Quick Legal Facts
Concealed carry is permitted for folding knives that are not switchblades or spring-activated.
Maryland law provides that minors in specified non-rural counties may not carry a dangerous weapon, whether concealed or not, between one (1) hour after sunset and one (1) hour before sunrise, except while hunting or engaged in some specifically related activity.
A person may not possess a knife on public school property.
Major Cities with Knife Ordinances:
At a Glance:
Maryland law allows a “penknife without a switchblade” to be carried openly or concealed. A “penknife” is “any knife with the blade folding into the handle.”
Other types of knives (other than penknives) are considered weapons and as such may be carried openly by a person without “intent or purpose of injuring an individual in an unlawful manner.”
Carrying a knife that is a weapon for possible use as a weapon or to deter an aggressor constitutes unlawful intent. Accordingly, a defensive use contingency for carrying a knife is unlawful.
It is unlawful to sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter a “switchblade” (automatic knife) or a “shooting knife” (ballistic knife). It is not unlawful to acquire, possess, or openly carry such knives.
All knives – except manual folding knives – may not be lawfully carried in a concealed manner.
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
Neither automatic knives nor ballistic knives may be sold or bartered.
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations / Circumstances:
It is unlawful to possess any weapon, including knives, on school property. This restriction does not apply to “butter” knives or “knife-shaped” objects but does apply to folding knives.
See the discussion below regarding county-specific restrictions applicable to minors.
No. Statewide preemption of local knife law does not obtain in Maryland.
Maryland joined the rush to restrict “switchblades” in 1957 by prohibiting the concealed carry of such knives. Two Maryland statutes mention automatic knives and refer to such items as a “switchblade knife.” § 4-101 Dangerous weapons, as pertinent provides:
(5)(i) “Weapon” includes a dirk knife, bowie knife, switchblade knife, star knife, sandclub, metal knuckles, razor, and nunchaku.
(ii) “Weapon” does not include:
. . .
a penknife without a switchblade.
The case of Bacon v. State of Maryland, 586 A2d 18 (1991) concerned a folding knife with a locking blade manufactured by Buck Knives Inc. The Court observed that “[p]enknives today are commonly considered to encompass any knife with the blade folding into the handle, some very large.” The Court also stated that the lockable blade was a “protective feature” and did not “cause the knife to be other than a penknife.”
Thus, a “switchblade knife” is a “weapon,” and a “penknife” or any manual folding knife is not.
The statutory description of “switchblade,” which is part of the transfer restriction, suggests by use of the words – “opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device” – that “gravity” knives are not included in the restricted category.§4-105. Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife provides:
A person may not sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter:
(1) a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife; or
(2) a device that is designed to propel a knife from a metal sheath by means of a high-compression ejector spring, commonly called a shooting knife.
Maryland state law, § 4-101 Dangerous weapons, restricts the concealed carry of “weapons” and the open carry of weapons with intent to cause harm. Automatic knives may be carried openly. Local/municipal ordinances should be verified. A City of Baltimore ordinance, for instance, restricts automatic knives.
The opinion in the case of Smith v State, 308 A.2d 442 (1973) provides the test for concealment:
A weapon is “concealed” within statute prohibiting wearing or carrying a concealed weapon if it is so situated as not to be discernible by ordinary observation by those who would be near enough to see it if it were not concealed and who would come into contact with possessor in usual associations of life, but absolute invisibility is not required.
Concealment is an issue of fact to be determined by a jury and will be dependent on the circumstances presented. It cannot be definitively stated whether “pocket clip” carry would be considered concealed. One should take note of the warning that “absolute invisibility is not required.”
A dangerous weapon in an automobile that is within reach of, or in such proximity to, the operator or occupant as to make it available for his immediate use it is “concealed upon or about his person” Shipley v. State, 220 A.2d 585 (1966).
Intent to Unlawfully Injure
4-101 Dangerous weapons provides that a weapon may not be carried openly by one having the intent to injure another unlawfully. The courts have interpreted this statute as a restriction on the carrying a “weapon” as a weapon:
A person may be carrying a utility knife for its use as a weapon, so as to violate prohibition against carrying dangerous weapon, even if the person’s intent merely is to display the knife in the belief that the display will deter aggressors, without any intent to inflict bodily injury. Anderson v. State, 614 A.2d 963 (1992).
People typically carry a knife for use as a tool or everyday utility purposes. One should avoid any suggestion that the knife is for defensive purposes unless he is prepared to assume the burden of establishing the affirmative defense provided in § 4-101 (b), which provides:
This section does not prohibit the following individuals from carrying a weapon:
(4) an individual who carries the weapon as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger, subject to the right of the court in an action arising under this section to judge the reasonableness of the carrying of the weapon, and the proper occasion for carrying it, under the evidence in the case.
“Apprehended danger” would be limited to perceived specific danger as opposed to a general “in event of confrontation” standard. (For more information on affirmative defenses, see the article here.)
Law Enforcement / Military
Law enforcement officers and “railroad special agents” are exempt from the § 4-101 Dangerous weapons restrictions. A similar exemption exists for active and retired law enforcement officers under § 4-102 pertaining to schools.
Maryland CCW Licensees
Individuals who hold a Maryland CCW license may also conceal carry an automatic knife or other “weapon” restricted by § 4-101 Dangerous weapons. Maryland is a “may issue” state where CCW licenses are elusive. The state is not a party to any reciprocity agreements.
Minors – County Specific Restrictions
Within the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Caroline, Cecil, Harford, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Washington, and Worcester, a minor may not carry a dangerous weapon – either openly or concealed – between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. There are exceptions for a minor who is:
on a bona fide hunting trip; or
engaged in or on the way to or returning from a bona fide trap shoot, sport shooting event, or any organized civic or military activity.
A minor in the designated counties may carry a manual folding knife without regard to sunlight.
Violations of § 4-101 Dangerous weapons or § 4-102. Deadly weapons on school property are punishable by imprisonment not exceeding three years and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000. A violation of § 4-105. Transfer of switchblade or shooting knife is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 12 months and/or a fine of at least $50 but not more than $500.
While manual folding knives are largely unrestricted by Maryland state law, municipal ordinances which restrict blade length, among other restrictions, are in effect in some localities.
Updated January 8, 2022, by Daniel C. Lawson