Washington, D.C. is not a state, but since many Americans travel to visit our nation’s capital, knowing the laws regarding knives there is very pertinent. Several interstate highways converge in and around the District, and it may not be obvious to a traveler whether he or she is in the District or in one of the surrounding states. Also, the Atlantic coast from Maryland to North Carolina attracts thousands of fisherman and hunters, who use knives as part of their sport.
Although Washington, D.C. is governed by federal law, Congress has granted home rule to the District and delegated to it certain legislative powers. The District has enacted a comprehensive statutory code, the District of Columbia Code, which includes regulation on ownership and possession of weapons.
Contrary to common belief, the District of Columbia’s “dangerous weapons” statute allows possession of most knives:
§ 22–4514. Possession of certain dangerous weapons prohibited; exceptions.
(a) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess any machine gun, sawed-off shotgun, knuckles, or any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, sand club, sandbag, switchblade knife, nor any instrument, attachment, or appliance for causing the firing of any firearm to be silent or intended to lessen or muffle the noise of the firing of any firearms….
(b) No person shall within the District of Columbia possess, with intent to use unlawfully against another, an imitation pistol, or a dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto, or knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, or other dangerous weapon.
(Emphasis added.) The statute specifically prohibits switchblades, but does not prohibit other types of knives. The three inch blade limit applies only when a person possesses a knife with the intent to unlawfully use it against another person. Furthermore, because it is a federal jurisdiction, it follows that the language permitting assisted opening knives set forth in the Federal Switchblade Act is controlling law in the District.
The penalty for violating the law against possession of dangerous weapons is severe. Any weapons violation for which no penalty is specifically provided is punished by a fine or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both. Section 22-4515. A person with a criminal record may subject to imprisonment for not more than 10 years. Section 22-4514.
The District prohibits both open and concealed carry of weapons, and it imposes heavy penalties for violation of the statute:
§ 22-4504. Carrying concealed weapons; possession of weapons during commission of crime of violence; penalty
(a) No person shall carry within the District of Columbia either openly or concealed on or about their person, a pistol, or any deadly or dangerous weapon capable of being so concealed. Whoever violates this section shall be punished as provided in § 22-4515, except that:
(1) A person who violates this section by carrying a pistol, or any deadly or dangerous weapon, in a place other than the person’s dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person, shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both; or
(2) The violation of this section occurs after a person has been convicted in the District of Columbia of a violation of this section or of a felony, either in the District of Columbia or another jurisdiction, the person shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in §22-3571.01 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.
(Emphasis added.) Even though most knives intended to be used for a lawful purpose are outside the dangerous weapon statute, knife owners should use caution when carrying a knife while in the District.
Since the District of Columbia is not a state and there are no municipalities with separate ordinances within the District, statewide preemption is not an issue.
In the District of Columbia, as in most states, a person may not possess a deadly weapon in safe school or recreation zone.
Wrenn v. District of Columbia
2017 US App. Lexis 13348
Laws limiting concealed carry impact the core Second Amendment right of self-defense.
Wooden v. United States
6 A.3d 833 (D.C. Oct. 28, 2010)
It is not plain error to convict someone of possessing a knife in anticipatory self-defense.