Washington D.C. Knife Laws

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The capitol of the United States is not quite as hard on knives as it is on guns. Citizens are still allowed to openly carry or concealed carry the majority of knives so long as they do so with some discretion and are willing to contend with a list of restricted places that is as long as your arm.

The only kinds of knives that are outright banned in Washington D.C. are knuckle knives and switchblades.

Washington DC flag

One may legally carry openly any knife with a utilitarian purpose that is not a switchblade or knuckle knife, or carry concealed any knife that is not a switchblade, knuckle knife or some other deadly or dangerous weapon.

It is far from green grass and clear skies for knife owners in Washington D.C., but it is not the most restrictive place in the land. We will provide you with a summary of D.C.’s knife laws below and also include the exact text of the relevant statutes at the end for you to review yourself.

What You Need to Know

  • What Kind of Knives Can I Own?: Any kind of knife except a switchblade or knuckle knife.
  • Can I Carry a Knife Concealed Without a Permit?: Yes, except an illegal knife or “deadly or dangerous weapon”.
  • Can I Carry a Knife Concealed With a Permit?: N/A
  • Can I Carry a Knife Openly?: Yes, so long as it is a knife with a “utilitarian purpose” and not an illegal category of knife.

General Ownership

Washington D.C. band outright the possession any switchblade knife or any knuckle weapon, which would presumably apply to any knife that has an integrated knuckleduster or oversized D-type handguard which can be used as a secondary striking implement.

The statues also say that no person may possess with unlawful intent to use against another any dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto or any knife with a blade longer than 3 inches or any other dangerous weapon.

This is getting into tricky territory. Any kind of switchblade with any other characteristics is expressly illegal in Washington D.C., but nominally any of the other listed types of knives are legal so long as they are not possessed with unlawful intent.

Now, a strict “literalist” interpretation is that you may possess any other kind of knife you please because you do not have any intentions of doing anything illegal with it.

But Washington D.C. is a very liberal area and one that is definitelynot pro-Second Amendment. You might be skirting the line if you choose to carry any knife that could be definitively slotted into one of those categories.

If you are wise, you will hedge your bets by carrying as plain and ordinary a folding pocket knife as possible, and keeping the blade length below 3 inches.

Concealed Carry, No Permit

You may not carry on or about your person any knife that is classified as a deadly or dangerous weapon, nor may you carry any switchblade knife or knife with integrated knuckleduster handguard.

What is a deadly or dangerous weapon? The statutes do not define the term in the singular or plural.

Since Washington D.C. has a proud and checkered history of Prosecuting weapons violations, and the penalties for those violations are quite strict in the district, you would be well advised to carry as ordinary a folding pocket knife as possible while also taking care to keep the blade length below 3 in.

Using this methodology you can at least be assured that your chosen knife does not fit obviously into any of the prohibited categories.

Concealed Carry, With Permit

Washington D.C. makes no distinction between carrying a knife with a permit as opposed to without. A concealed weapons permit will only grant additional permissions to people who are carrying a firearm, not a knife.

Open Carry

You may openly carry any knife in the district that has a strict utilitarian purpose and is not an otherwise illegal category of knife. Do so only with the greatest possible discretion, as aggressive policing and harsh penalties for violations of knife-related statutes means you might be punished unduly if a scene results from your carrying of any knife.

Prohibited Places

You may not carry any knife into any property that is under the control of or run by the District of Columbia. You may also not carry any knife onto the grounds of a school or into any school structure or into any recreation zone.

The reader is also advised not to carry any knife into or onto private property that has banned the entrance of firearms.

Assessment

Washington D.C. is not as restrictive as some people imagine, but it is still plenty restrictive enough, and has correspondingly harsh penalties for violators of its knife statutes.

You still have access to a variety of knives in D.C., but due to loose wording of the statutes you will be advised to keep your selection on the more mundane or pedestrian side of the scale.

One must also be cautious where you take your knife while in the district since many places forbid the carrying of knives completely.

22–4501. Definitions

(3) “Knuckles” means an object, whether made of metal, wood, plastic, or other similarly durable material that is constructed of one piece, the outside part of which is designed to fit over and cover the fingers on a hand and the inside part of which is designed to be gripped by the fist.

(6A) “Place of business” shall have the same meaning as provided in § 7-2501.01(12A).

(7) “Playground” means any facility intended for recreation, open to the public, and with any portion of the facility that contains one or more separate apparatus intended for the recreation of children, including, but not limited to, sliding boards, swingsets, and teeterboards.

(9) “Sell” and “purchase” and the various derivatives of such words shall be construed to include letting on hire, giving, lending, borrowing, and otherwise transferring.

22–4504. Carrying concealed weapons; possession of weapons during commission of crime of violence; penalty.

(a) No person shall carry within the District of Columbia either openly or concealed on or about their person, a pistol, without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law, or any deadly or dangerous weapon. Whoever violates this section shall be punished as provided in § 22-4515, except that:

(1) A person who violates this section by carrying a pistol, without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law, or any deadly or dangerous weapon, in a place other than the person’s dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person, shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both; or

(2) If the violation of this section occurs after a person has been convicted in the District of Columbia of a violation of this section or of a felony, either in the District of Columbia or another jurisdiction, the person shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

(a-1) Except as otherwise permitted by law, no person shall carry within the District of Columbia a rifle or shotgun. A person who violates this subsection shall be subject to the criminal penalties set forth in subsection (a)(1) and (2) of this section.

(b) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess a pistol, machine gun, shotgun, rifle, or any other firearm or imitation firearm while committing a crime of violence or dangerous crime as defined in § 22-4501. Upon conviction of a violation of this subsection, the person may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not to exceed 15 years and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a mandatory-minimum term of not less than 5 years and shall not be released on parole, or granted probation or suspension of sentence, prior to serving the mandatory-minimum sentence.

(c) In addition to any other penalty provided under this section, a person may be fined an amount not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01.

22–4514. Possession of certain dangerous weapons prohibited; exceptions.

(a) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess any machine gun, sawed-off shotgun, knuckles, or any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, sand club, sandbag, switchblade knife, nor any instrument, attachment, or appliance for causing the firing of any firearm to be silent or intended to lessen or muffle the noise of the firing of any firearms; provided, however, that machine guns, or sawed-off shotgun, knuckles, and blackjacks may be possessed by the members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps of the United States, the National Guard, or Organized Reserves when on duty, the Post Office Department or its employees when on duty, marshals, sheriffs, prison or jail wardens, or their deputies, policemen, or other duly-appointed law enforcement officers, including any designated civilian employee of the Metropolitan Police Department, or officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry such weapons, banking institutions, public carriers who are engaged in the business of transporting mail, money, securities, or other valuables, wholesale dealers and retail dealers licensed under § 22-4510.

(b) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess, with intent to use unlawfully against another, an imitation pistol, or a dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, or other dangerous weapon.

(c) Whoever violates this section shall be punished as provided in § 22-4515 unless the violation occurs after such person has been convicted in the District of Columbia of a violation of this section, or of a felony, either in the District of Columbia or in another jurisdiction, in which case such person shall be imprisoned for not more than 10 years.

(d) In addition to any other penalty provided under this section, a person may be fined an amount not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01.

§ 22–4505. Exceptions to § 22-4504.

(a) The provisions of §§ 22-4504(a) and 22-4504(a-1) shall not apply to:

(1) Marshals, sheriffs, prison or jail wardens, or their deputies, policemen or other duly appointed law enforcement officers, including special agents of the Office of Tax and Revenue, authorized in writing by the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the Office of Tax and Revenue to carry a firearm while engaged in the performance of their official duties, and criminal investigators of the Office of the Inspector General, designated in writing by the Inspector General, while engaged in the performance of their official duties;

(2) Special police officers and campus police officers who carry a firearm in accordance with D.C. Official Code § 5-129.02, and rules promulgated pursuant to that section;

(3) Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps of the United States or of the National Guard or Organized Reserves when on duty, or to the regularly enrolled members of any organization duly authorized to purchase or receive such weapons from the United States; provided, that such members are at or are going to or from their places of assembly or target practice;

(4) Officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry a concealed pistol;

(5) Any person engaged in the business of manufacturing, repairing, or dealing in firearms, or the agent or representative of any such person having in his or her possession, using, or carrying a pistol in the usual or ordinary course of such business; and

(6) Any person while carrying a pistol, transported in accordance with § 22-4504.02, from the place of purchase to his or her home or place of business or to a place of repair or back to his or her home or place of business or in moving goods from one place of abode or business to another, or to or from any lawful recreational firearm-related activity.

(b) The provisions of § 22-4504(a) with respect to pistols shall not apply to a police officer who has retired from the Metropolitan Police Department, if the police officer has registered a pistol and it is concealed on or about the police officer.

(c) For the purposes of subsection (a)(6) of this section, the term “recreational firearm-related activity” includes a firearms training and safety class.

22–4503.02. Prohibition of firearms from public or private property.

(a) The District of Columbia may prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms on its property and any property under its control.

(b) Private persons or entities owning property in the District of Columbia may prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms on their property; provided, that this subsection shall not apply to law enforcement personnel when lawfully authorized to enter onto private property.

22–4502.01. Gun free zones; enhanced penalty.

(a) All areas within, 1000 feet of an appropriately identified public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, playground, video arcade, youth center, or public library, or in and around public housing as defined in section 3(1) of the United States Housing Act of 1937, approved August 22, 1974 (88 Stat. 654; 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)), the development or administration of which is assisted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or in or around housing that is owned, operated, or financially assisted by the District of Columbia Housing Authority, or an event sponsored by any of the above entities shall be declared a gun free zone. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “appropriately identified” means that there is a sign that identifies the building or area as a gun free zone.

(b) Any person illegally carrying a gun within a gun free zone shall be punished by a fine up to twice that otherwise authorized to be imposed, by a term of imprisonment up to twice that otherwise authorized to be imposed, or both.

(c) The provisions of this section shall not apply to a person legally licensed to carry a firearm in the District of Columbia who lives or works within 1000 feet of a gun free zone or to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps of the United States; the National Guard or Organized Reserves when on duty; the Post Office Department or its employees when on duty; marshals, sheriffs, prison, or jail wardens, or their deputies; policemen or other duly-appointed law enforcement officers; officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry such weapons; banking institutions; public carriers who are engaged in the business of transporting mail, money, securities, or other valuables; and licensed wholesale or retail dealers.


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