Quick Legal Facts
Not an issue.
Illinois schools are considered weapon free zones. It is a crime to possess a knife on school property.
Major Cities with Knife Ordinances:
At a Glance:
The Illinois body of law regarding the possession and carry of knives is confusing due to a dubious Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons which overlays the Unlawful use of Weapon (UUW) statute.
720 ILCS 5/24-1, the UUW law provides that switchblade knives and ballistic knives are forbidden. Possession of a valid Firearms Owners Identification Act (FOID) card is an exception to the “switchblade” restrictions in this statute. Given long-standing and widely recognized principles of statutory interpretation, FOID card holders may possess and carry automatic knives, nobody may possess or carry a ballistic knife, and all other knives are unrestricted absent unlawful intent.
However, the Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons statute, 720 ILCS 5/21-6, provides that “Whoever possesses or stores any weapon enumerated in Section 33A-1 in any building or on land supported in whole or in part with public funds . . . commits a Class A misdemeanor.” As to knives, anything with a blade of at least 3 inches is restricted. Whether a building or land is supported at least in part by public funds may not be readily discernible. An intermediate-level appellate court has interpreted this statute to include a knowledge element, meaning the state must prove that the violation occurred “knowingly.”
720 ILCS 5/24-1 – Unlawful use of weapons (UUW)
20 ILCS 5/21-6 – Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons
720 ILCS 5/33A-1 – Legislative intent and definitions
430 ILCS 65/0.01 – Firearm Owners Identification Card Act
Switchblade knife, ballistic knife
Not an issue except as to certain City Ordinances.
Restrictions on Sales or Transfer:
It is unlawful to manufacture or sell a ballistic knife. It is unlawful to manufacture or sell a “switchblade” unless the person or entity engaged in the manufacturing and selling possesses a valid “Firearm Owner’s Identification Card.”
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations:
Yes. Extensive and wide-reaching restrictions, specific and non-specific, are provided in 720 ILCS 5/24-1 (c) (2), and in 720 ILCS 5/21-6. (See the discussion below.)
Major Illinois Cities or Political Subdivisions with Knife Restrictive Ordinances:
Aurora – § 29-43. – Unlawful use of weapons.
Chicago – § 8-24-020. Sale or possession of deadly weapons.
§ 8-24-021. Sale, display and use of utility knives
§ 8-26-060. Creation of gun offender registry.
Cook County – § 58-172. – Disorderly conduct
§ 58-172. – Disorderly conduct.
Joliet – § 32-2. – Brandishing or concealing dangerous weapons.
§ 32-8. – Concealable weapons.
§ 32-19. – License required.
§ 32-22. – Permit required for concealable weapons; application; contents; ineligible applicants.
Springfield- None noted.
UUW, the general Illinois knife statute, defines “switchblade knife” as a knife:
“that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in the handle of the knife.”
This definition has been interpreted rather expansively. In the case of People v. Velez, 783 N.E.2d 226, (2003), the opening mechanism was inoperable, at least with respect to automatic function, although it was still a manual knife. The court reasoned that since it had been designed to open automatically, it still fit within the definition, although it did not, in fact, open automatically. It was evidently of no significance that the rationale for prohibiting automatic knives is that the quick opening feature makes criminals with switchblades invincible.
Assisted Opening Knives, Bias toward Closure
Illinois has neither followed the legislative course of the Federal government in adopting the “bias toward closure” distinction for assisted opening knives nor recognized the distinction judicially. The statutory definition, which features the wording “opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button,” is not easily distorted to apply to assisted opening technology.
The UUW contains “location-based” restrictions through penalty enhancement provisions. Possession of a switchblade, or possession with unlawful intent of a dagger, dirk, stiletto, etc., in a non-specified location, is a Class A Misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Sub-section (c)(2) of the UUW provides for a Class 4 Felony penalty:
A person who violates subsection 24-1(a)(1), 24-1(a)(2), or 24-1(a)(3) in any school, regardless of the time of day or the time of year, in residential property owned, operated or managed by a public housing agency or leased by a public housing agency as part of a scattered site or mixed-income development, in a public park, in a courthouse, on the real property comprising any school, regardless of the time of day or the time of year, on residential property owned, operated or managed by a public housing agency or leased by a public housing agency as part of a scattered site or mixed-income development, on the real property comprising any public park, on the real property comprising any courthouse, in any conveyance owned, leased or contracted by a school to transport students to or from school or a school related activity, in any conveyance owned, leased, or contracted by a public transportation agency, or on any public way within 1,000 feet of the real property comprising any school, public park, courthouse, public transportation facility, or residential property owned, operated, or managed by a public housing agency or leased by a public housing agency as part of a scattered site or mixed-income development commits a Class 4 felony. “Courthouse” means any building that is used by the Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Court of this State for the conduct of official business.
Under Illinois law, the penalty for a Class 4 Felony is a term of imprisonment for at least 1 year, but not more than 3 years, and a fine of up to $25,000.
One should observe that it is not an element of the offense to actually “set foot” within a school, courthouse, or public housing agency property or even within the boundaries of the real property (land) upon which such may be located. A violation occurs if one is on a “public way” (street, sidewalk, or road) within 1,000 feet (slightly less than 2-tenths of a mile) of the boundary.
(720 ILCS 5/21-6 – Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons)
The purpose of this statute was to promote decorum within Illinois academia. The Illinois Legislature found that:
the unlawful disruption of academic communities and the willful and malicious destruction of academic property” . . . impaired the ability of Illinois “academic communities to provide an atmosphere in which serious study and research may proceed in a calm and orderly way.
The legislative solution to this state of havoc within Illinois institutions of learning became 5/21-6 which provides:
§ 21-6. Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons.
(a) Whoever possesses or stores any weapon enumerated in Section 33A-1 in any building or on land supported in whole or in part with public funds or in any building on such land without prior written permission from the chief security officer for such land or building commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(b) The chief security officer must grant any reasonable request for permission under paragraph (a).
The law passed neither specifically mentions academic property nor limits the scope of the measure to places of learning or “serious study.”
It also does not specially identify any weapons. Rather as to “any weapon” it refers to “Section 33A-1” (720 ILCS 5/33A-1)-which is part of Article 33A captioned “Armed Violence.” The statement of legislative intent from the Illinois General Assembly regarding 5/33A-1 “aggravated offenses” mentions the objective of deterring firearm crimes. Essentially, it states that to deter firearm use in felony crimes, a greater penalty will be imposed where a firearm is used in the commission of an offense than would be imposed for the same felony but with another type of weapon. The Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons statute includes all weapons “enumerated” in 5/33A-1, which ranges from sawed-off shotguns and machine guns to any knife with a blade length of 3 inches long.
In 2009 the Unauthorized Possession or Storage of Weapons was invoked to prosecute the possession of a knife with a blade measuring 3 and 1/8 inches. This occurred in a Chicago government building rather than an academic location.
One David Sito entered the Daly Center building on his way to meet a Sheriff’s deputy. His backpack was scanned and found to contain the knife. He was convicted and sentenced to 364 days of confinement. On appeal, he asserted that a measurement of only the sharpened length of the blade was less than 3 inches and that the jury was not instructed that it must find that he “knowingly” possessed the knife. The court ruled that while the appropriate dimension was the entire blade length, the failure to include “knowingly” in the jury instruction invalidated the conviction. People v Sito, 994 N.E. 2d 624 (2013).
720 ILCS 5/21-6 Restricted Locations
Knife possession restrictions based on location are common across this Republic and are almost always based upon obvious criteria such as the activity that occurs thereon or the people likely to be present. Typical examples are mental health asylums, correctional facilities, schools, and places for dispensing beverage alcohol or the administration of justice. The criteria in Illinois for knife-restricted locations is “support, in whole or in part, with public funds,” which may not be readily discernible. It is also arbitrary in that there is no nexus or logical connection between activity at the location and some heightened vulnerability or need for protection.
Federal, state, county, municipal, or other local entities are possible sources of “public funds.” Moreover, there are numerous quasi-public entities through which grant money and other public funding are dispersed. It is rarely knowable without a laborious and exhaustive search of records (assuming all relevant records are accessible), whether a given parcel or building located thereon is supported in whole or in part with public funds. The “knowingly” element per the Sito case prevents the statute from creating a minefield” of restricted locations.
Illinois law enforcement and courts base blade length measurement of the distance between the hilt and the tip of the blade as mentioned in the People v Sito, 994 N.E. 2d 624 (2013) case cited above. This is consistent with the AKTI Protocol for Measuring Blade Length.
City or County Ordinances Regarding Knives
There is no statewide preemption of local ordinances pertaining to the possession and carrying of knives. Cities and counties in Illinois are free to enact restrictive ordinances. The City of Chicago, for instance, prohibits the carry of any knife with a blade longer than 2 ½ inches.
Law Enforcement and Military
There is no exception for law enforcement within the UUW section (a1) pertaining to “switchblades” and “ballistic knives”; or (a2) pertaining to daggers, etc., carried with unlawful intent. There is an exemption for law enforcement and school security officers within section (c) pertaining to knives on school property. There are no exceptions for members of the US military.
Simple or no unlawful intent violations of the UUW are Class A misdemeanors, as are violations of 720 ILCS 5/21-6. The punishment may include confinement for up to 364 days and a fine of up to $2,500.
Updated May 22, 2020, by Daniel C. Lawson
Illinois AKTI Case Summaries
People v. Sullivan, 46 Ill. 2d 399 (1970)
Unlawful intent to use a weapon requires evidence that rules out lawful use.
People v. Morrisette, 225 Ill. App. 3d 1044 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dis. 1992)
Charges for violation of Illinois’s possession with intent statute must include details of the intent to use it unlawfully.
People v. Sito, 2013 Ill. App. 1st 110707 (Ill. App. Ct. 2013)
Illinois’s per se dangerous weapon statute is not a strict liability offense, and blade length is the length of any non-handle portion of a knife.