We’ve seen a lot of misinformation about the legality of butterfly knives, also known as Balisongs. Other sites have written that Balisongs are illegal in states like Texas, Wisconsin, Utah, and Kansas.
These claims are false. Let’s correct the record and review butterfly knife laws.
- Are Butterfly Knives Illegal Under Federal Law?
- Butterfly Knives Are Illegal In These States
- Butterfly Knives Are Legal In These States (and Elsewhere)
Disclaimer: We’re not lawyers. Laws change, and this guide isn’t legal advice. Check your local and state laws before attempting to buy, possess, or carry any knife or weapon.
Are Butterfly Knives Illegal Under Federal Law?
No. The belief that Balisongs are illegal under federal law is a myth. Sort of like the myth that automatic knives are illegal (they aren’t, either).
The Federal Switchblade Act considers butterfly knives to be switchblades. The Act says switchblades can’t be possessed on certain federal property and territories.
These are the only places where butterfly knives are illegal under federal law:
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
- Northern Marianas
- U.S. Navy vessels
- Government and commercial aircraft
Butterfly Knives Are Illegal In These States
Some states have copied the Federal Switchblade Act, and consider butterfly knives to be switchblades. So, you will see the term “switchblade” used in the relevant statute or criminal code below, instead of “butterfly knife,” “gravity knife,” or “Balisong.”
“Every person who does any of the following with a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor:
(a) Possesses the knife in the passenger’s or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public.
(b) Carries the knife upon the person.
(c) Sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives the knife to any other person.”
California considers butterfly knives to be switchblades. This was decided by the Court of Appeals of California in 1989, in a case against a knife seller named John Quattrone. Since butterfly knives aren’t manufactured with blades shorter than two inches, they are illegal in California.
“Whoever knowingly manufactures, sells, transfers, possesses, or transports in the State any butterfly knife, being a knife having a blade encased in a split handle that manually unfolds with hand or wrist action with the assistance of inertia, gravity or both, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
“Whoever knowingly possesses or intentionally uses or threatens to use a butterfly knife while engaged in the commission of a crime shall be guilty of a class C felony.”
“Unlawful possession of switchblades consists of any person, either manufacturing, causing to be manufactured, possessing, displaying, offering, selling, lending, giving away or purchasing any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in the handle of the knife, or any knife having a blade which opens or falls or is ejected into position by the force of gravity or by any outward or centrifugal thrust or movement.“
“Whoever commits unlawful possession of switchblades is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.”
“Every person who: Manufactures, sells, or disposes of or possesses any instrument or weapon of the kind usually known as slungshot, sand club, or metal knuckles, or spring blade knife; Furtively carries with intent to conceal any dagger, dirk, pistol, or other dangerous weapon; or uses any contrivance or device for suppressing the noise of any firearm unless the suppressor is legally registered and possessed in accordance with federal law, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW.
“‘Spring blade knife’ means any knife, including a prototype, model, or other sample, with a blade that is automatically released by a spring mechanism or other mechanical device, or any knife having a blade which opens, or falls, or is ejected into position by the force of gravity, or by an outward, downward, or centrifugal thrust or movement.“
Butterfly Knives Are Legal In These States (and Elsewhere)
Other sites have said butterfly knives are illegal to own in the states below. Those claims are incorrect.
It is legal to own any type of knife in Texas.
Butterfly knives are considered switchblades in Texas. The state once banned the ownership of switchblades and categorized some blades as “illegal knives.” But in 2017, Texas passed H.B. No. 1935. This eliminated “illegal knife” distinctions and made Balisongs, switchblades, and all others knives legal to own.
It is legal to own any type of knife in Utah.
Ownership of a butterfly knife or any other knife is only prohibited if you are a restricted person as defined by state law. Restricted persons are defined by Utah Criminal Code 76-10-503, which generally includes anyone convicted of a felony.
It is legal to own any type of knife in Nevada.
In 2015, Senate Bill No. 176 was passed. It removed switchblades and other knives from Nevada’s list of prohibited weapons.
The state outlaws the possession of blackjacks, slungshots, billy clubs, brass knuckles, and certain other non-bladed weapons defined by Nevada Revised Statute 202.350.
It is legal to own any type of knife in South Carolina.
However, it is illegal to possess a knife with a blade over two inches long while on school property, as stated in Section 16-23-430 of South Carolina’s 1976 Code.
It is legal to own any type of knife in Maine.
State law only prohibits “display[ing] knives in a threatening manner” in public. Previously, §1055 (Page 179) of the Maine Criminal Code outlawed the possession and distribution of “dangerous knives,” which included switchblades, Balisongs, and auto knives.
But this knife ban was repealed in 2015 when LD 264, “An Act To Restore the Right To Possess Certain Knives That Are Used by Many Citizens as Tools,” was signed by the Governor.
It is legal to own any type of knife in Wisconsin.
Possession of a switchblade or Balisong was once illegal (Wisconsin Statute 941.24). But in 2016, Assembly Bill 142 was signed into law by the Governor as Wisconsin Act 149. The Act repealed this ban. It also removed restrictions on the concealed carry of knives.
Individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm are still prohibited from carrying a knife in Wisconsin.
Most knives are legal to own in Kansas, including Balisongs.
The state once outlawed switchblades, auto knives, and gravity knives under KSA Section 21-6301 (a). But these bans were repealed in 2013. Now, state law instead prohibits the sale and possession of ballistics knives, throwing stars, billy clubs, blackjacks, slungshots, brass knuckles, and certain other deadly weapons as defined by KSA Section 21-6302 (a).
It is legal to own any type of knife in in Pennsylvania.
Some mistake Pennsylvania’s ban against possessing a switchblade to mean that butterfly knives are also illegal. This is not true. With the passage of House Bill 1929, Pennsylvania is also repealing its switchblade ban on January 2nd, 2023.
Most knives are legal to own in New York, including Balisongs.
On May 30, 2019, New York repealed its ban on gravity knives, which includes Balisongs. Switchblades, ballistic knives, cane swords, throwing stars, and bladed knuckles are still illegal to possess under Penal Law 265.01(1).
It is legal to own any type of knife in West Virginia.
West Virginia defines all knives as “Dangerous Weapons.” But no knives are illegal to possess under state law. They’re merely restricted from being possessed by anyone under the age of 18, as stated in West Virginia Code §61-7-3.
Anyone between 18 and 21 years of age needs a license to carry a knife. Anyone 21 and older can carry a knife, or “Dangerous Weapon,” including a butterfly knife. Carrying a knife on school property and certain other state properties (like courthouses) is prohibited.
Generally, Balisongs and gravity knives are legal in all other states not listed above. Some publications have simply not updated their articles and guides with the latest laws, some of which have repealed statewide bans.
Like we said, always check your local and state laws to ensure you’re up to date on what types of blades you can’t (or perhaps can now) own.