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Are Butterfly Knives Legal? A Guide to Owning a Butterfly Knife

If you have developed an interest in butterfly knives, you might be kind of perplexed about the seemingly complicated relationship that these knives have with the legal system.

Are butterfly knives legal? The short answer is: it depends.

Why are butterfly knives illegal in some places and not in others? What are the states where butterfly knives are legal? We will take a look at these questions and more in the article that follows.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about butterfly knives and their legality.

What Are Butterfly Knives?

Butterfly knives are also known as balisongs, fan knives, and Batangas knives. Originating in the Philippines, this is a type of folding pocketknife.

What makes butterfly knives distinctive from other pocketknives are the two handles that counterrotating around the shank in a way that conceals the blade when it is closed.

A Brief History of Butterfly Knives

It is not entirely clear where, when, and how butterfly knives originated. There are a number of oral histories that state that butterfly knives were first made around 800 A.D. in the Philippines. Since there is no archaeological evidence or documentation to prove this, the history is not entirely certain.

In the early 1900s, these knives began to be mass-produced.

There is also a theory that the butterfly knives is actually an adaptation of a French tool that was used for measuring. This tool was called the pied du roi and was invented somewhere between the 16th century and the late 18th century. Within this theory, there is no set explanation for how the tool would have been introduced to the Philippines, though some have said that sailors from the Spanish Empire could have introduced the tool.

Whether or not butterfly knives originated in the Philippines, they were certainly perfected there. Over time, butterfly knives got larger and were used not just as tools but also as weapons. The “flipping” techniques, where the knife is opened quickly, are known to have developed in the Philippines as well.

Are you interested in learning the uses, history, and benefits of OTF pocket knives? You can learn more here.

In a number of different countries throughout the world, there are laws against using butterfly knives in public places. Let’s take a look at the laws in some different countries.

United States

In a number of different states in the United States, there are laws against carrying or possessing a butterfly knife in public. In certain states, these guys are classified as gravity knives, switchblades, or daggers.

In the state of California, it is legal to possess an automatic knife if you keep it in your home. However, any nice that has a blade that is more than 2 inches long is illegal to bear or carry.

In Hawaii, it is illegal to possess, manufacture, transfer, or transport butterfly knives. They take this law very seriously and breaking it is punishable by time in prison.

In Oregon, it is illegal to carry butterfly knives in a concealed manner.

In the state of Texas, a butterfly knife is considered a switchblade. It was therefore illegal to possess, manufacture, sale, repair, or transport butterfly knives in the state. However, as of September 2013, switchblades were legalized.

In Utah the law is similar to in the state of Oregon. It is legal to own these knives but you may not conceal or cover them.

It is legal in the state of Illinois to own and possess a balisong or butterfly knife. However, there are laws in the city of Chicago stating that it is illegal to have a concealed knife whose blade is longer than 2.5 inches. It is also illegal to carry gravity knives, automatic switchblades, or concealed double-edged knives.

There were once laws that restricted the possession of butterfly knives in the state of Kansas. As of the summer of 2013, however, these knives and all types of bladed weapons were decriminalized.

It is legal in the state of Indiana to own and carry one of these knives. There are no laws against carrying them in a concealed manner.

In the state of Kentucky, it is legal to carry a butterfly knife either concealed or in the open in any location where they are not otherwise barred from possessing and concealing a deadly weapon. Cities and counties in the state of Kentucky are not able to enact weapons restrictions and laws due to the Constitution of the state as well as revised statutes.

It is legal to have a butterfly knife in the state of Michigan, as this state considers butterfly knives to be “folding knives.”

As long as a butterfly knife does not present an objective threat of danger in the state of Massachusetts, it is legal to be carried both concealed and open. There are, though, some restrictions depending on where the knife is being carried.

It is illegal to possess a butterfly knife in the state of New Mexico. This is because this state considers butterfly knives to be switchblades.

It is unclear whether it is legal or illegal to carry butterfly knives in New Jersey, as the criminal law is ambiguous.

In New York, the law prohibiting gravity knives was deemed unconstitutional. This meant that they decriminalized the possession of gravity knives in 2019. However, they had already determined that butterfly knives were not gravity knives.

It is illegal to conceal carry a butterfly knife in North Dakota though you are allowed to own one and to carry it openly.

In the state of North Carolina, most of the time citizens are free to carry most pocketknives.

It is illegal to conceal carry a butterfly knife in Ohio, but you are allowed to own one and carry it openly.

It is legal to both sell and carry butterfly knives in the state of Maine.

There are not any restrictions in the state of Tennessee against carrying butterfly knives either open or concealed.

According to the state law in Virginia, it is legal to both open carry and conceal carry butterfly knives.

In the state of Washington, these knives are considered “spring blade knives.” This means that one is not legally allowed to sell, possess, dispose of, or manufacture butterfly knives.

Are you looking to buy knives online but aren’t sure where to start? Check out our list of top questions you should ask before shopping for knives online.


In Canada, butterfly knives are considered gravity knives. They are therefore illegal and prohibited in the country. The only exception to this is if you received an exemption before the law was made.


It is illegal to carry, land, trade, give, or buy a butterfly knife in Switzerland.


Butterfly knives were made illegal in Germany after the Erfurt massacre in July 2003. In this country it is illegal to buy, possess, carry, lend, alter, trade, use, or craft butterfly knives.

Being found to be violating these laws in Germany, with some steep penalties. Not only will your knife be confiscated but you also might face a fine of €10,000. On top of that, the violation of these laws can come with 1 to 10 years of jail time.

United Kingdom

Since January 1989, the government of the United Kingdom has classified butterfly knives as offensive weapons. This means that it is illegal to carry them in a public place, though it is permitted to possess them in private.

It is illegal to import, give, sell, or hire butterfly knives in the UK. If a person is caught importing a butterfly knive, it can be seized and the individual can be prosecuted. There is an exemption for knives that are more than one hundred years old, as these are then considered to be antiques.


In Manila, an individual must have the proper identification or permit in order to carry butterfly knives. There are rules in the Philippines that distinguish the difference between a utility knife and a weapon. Utility knives can’t be opened with one hand and the blades are no longer than the length of a palm.

Why Are Butterfly Knives Illegal?

As you can tell from the wide variety of laws governing butterfly knives, there is not a straightforward prospective on whether or not citizens should have the right to carry them. A stigma has been associated with butterfly knives because of their use in crime during the 80s when these knives were imported en masse to the United States from different Asian countries.

Differences and whether or not these knives are illegal has to do with how different states and different countries classify the knives. With some states considering them to be gravity knives, switchblades, or daggers, the knives are then subject to the laws written about those types of knives.

Are You Looking to Build Your Collection of OTF Knives?

As you can see, the answer to the question “are butterfly knives legal?” is quite complicated.

At TacKnivesUSA, we have the highest quality OTF knives you can find. Producing small batches and rigorously tested, you will get the best quality and finish from Tacknives.

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One comment

  1. […] Balisongs also make for a great everyday carry (EDC) tool. Because of its size and concealable blade, you can keep it with you all the time. Take note that this will only be possible if your state permits it. […]

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