Quick Legal Facts
Concealment is an issue.
No deadly weapon in a safe school or recreation zone.
At a Glance:
A knife of any sort, other than an “ordinary pocket-knife” carried in a closed position, is considered a “deadly weapon” under Delaware law. An “ordinary” pocketknife is a folding knife having a blade not more than three inches in length.
It is unlawful to carry a “deadly weapon” concealed unless one has a license.
222. General definitions
1441. License to carry concealed deadly weapons
1442. Carrying a concealed deadly weapon; class G felony; class D felony
1443. Carrying a concealed dangerous instrument; class A misdemeanor
1446. Unlawfully dealing with a switchblade knife; unclassified misdemeanor
1446A. Undetectable knives; commercial manufacture, import for commercial sale, or offers for commercial sale; or possession
1452. Unlawfully dealing with knuckles-combination knife; class B misdemeanor
1457. Possession of a weapon in a Safe School and Recreation Zone; class D, E, or F felony; class A or B misdemeanor
“Undetectable knives,” a knuckles-combination knife, as well as any knife the blade of which is released by a spring mechanism or by gravity, are forbidden.
Only “ordinary” pocket-knives may be carried concealed.
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
Commerce involving undetectable knives is unlawful. It is also unlawful to possess or deal with an automatic knife, or gravity knife, or knuckles-combination knife.
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
Safe School and Recreation Zones.
Delaware law, per § 1446, provides that a “switchblade” is a knife, “the blade of which is released by a spring mechanism or by gravity.” It has been unlawful to sell, offer to sell, or possess such a knife in Delaware since 1953. No appellate court decisions in the state have addressed the developments in knife technology in the years since. One cannot confidently predict whether “assisted opening” knives, for example, would be subject to the restriction although the blade of the typical assisted opener is neither, initially at least, released by a spring mechanism nor gravity. We suggest caution with respect to knives in this category.
The statutory definition of “Deadly weapon” states:
“Deadly weapon” includes a “firearm”, as defined in paragraph (12) of this section, a bomb, a knife of any sort (other than an ordinary pocketknife carried in a closed position), switchblade knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, metal knuckles, slingshot, razor, bicycle chain or ice pick or any “dangerous instrument”, as defined in paragraph (4) of this section, which is used, or attempted to be used, to cause death or serious physical injury. For the purpose of this definition, an ordinary pocketknife shall be a folding knife having a blade not more than 3 inches in length.
Accordingly, any knife, with the exception of a folding knife with a blade not more than 3 inches, is a “deadly weapon.” One-hand manually operable knives, within the blade length allowance, would not be considered as deadly weapons given long established rules for statutory construction.
The Delaware Supreme Court, in State v Harmon, 800 A.2d 1289 (2002) ruled, that blade length includes an “un-sharpened” part:
In our view, the “blade” of a knife should not depend upon how much of the knife is sharpened, but should encompass the entire length of the knife, excluding only the handle.
This is consistent with the AKTI recommended standard for determining blade length.
License – Concealed Deadly Weapon
§ 1441 provides that “A person of full age and good moral character desiring to be licensed to carry a concealed deadly weapon for personal protection or the protection of the person’s property may be licensed to do so. . .” The license applies to a “deadly weapon” as defined which includes knives. Such a license does not override the restrictions under § 1446 and § 1446A pertaining to automatic and “knuckle” knives. Delaware has license reciprocity with various states. The neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey are not currently among the reciprocity states.
Delaware does not provide a statutory definition of concealment. The standard or test is set forth in the opinion of the Delaware Supreme Court in Robertson v State 704 A.2d 267 (1997):
Courts in a majority of other jurisdictions have held that concealment means hidden from “ordinary observation.” We adopt the majority rule requiring that a concealed weapon be “hidden from the ordinary sight of another person … [meaning] the casual and ordinary observation of another in the normal associations of life.”
Whether a knife is concealed, or whether pocket clip carry is concealment, is an issue for the court.
Safe School and Recreation Zone
The only statewide location restriction regarding knife possession is § 1457. It defines a ‘Safe School and Recreation Zone’ as:
(1) Any building, structure, athletic field, sports stadium or real property owned, operated, leased or rented by any public or private school including, but not limited to, any kindergarten, elementary, secondary or vocational-technical school or any college or university, within 1,000 feet thereof; or
(2) Any motor vehicle owned, operated, leased or rented by any public or private school including, but not limited to, any kindergarten, elementary, secondary, or vocational-technical school or any college or university; or
(3) Any building or structure owned, operated, leased or rented by any county or municipality, or by the State, or by any board, agency, commission, department, corporation or other entity thereof, or by any private organization, which is utilized as a recreation center, athletic field or sports stadium.
The scope of the zone which extends 1,000 feet beyond any building or real property of any public or private school – K through university including vocational-technical schools – is rather extravagant given the size of the state.
§ 1457 does not prohibit the concealed carry of knives by licensed persons or open carry thereof in a zone by non-prohibited persons of adult age as long one does not otherwise violate § 1442, 1446, or 1452.
Law Enforcement / Military
Law enforcement and “private security guards” are exempted from § 1457.
A violation of § 1442. Carrying a concealed deadly weapon, involving a knife is a Class G felony. Carrying a concealed pocketknife with a blade 3 ¼ inches in length, for example, would be such a violation and is punishable by a fine and up to two years confinement at a Level V facility. The same offense would be a level F felony is committed within a Safe School and Recreation Zone and the period of confinement may be up to three years.
The simple possession of a “switchblade” in violation of § 1446 is an “unclassified misdemeanor” punishable by a fine not to exceed $575 and/or 30 days confinement. The same offense in a Safe School Zone is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,150 and up to six months confinement. Possession of a knuckles-combination knife is also a Class B misdemeanor unless it occurs in in Safe School Zone, in which case it is punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,300 and up to one year of confinement.
The Delaware Constitution was established in September of 1776. Section 20 thereof provides:
A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.
The Delaware Supreme Court observed in the case of Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club LTD v Small, 176 A.3d 632 (2017) that to the protection of individual rights recognized in its State Constitution is broader than the protections under the U.S. Constitution Amendment 2. It further stated:
the text of our Delaware Constitution is clear: the right to keep and bear arms exists outside of the home.
It is the view of AKTI that knives are primarily tools, they are also “arms” and have been throughout human history. As the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club court observed, there are times when individuals must be able to defend themselves “when the intervention of society on their behalf may be too late to prevent injury.”
The Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol case has yet to be cited in connection with proceedings involving Delaware knife laws.
Updated June 11, 2020, by Daniel C. Lawson