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Tennessee knife laws


knife law moderator
Dec 25, 1998
Here is our law as copied from the Tennessee Codes Annotated
39-17-1307 Unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon- (a)(1) A person commits an offense who carries with the intent to go armed a firearm,a knife with a blade length exceeding four inches (4"), or a club.
(2) An offense under section (a)(1) is a class C misdemeanor, except it is a class A misdemeanor if the person's carrying of a handgun occurred at a place open to the public where one (1) or more persons were present.

A class C misdemeanor , not greater than 30 days or a fine not to exceed $50, or both.

OK two important things. It does not differentiate between folders and fixed blades. Any knife with a blade excedding 4". These things are only illegal if you carry them with the intent to go armed. If there is probable cause to believe you are carrying it with the intent to go armed you can be arrested. Probable Cause are facts or circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe a crime has been committed. It takes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to get convicted. If you are carrying a blade over 4" in Tennessee you need to be able to show that you are not carrying it with intent to go armed. That is as a weapon. You need to articulate that it is a tool or you could be charged.

Also autos are illegal unless you are in the military or are a LEO. That is under 39-17-1302.


Oh, where it all that clear and simple. I have contacted local LEO, the Knox County DA's office and local Knoxville knife stores trying to get a reading on carrying autos. The lawyers always worse case it so the answer is "no way" can you even OWN let alone carry. They also cited other codes that specifically mentioned that you couldn't own, possess, or even transport autos. The police reply was "don't worry about it, everyone has one"
The store owners tell you it's "perfectly ok, I think."
In a recent trip to a local retailer that caters to LEOs I asked about carrying a fixed or folder (no auto) in my car. The reply was "size does not matter as long as you don't remove it from the vehicle. All this just makes one's head hurt. I believe you must make a well-considered judgement of why and what you firmly believe you need to do and go for it. Just be grown up enough about it to accept the consequences should they be distasteful.
39-17-1302 Prohibited weapons- (a) A person commits an offense who intentionally or knowingly possesses, manufactures, transports, repairs or sells:
(1) An explosive or explosive weapon
(2) A device principally designed, made or adapted for delivering or shooting an explosive weapon;
(3) A machine gun;
(4) A short barrell rifle or shotgun;
(5) A switchblade knife or knuckles; or
(6) Any other implement for infliction of serious bodily injury or death which has no common lawful purpose.

section (b)(1) says it is a defense if you are using it in your official duty as a LEO or military.

section (c)It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section which the person must prove by a preponderence of the evidence that:
(1) The persons conduct was relative to dealing with the weapon soley as a curio, ornament or keepsake, and if the weapon is a type described in subdivisions (a)(1)-(5), that it was in a nonfunctioning condition and could not readily be made operable; or
(2) the possession was brief and occurred as a consequence of having found the weapon or taken it from an aggressor.

(d)(1)An offense under subdivisions (a)(1)-(5) is a class E felony
(2) An offense under subdivision (a)(6)-(7) is a class A misdemeanor.

A class A misdemeanor is not more than 11 months 29 days in jail or a fine not to exceed $2500 or both.

A preponderence of the evidence in non legal terms means just enough to tip the scales. Think of it as a 51% chance that you didnt do it.

So you can have a switchblade if in a preponderence of the evidence you can say it is a curio, ornament or keepsake. Vasically you can have one at home but you cant carry one on you.

I am a police officer in Knoxville. Our DA's office is basically pathetic. They didnt know and were too lazy to look it up for you, neither of which surprises me.


That's great info, I wish I had had this "converstaion" earlier. Please give me your opinion of the store owner's comment that"size really doesn't matter as long as you don't take it out of the vehilce." Is he correct?
A few years ago I was in an accident. I had a very diificult time extracting myself from my seat belt which closed tightly around me. The car was smoking and I thiught I was going to be cooked, nearly freaked. Since then I've had an Applegate/Fairbairn, combat folder (partial serration) in the car where I can hopefully get at it should the situation ever recurr. If I get stopped for a traffic violation in Knoxville and the officer spots the knife do I have a problem?
You could have a problem. Its called constructive possession. An officer can "frisk" your car for weapons. This means that an officer can look in your vehicle wherever you can easily access a weapon. For example under your seat. If a weapon was found under your seat or anywhere else easily accessed you are constructively possessing the weapon. Of course the oficer would have to articulate a reasonable suspicion as to why he frisked your car. A reasonable suspicion is anything that would make a reasonable person suspicious.

Of course the real issue with the knife is do you have the intent to go armed? I jailed someone because he had a baseball bat next to his seat. I asked him what it was and he spontaneously uttered "protection" Bingo he had intent to go armed. Of course he was a gang banger that had been involved in several drive by shootings. On the other hand I put a guy in jail for suspended license and searched his car incident to arrest. It was a work truck. It had a toolbox in back and several tools in the cab. There was also a fixed blade with a 6" blade. To me it was a tool.

Do I think you would have a problem? Probably not. The whole intent to go armed thing must be taken with the totality of circumstances. It really depends on the situation.

I hate to be vague like that. I wish the law was more cut and dried than intent to go armed. Of course the 4" limit sucks. Just ask yourself if you intend to go armed or better yet would a reasonable person think you are going armed? But what is a reasonable person these days.


Shootist: I'm back again with another question, please.

Does the "intent to go armed" condition apply only to knives that exceed 4 inches or to all knives? are you open to the charge if you carry a knife under 4 inches in a concealed manner?

Another LEO suggested that if a pocket clip is visible he doen't consider that "concealed." Interested in your view.
Thanks again
Concealing isn't illegal. Only the intent to go armed. Any blade of 4" or less is O.K. and cant be considered a weapon.