In April, Freddie Gray was arrested in West Baltimore for possessing a switchblade knife.
While most of the discourse surrounding this case has focused on police brutality, another important issue has arisen from the case: Knife laws. Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby claims that, under Maryland law, Gray's knife was not illegal. Alternatively, the arresting officers argue that the knife was illegal under Baltimore's ordinance.
With the different knife laws among cities and states, could they both be right?
Varying Knife Laws
Knife laws not only vary from state to state, but also among counties and cities.
Maryland's law states, "A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person." A dangerous weapon is defined as "a dirk knife, bowie knife, switchblade knife, star knife, sandclub, metal knuckles, razor, and nunchaku." A switchblade is defined as a "blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife."
Baltimore's ordinance which also prohibits switchblades is stricter. It defines a switchblade as "any knife with an automatic spring or other device for opening and/or closing the blade."
While it is pretty hard to identify a difference between these laws, knife experts claim that a knife with a spring that helps it open after the user manually opens the knife is different from a switchblade that opens automatically with the press of a button. So a knife that may be illegal under Baltimore's ordinance would not necessarily be illegal under Maryland's law.
To avoid the confusion of different knife laws in different cities or city laws being stricter than state laws, some states have knife preemption laws. This means that only the state is allowed to pass laws regulating knives. Local governments cannot pass knife laws that are stricter than the state's laws.
Currently, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah all have statewide knife preemption laws. A similar law has been proposed in Texas, but has yet to be approved.
So, if you live in a state that does not have a statewide knife preemption law, be sure to check your local laws as well as the state's law before you carry a knife. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help if you've been charged with carrying an illegal knife.
- Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- Was Freddie Gray's knife legal? (CNN)
- What Are the Charges in the Freddie Gray Homicide? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Is It Legal to Carry a Sword in Public? (FindLaw's Blotter)