a fortune on lawyer fees.

    My goal is to carry what I want while avoiding going to court altogether.

  7. #7
    50 dollars OR 2.5 years? wtf?

  8. #8
    well, this is a very informative forum, much appreciated. does anyone know anything about the legality of fixed-blade knives in MA?

  9. #9
    Fixed blade knives are fine. There should be no problem with blade length, just make sure it does not have double edges.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Massachusetts - hence the "in MA"
    I can't find the answer to this one: Are Karambits (with that single "steel knuckle - oy!) illegal??? I'd like a hawkbill with a Wave-type feature in it, but dang is that hard to find. Emerson makes one non-karambit hawkbill and the thing isn't set to grab like a karambit.


  11. #11
    I thought about the karambit issue myself and even though the law states "metallic knuckles" in the plural, not "metallic knuckle" in the singular you are probably in a gray area of the law based on wording, although the effect of the ring on the karambit would be very damaging to flesh and bone in that sense.

  12. #12
    so a folding knife like the Benchmade Pika and the NRA tactical would be fine? since they're folding knives with thumbholes but no spring release or anything.
    I even looked up the General Laws of Massachusetts, and it doesnt say anything about blade length limit whatsoever when it comes to non spring loaded knives.
    Last edited by zackzeal; 03-27-2007 at 01:28 PM.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Massachusetts - hence the "in MA"
    Thumbholes and thumbstuds are fine. Even spring-assisted is OK in MA.

    NOTE: THat don't mean some cop DOESN'T but your butt in a bind. As you are aware, self-defense laws in MA are not well known - esp. by police. Look at the gun laws changed in 1997. You STILL have cops 10 years later that don't understand it.

    One officer told a friend of mine he can never have a long gun in his car. Never. Ever. "What about going to the range?" PAUSE "Nope. Law says you can't have a long gun in your car. Period."

    Plus the ambiguity of most of the laws. Like "under control" for handguns in your car. What is "under control???" Each officer and force has a different definition. Same with knife laws. You may get busted but be 100% in the right. Just know that going in. Hence my reluctance in getting a Karambit in the first place. The curve is fine, although most beat-cops might have an issue with it's "scariness." The "wave" is probably fine and most cops wouldn't realize it anyhoo. (These were laws passed in the 60's and the types of knives it banned are rarely used now.) But the fingerhole? Hmmmmm. "You could punch a guy with that." "Why would I punch him if 3" away I've got a BLADE that will do FAR more damage???"

    Gotta love this state.

  14. #14
    I would say that spring assisted is still a gray area and you may be asking for trouble as with the ring on the karambit. Blade length and thumb studs etc are not an issue, there are plenty of intelligent police officers out there, unfortunately as in any profession there are those that slip through the cracks, but in my opinion the latter is the minority.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Goodbye Four Corners, Hello Plymouth Rock
    A bit off topic, but I think the Boston carry limit is 2.5 inches, with some loopholes. Can't find a good link right now, but AKTI posts a revised copy of 2001 legislation:

  16. #16
    if the blade limit is 2.5 inches, then how about swiss army knives? some of them have blades that measure more than 2.5 inches.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Massachusetts - hence the "in MA"
    We never said Boston laws were intelligent, only that they were laws.

  18. #18
    Sorry to dig up an old thread for my first post.

    But has anybody been able to get clarification on the laws? I would like to purchase a non-automatic, folding, ~3" blade knife like a benchmade as groomsmen gifts for my wedding, and I was just wondering about what the laws were regarding owning and carrying.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Soon to be Bethesda, MD. for 13 weeks
    Yup, Boston IS 2.5 inches.

  20. #20
    Boston is 2.5", but is everywhere else in MA 1.5"? All these laws are just for carrying on your person or in a vehicle correct?

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