At a Glance:
The District of Columbia, also referred to as Washington, D.C., has a statutory scheme comparable to that of the various states. Chapter 45 “Weapons and Possession of Weapons” which is found within Title 22 contains provisions relative to knives. § 22-4504 provides that it is unlawful to carry, either openly or concealed, “any deadly or dangerous weapon.” Any knife can be such a “deadly or dangerous weapon” as discussed below.
It is unlawful for anyone to possess a “switchblade” within the District. The possession of any dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife with a blade longer than 3 inches by anyone with intent to use it unlawfully against another is also an offense under Chapter 45.
22-4504. Carrying concealed weapons; possession of weapons during commission of crime of violence; penalty
22-4505. Exceptions to § 22-4504
22-4514. Possession of certain dangerous weapons prohibited; exceptions
18 U.S. Code § 930.Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in Federal facilities
“Switchblade” knives are forbidden.
Whether a knife may be lawfully carried is not contingent upon the issue of concealment.
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
Yes. Restrictions are the norm rather than the exception in D.C.
It is unlawful per § 22-4514 to possess a switchblade within D.C. “Switchblade” is not defined by statute. Accordingly, it is not clear whether knives with assisted opening capability would be included in the prohibition. Assisted opening features may be perceived as suggesting a weapon, as opposed to a tool, thereby causing a knife to be considered a “deadly or dangerous weapon” under § 22-4504.
Given the severe consequences which attend a conviction for violating § 22-4504, we recommend that assisted opening and automatic knives be avoided in D.C.
Deadly or Dangerous Weapon
A “deadly or dangerous weapon” per D.C. case law is “anything that is likely to produce death or great bodily injury by the use made of it,” U.S. v Vinton, 594 F3d 14 (2010). The U.S. v Vinton case further provides that there are two categories of objects likely to produce such harm:
(1) those whereby the design of the object is such that in its ordinary use it is likely to cause great bodily injury, and
(2) those that ostensibly may be used as a tool or may be carried for utilitarian reasons, but where “the surrounding circumstances indicate that the purpose of carrying the object is its use as a weapon.
Samuel Vinton, the defendant in the above case was stopped by law enforcement for driving at an excessive speed and found to have various restricted items in his vehicle, as well as a “butterfly knife” under a floor mat. The D.C. Court of Appeals analysis was that the butterfly knife was a deadly or dangerous weapon under either alternative. The fact that could be easily and quickly opened suggested it was a weapon by design.
Current D.C. law does not recognize a self-defense or Constitutional right to carry a knife in the event of a confrontation. Wooden v. U.S. 6 A.3d 833 (2010).
Thomas Jefferson, philosopher, principal author of our Declaration of Independence, and third President of the U.S., stated that he “would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”
If you among those who always carry a knife you will be exposed to inconveniences attending too little liberty if you live in or visit Washington, D.C. One may carry a pocketknife, but it is inconvenient to do so, aside from the risks.
The U.S. Capitol Police regulations regarding prohibited items may be found at https://www.uscp.gov/visiting-capitol-hill/regulations-prohibitions/prohibited-items. Knives are not permitted within the Capitol Building except knives with blades 3 inches or less may be carried by “staff.” Knives with blades 3 inches or less may be carried in the various Senate and House office buildings. It has been the experience of those of us visiting the Capitol Hill offices of various elected officials in connection with AKTI advocacy efforts that security screenings at these buildings are meticulous.
If you chose to carry a blade-length compliant knife while entering one of the Senate or House office buildings expect to be delayed and subjected to a thorough search.
The US Supreme Court has established regulations limiting entry to the building where it “sits.” See https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/buildingregulations.aspx#Reg3 which purports to allow knives with blades less than 3 inches in length, but states any “other item that may pose a danger to Court property or the safety of the Justices, Court employees, guests, or the general public” may be excluded.
Weapon-free zones are common within Washington, D.C., and are not confined to purely governmental facilities. Some of the museums have a no-weapons policy. Security screening is common. We recommend that one exercise some due diligence with respect to specific locations or activities within the District before proceeding with a knife.
A statute within the Federal Crimes code provides that it is unlawful to possess a firearm or “other dangerous weapon” in a Federal facility. There is an “incident to hunting” exception which is of no consequence. (D.C. issues licenses for fishing the waters within the District, but hunting is not allowed.)
18 U.S. Code § 930 (g) (2) provides the following definition for “dangerous weapon”:
The term “dangerous weapon” means a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2 ½ inches in length.
This statute, 18 U.S. Code § 930, does not govern all of D.C. Moreover, it does not create a right to possess a pocketknife with a blade measuring less than 2 ½ inches in any Federal facility.
Law Enforcement / Military
When acting in the scope and course of official duty law enforcement, security officers, military members are excluded from the restrictions on carrying set forth in § 22-4504.
A violation of § 22-4504 which could be based on carrying a knife considered to be deadly and dangerous is punishable by a fine of $12,500 and/or up to 5 years confinement.
Possession of a “switchblade” is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and or up to 1 year of confinement.
Updated June 8, 2020, by Daniel C. Lawson