Quick Legal Facts
The concealed carry law contains an exception for "an ordinary pocket knife." See discussion.
It is unlawful to sell or furnish a "bowie knife" or "dirk" to a minor.
Knives may not be possessed openly or concealed on school grounds.
At a Glance:
The primary statute in North Carolina on the topic of carrying knives is § 14-269, which provides that the concealed carry of knives, except on one’s own premises, is unlawful. There is an exception for ‘ordinary’ pocket knives which is discussed more in more detail below.
14-269. Carrying concealed weapons
14-269.1. Confiscation and disposition of deadly weapons
14-269.2. Weapons on campus or other educational property
14-269.4. Weapons on certain State property and in courthouses
14-269.6. Possession and sale of spring-loaded projectile knives prohibited
14-277.2. Weapons at parades, etc., prohibited
It is unlawful for anyone, including police officers, to manufacture, sell, possess or carry any ‘ballistic knife’. There is a narrow exception whereby law enforcement officials may possess such knives for evidentiary or training purposes.
Open carry is required, and lawful, for all knives except ‘ordinary’ pocketknives which may be concealed. There is an exception which allows concealed carry for weapons in general at state-owned rest areas, rest stops along the highways, and State-owned hunting and fishing reservations. § 14-269.4 (5)
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
It is unlawful to sell or furnish a “bowie knife” or “dirk” to a minor § 14-315. It is also unlawful to sell or transfer a ballistic knife.
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
It is unlawful to possess or carry, openly or concealed, any bowie knife, switchblade, dirk, dagger or other pointed or sharp-edged instrument on school property. It also unlawful to cause, encourage, or aid any minor to do so. School property includes K through 12, trade schools, colleges and universities. § 14-269.2
It is unlawful to possess any weapons, except an ‘ordinary’ pocketknife, at any demonstration, parade, picket line, or funeral procession on private hospital grounds or on state or municipal owned property. § 14-277.2
It is lawful to possess an ‘ordinary’ pocketknife in the State Capitol Building or the grounds thereof. All weapons are prohibited from the state Executive Mansion and most other government buildings to include court facilities. § 14-269.4
Major North Carolina Cities with Knife Restrictive Ordinances:
Asheville – None noted.
Charlotte – §15-14. – Possession of dangerous weapons. Knives with a blade longer than 3 ½ inches prohibited on city owned property to include Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Greensboro – § 18-25. – Deadly weapons prohibited. All knives, except ‘ordinary’ pocketknives prohibited on public buildings or parks.
Raleigh – None noted.
Ordinary Pocket Knife
Sub-part (d) of § 14-269 provides the ‘ordinary pocket knife’ exception to the concealed carry prohibition, and the criteria of what is required to come within the exception:
This section does not apply to an ordinary pocket knife carried in a closed position. As used in this section, “ordinary pocket knife” means a small knife, designed for carrying in a pocket or purse, that has its cutting edge and point entirely enclosed by its handle, and that may not be opened by a throwing, explosive, or spring action.
The only appellate level examination of the definition of ordinary pocket knife in North Carolina arose from the issue of whether the knife in question was small enough. In Matter of Dale B, 385 S.E. 2d 521 (1989), a juvenile was adjudged delinquent for carrying a concealed knife. (Since it was a juvenile proceeding only the initial letter of his last name appears in the caption and he is referred to as ’respondent’). He appealed the finding of delinquency based on possession of a concealed weapon:
Respondent does not contend that he was not carrying the knife concealed about his person while off his own premises. His sole contention is that the knife he was carrying is an “ordinary pocket knife” as defined by the statute. We agree.
The only aspect of the charge at issue before the trial court was the size of the knife. The trial court did not agree that the knife was a small knife. Respondent’s knife was about four and one-half inches in overall length, when folded, clearly designed for carrying in a pocket or purse. We hold that because the knife in question was an “ordinary pocket knife” as defined by the statute, that charge should have been dismissed.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals correctly looked at the elements of the definition which are:
- Designed for carrying in a purse or pocket,
- Cutting edge and point entirely enclosed by the handle,
- May not be opened by a throwing, explosive, or spring action.
If a knife fits into a purse or pocket, it logically follows that it was designed to be carried as such. A knife with an exposed cutting edge or point is neither safe, nor suitably designed, for pocket carry or being placed in a purse along with the typical impedimenta carried therein.
(Opened by a Throwing or Explosive Action)
While elements 1 and 2 as listed above are straight forward, element 3 is ambiguous.
What is intended by ‘opened by a throwing action’ is susceptible to multiple meanings. It could reasonably be interpreted to denote a knife that opens upon being launched or thrown from the hand. Alternatively, throwing action might have been intended to refer to a flicking arm movement to open a knife by inertia. Either option is plausible. One might suggest that pocket knives opened by throwing are unheard of, and therefore ‘gravity’ knives are the intended target. However, pocket knives opened by ‘explosive’ action are similarly unheard of. It may be that the North Carolina legislature intended to set a very high bar as to what is not an ordinary pocket knife. In any event, the meaning is ambiguous.
(Opened by a Spring Action)
North Carolina law, § 14-269.2, captioned Weapons on campus or other educational property, concerns weapons which cannot be possessed on school property. It expressly includes ‘switchblade’ knives among the weapons prohibited on the educational property and provides the following definition:
Switchblade knife. — A knife containing a blade that opens automatically by the release of a spring or a similar contrivance.
Statutes on the same subject are to be interpreted in light of each other according to a well-established legal principle usually expressed in Latin as in para materia. In other words, there should be some ‘harmony’ between the meaning of ‘switchblade’ as defined in § 14-269.2, and what is meant by ‘opened by a spring action’, as appears in § 14-269. While both refer to pocketknives and include the critical word ‘spring’, there is no logical consistency. If the North Carolina legislature intended to exclude ‘switchblade’ knives from the ‘ordinary pocket knife’ exception, it would be expected to use the same wording. ‘Opened by a spring action’ could apply to types of knives generally recognized as unrestricted in many States.
- We cannot state with a reasonable degree of confidence whether, for instance, assisted opening knives that by design have a bias toward closure qualify as ‘ordinary pocket knives’ under North Carolina law.1 Accordingly, we recommend a conservative and cautious approach to selection of a pocket knife to be carried in North Carolina. We do believe that manual one-hand operable folding knives may lawfully be carried concealed in North Carolina.
(About the Person)
Although the caption of § 14-269 refers to ‘carrying’, it is not necessary that the weapon be on the person, but rather about the person and close enough for ready access. For persons occupying a motor vehicle, a handgun under the driver’s seat is sufficiently close. A weapon out of immediate reach of the driver is generally not considered ‘concealed about the person.’ In the case of State v Soles, 662 S.E.2d 564 (2008), the North Carolina Supreme Court addressed the issue of proximity of the weapon. The defendant, a convicted felon, was driving a van when stopped by a law enforcement officer who found a loaded handgun concealed in a backpack in the rear of the van. The defendant was charged and convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and for carrying a concealed weapon. The Court noted that there was no evidence indicating that the driver had ready access to the handgun and reversed the concealed weapon conviction.
This same reasoning and standard would apply to a knife. Essentially, concealed about the person means hidden from the view of others in such a way that it may be quickly used if prompted by a violent motive. State v Hill, 741 S.E.2d 911 (2013).
(Pocket Clip Carry)
An issue with most concealed carry prohibitions is to what extent the item must be visible. There is, unfortunately very little guidance from the statute itself, or the courts in North Carolina on this point. Whether pocket clip carry is exposure such that the knife will not be considered concealed is a question we are often asked, but which is dependent on the facts of each case and can only be answered by a North Carolina jury.
(State owned highway rest stops § 14-269.4 (5))
Across the country, rest stops along the Interstate highway network have been attractive locations where criminals can prey upon vulnerable travelers. The North Carolina legislature has wisely allowed people to better protect themselves and to discourage criminals by allowing possession of weapons, openly or concealed, at state owned rest areas and rest stops along the highways. The allowance of concealed carry discourages those who might waylay by creating the uncertainty that random victim might be armed. It is somewhat the opposite of a ‘gun free zone’ / ‘weapon free zone’ where a criminal has little fear of armed opposition.
The § 14-269 (b1) Affirmative Defense
The existence of an affirmative defense as provided in sub-part (b1) of § 14-269, may explain the scarcity of appellate level reported cases in North Carolina on the interpretation of the ‘ordinary pocket knife’, or degrees of concealment as mentioned above. Successful use of the defense may have eliminated the need for appellate review where concealment is the only criminality. Sub-part (b1) provides a defense to one prosecuted under § 14-269, the concealed carry statute if:
(1) The weapon was not a firearm;
(2) The defendant was engaged in, or on the way to or from, an activity in which he legitimately used the weapon;
(3) The defendant possessed the weapon for that legitimate use; and
(4) The defendant did not use or attempt to use the weapon for an illegal purpose.
The burden of proving this defense is on the defendant.
Items (1) through (4) are conjunctive, meaning all must be true, and the burden of proving each of them is upon the defendant. Sub-part (b1) does not mean that one cannot be charged with a criminal violation if items (1) through (4) are true. It means that if one is charged and can prove at trial the truth of the requisite items, he has established a defense to the charge. That is why it is referred to as an ‘affirmative defense’.
Law Enforcement – Military
There are numerous exceptions to § 14-269 set forth at sub-part (b):
(b) This prohibition shall not apply to the following persons:
(1) Officers and enlisted personnel of the Armed Forces of the United States when in discharge of their official duties as such and acting under orders requiring them to carry arms and weapons;
(2) Civil and law enforcement officers of the United States;
(3) Officers and soldiers of the militia and the National Guard when called into actual service;
(4) Officers of the State, or of any county, city, town, or company police agency charged with the execution of the laws of the State, when acting in the discharge of their official duties;
There are additional qualified or limited exceptions for state or local employees or officers of the judicial system including law enforcement and corrections officers in subparts (4a) through (4e) and off duty law enforcement and probation officers at sub-parts (5) and (6).
1See ‘Understanding Bias Toward Closure’ on the AKTI website
Updated August 19, 2019 by Daniel C. Lawson