Pennsylvania State Knife Laws (Updated 2022): Is it Legal to Carry a Knife?

This article was updated after November 23rd 2021 when the state saw major changes in its knife laws. In the past stringent knife laws crippled both users and manufacturers of pocket knives. Now, after years of court wrestling, a piece of legislation was recently introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that has significantly relaxed the regulations on automatic knives in the state.

The Keystone State might have the most uplifting motto of "Pursue Your Happiness but boy it sucked the living daylight out of the common man with its knife laws. There are a plethora of reasons in the 'Coal State' why someone might want to carry a knife - outdoor adventures being one of them. Pennsylvania is a world of hidden treasures waiting to be unearthed. With breathtaking wilderness, golden state park beaches, and a hunting tradition as old as the rocks, there's a good reason why you may want to have a cutter in your sling pack. But can you? As simple and beautiful as the state motto is, the law was far from a 'happy' one. However, that's changed.

But the new knife laws are still laid down in cryptic messages and are hard to decode. In this article, we'll lay the laws down in plain English, so you know what you can and cannot carry on you.

Can I Legally Own An Automatic Knife In Pennsylvania? Knives Legal To Own.

Important to note: Law differentiates between 'owning ' and 'carrying on person’. So being legal to own does not translate into being allowed to carry. Here's what you can own:
  • It is legal to own an automatic knife for lawful purposes
  • It is legal to own a Bowie knife
  • It is legal to own a Balisong, or butterfly knife
  • It is legal to own a penknife
  • It is legal to own a concealed knife, such as in a pen or belt
  • It is legal to own any kind of hunting knife
In past Pennsylvania's knife laws strictly prohibited the possession of automatic knives or switchblades. Rep. Martin Causer introduced HB 1929 which made manufacture, sale and possession a criminal offense. THAT WAS THEN.

NOW, after years of effort, Pennsylvania has been able to remove the prohibition on the manufacture, sale, and possession of automatic knives for good.

“By removing automatic knives from Pennsylvania’s definition of ‘offensive weapons,’ HB 1929 would: (1) allow Pennsylvania retailers and manufacturers to sell these (automatic) knives like their competitors do in neighboring states, benefiting the state’s economy; and (2) allow residents of Pennsylvania to use and own these knives, including outdoors enthusiasts like hikers, hunters, and boaters, as well as tradespeople like contractors, roofers, landscapers, and mechanics, who in 44 other states, use these knives daily for their jobs and outdoor activities.” (1)

When you remove the legal journalese and write the law down in plain English, it seems you can 'own' pretty much all popular knives and even survival knives. BUT WAIT .. here comes the baffling part.

The 'CURIO EXCEPTION

There is this hazy part of the law called the “CURIO EXCEPTION” in Pennsylvania. This says, you can technically own any knife you want, but you have to make a good argument for your purpose in owning the knife. So if you own a 25-inch Japanese katana or an automatic knife, you need a compelling argument. You need to prove that you own it for “lawful” purposes like theatrical purposes, or as a 'curio' in a showcase in your home, office, etc. Unless you have a strong case for owning it, you may violate the law. In fact, a man was charged when carrying his sword that he claimed he just bought and was bringing home. The court didn’t buy it and he was officially charged.

What You CAN and CANNOT Carry

In PA clearly understand what you can and cannot carry to avoid court charges.
  • It is LEGAL to open or conceal carry any hunting knife
  • It is LEGAL to open or conceal carry any knife that does not open automatically and has a lawful purpose
  • It is ILLEGAL to open or conceal carry any knife that comes under “Prohibited offensive weapons”
  • It is ILLEGAL to open or conceal carry any automatic knife
  • It is ILLEGAL to carry any knife on school premises and courthouse buildings
Restricted Knives:
All knives with exposed blades that can be operated by a switch, push button, or assisted by spring mechanism - in other words, all automatic knives and switchblades are 'restricted'.

“Common lawful purpose”
This basically implies that you should have a valid realistic reason for having a knife. This should not be for a unique purpose but a common purpose that is lawful. What that means is, if you're carrying a small, folding knife while fishing, camping, slicing tinder in your backyard, etc. you’re fine. However, if you're carrying multiple automatic knives on your trip to the national park or in some shady neighborhood .. then you've got some explaining to do to the judge.