Quick Legal Facts
Ohio law provides that one may not carry in a concealed manner a "deadly weapon," as that term is statutorily defined.
Ohio law prohibits the possession of a "deadly weapon" on any ‘School Safety Zone’ which includes, a school, school building, school premises, school activity, and school bus.
Pending Change in Ohio Knife Laws
To amend sections 2923.12, 2923.18, and 2923.20 of the Revised Code to exempt knives not used as weapons from the prohibition against carrying concealed weapons and to eliminate the prohibition against manufacturing, possessing for sale, selling, or furnishing certain weapons other than firearms or dangerous ordnance.
When the amendment becomes law, one will not be potentially violating the law simply by carrying a pocketknife. The amendment will also remove statewide restriction on automatic knives which are labeled ‘switchblade’ or ‘springblade’ knives under current Ohio law.
At a Glance:
Any knife may be considered a “deadly weapon,” defined as “any instrument, device, or thing capable of inflicting death, and designed or specially adapted for use as a weapon, or possessed, carried, or used as a weapon.” (2923.11 A).
Ohio law, 2923.12, provides that it is an offense to “knowingly carry or have, concealed on the person’s person or concealed ready at hand, ” any “dangerous weapon.” There are states, for example North Carolina, that generally prohibit the concealed carry of knives, but expressly provide an exception for a “common” or “ordinary” pocketknife. Ohio has neither a statutory, nor a caselaw exception, which would establish an assuredly legal pocketknife.
2923.12 Carrying concealed weapons; affirmative defenses
2923.122 Conveyance or possession of deadly weapons or dangerous ordnance in school safety zone
2923.123 Illegal conveyance, possession or control of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance in a courthouse
2923.20 Unlawful transactions in weapons
“Ballistic knives” are forbidden. It is also unlawful to manufacture, possess for sale, sell, or furnish to any person other than a law enforcement agency for authorized use in police work, any switchblade knife, springblade knife, gravity knife, or similar weapon. (2923.20)
Concealed carry of any knife is a potential problem. See discussion.
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
It is unlawful to transfer, any switchblade knife, springblade knife, gravity knife, or similar weapon’ to any entity other than a law enforcement agency. (2923.20)
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
Restricted locations are any School Safety Zone which includes, a school, school building, school premises, school activity, and school bus; or courthouse or other structure in which a courtroom is located.
Selected Ohio Municipalities with Knife Restrictive Ordinances:
Akron – 137.02 Prohibits the carry of a knife having a blade 2 ½ inches or longer.
Canton – §134.01 Drawing A Deadly Weapon.
No person except an officer of the law in the execution of his or her duty or a person in self-defense shall in the city draw a pistol, gun, revolver, knife or any other deadly or dangerous weapon upon another person.
Cleveland – § 627.10 Prohibits the possession in public places of any knife with a blade 2 ½ inches or longer.
§ 627.14 Sale of Long Bladed Pocket Knives
(a) No person shall give or sell a pocket knife having a blade of two and one-half (2-1/2) inches in length or longer, without first requiring a purchaser to properly identify himself or herself and register in a book kept for such purpose giving his or her name, address and age. The register shall be subject to inspection by any officer of the law upon demand.
(b) No person shall give, sell or exhibit for sale to a minor a knife having a blade two and one-half (2- 1/2) inches in length or longer.
(c) Every person, firm or corporation dealing in the sale of knives shall post a copy of this section in a conspicuous place in such place of business.
Dayton – None noted
Zanesville – None noted
Ohio law does not prohibit the ownership or mere possession of automatic knives. Rather, one may not “Manufacture, possess for sale, sell, or furnish to any person other than a law enforcement agency. . . any switchblade knife, springblade knife, gravity knife, or similar weapon.” 2923.20 (6). (Italics supplied for emphasis). Ohio law does not prohibit the open or unconcealed carry automatic knives. Such knives are considered ‘deadly weapons’ and may not be carried concealed. But for the affirmative defense provided by 2923.12 D, (see discussion below), one may not keep an automatic knife or other deadly weapon ‘ready at hand’ in one’s home. We suggest that one should exercise restraint with respect to automatic knives in Ohio. This would include assisted opening and gravity knives.
2923.11 Definitions defines dangerous weapon as follows:
(A) ‘Deadly weapon’ means any instrument, device, or thing capable of inflicting death, and designed or specially adapted for use as a weapon, or possessed, carried, or used as a weapon.
The state of Ohio presumes that knives are a thing, capable of being used to inflict death. Accordingly, any knife is a “deadly weapon” if:
- It was designed for use as a weapon;
- It has been modified or adapted for use as a weapon; or
- It is possessed and carried as a weapon.
The case of Ohio v Anderson, 440 N.E.2d 814 (1981) illustrates how the ‘deadly weapon’ definition is applied. The defendant was convicted of possession of a concealed deadly weapon which was described as:
a folding knife with a locking, four-inch blade, and bore the insignia “007” on the side, but which could not be easily opened with one hand. At trial, the defendant testified that he carried the knife for use at work in cutting tape and rope on boxes that had to be opened.
The conviction was reversed on appeal due to a lack of evidentiary support for any of the essential elements of the deadly weapon definition. Perhaps the prosecuting officials believed the “007” insignia, which invited some connection to the fictional licensed-to-kill Agent James Bond, was conclusive:
As this court has noted, in State v. Sears (February 27, 1980), Hamilton App. No. C-790156, unreported, to sustain a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon the state must not only show that the offending instrument was capable of inflicting death-an element easily established with respect to many objects-but also, and more importantly here, that the instrument was either: (i) designed or specially adapted for use as a weapon; or (ii) possessed, carried or used as a weapon. . . When an instrument is readily identifiable as one capable of inflicting death, such as a knife, proof of either additional element is nonetheless essential to sustain a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon under 2923.12.
Our review of the record convinces us that appellant’s reliance upon Sears, is well-founded. The record is devoid of any evidence which demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that this knife was designed or adapted for use as a weapon. It was neither a switch nor other spring-loaded blade, nor a gravity blade capable of instant one-handed operation, and differs only in its somewhat greater length from the familiar type of clasp knife carried as a useful tool by thousands, a difference readily accounted for by the nature of the defendant’s work with a moving and storage company requiring the opening of packing cartons and the cutting of twine. Nor, alternately, was there credible evidence that the knife was nevertheless carried, possessed, or used as a weapon. (Citations omitted.)
It should be noted that the court indicates the knife in question may have been a deadly weapon if it was capable of “instant one hand operation.” In the 1998 case of State of Ohio v. Graham (unreported decision), a deadly weapon conviction for possession of a one hand operable knife was upheld on appeal. Ohio decisional law does not provide reliable guidance on this issue; due in large part to the frequent use at the intermediate appeal level of unreported (non-precedential) decisions.
Section 2923.12 Carrying concealed weapons; affirmative defenses provides an affirmative defense in sub-section (D) for the concealed carry / possession of a deadly weapon other than a handgun:
It is an affirmative defense to a charge under division (A)(1) of this section of carrying or having control of a weapon other than a handgun and other than a dangerous ordnance that the actor was not otherwise prohibited by law from having the weapon and that any of the following applies:
- The weapon was carried or kept ready at hand by the actor for defensive purposes while the actor was engaged in or was going to or from the actor’s lawful business or occupation, which business or occupation was of a character or was necessarily carried on in a manner or at a time or place as to render the actor particularly susceptible to criminal attack, such as would justify a prudent person in going armed.
- The weapon was carried or kept ready at hand by the actor for defensive purposes while the actor was engaged in a lawful activity and had reasonable cause to fear a criminal attack upon the actor, a member of the actor’s family, or the actor’s home, such as would justify a prudent person in going armed.
- The weapon was carried or kept ready at hand by the actor for any lawful purpose and while in the actor’s own home.
An affirmative defense does not operate at the point of initial law enforcement intervention. Rather, an affirmative defense must be asserted by the defendant after he or she has been charged. The defendant has the burden of proof at trial as to the affirmative defense.
As a hypothetical example of how this affirmative defense would be applied, imagine an individual found to be in possession of a manual one-hand operable pocketknife. Such a knife is arguably a deadly weapon under Ohio law if, as discussed above, the jury decides it was designed for use as a weapon or possessed and carried as a weapon. To invoke the affirmative defense, the individual must prove that, unless he was in his “own home” the circumstances were such that a possession of the knife “kept ready at hand” for “defensive purposes.” In other words, possessed and carried as a weapon.
Alternatively, if the individual in the above hypothetical would take the position that he possessed the knife for common everyday use, the prosecution would have the burden of proof that the knife met the definitional requirements of 2923.11 Definitions.
The issue of concealment is a question of fact to be determined by the jury, or by the judge in a non-jury proceeding. The test or standard used to inform the jury is “ordinary observation.” In the case of In Re Robert B., 928 N.E.2d 746 (2009) the Ohio Court of Appeals stated the standard as follows:
A weapon is considered to be concealed ‘if it is so situated as not to be discernible by ordinary observation by those near enough to see it if it were not concealed, who would come into contact with the possessor in the usual associations of life.’
It is not necessary under Ohio law that the weapon be totally hidden. It is sufficient to support a conviction of carrying a concealed weapon to prove only that ordinary observation would give no notice of its presence. State of Ohio v Brandle, 689 N.E. 2d 94 (1996).
Pocket Clip Carry
Whether a knife clipped to the hem of a pocket is, or is not, concealed will be an issue of fact. The factors to be considered by the jury will include the size and design of the knife, the pocket, and other covering garments. Ohio law will at least allow for a good faith argument against concealment, if upon ordinary observation, the presence of a knife would be discernible for those willing to accept the risk of a criminal conviction.
A violation of 2923.12 for concealed carry of a deadly weapon knife is classified as a 1ST degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000. Violations of the school zone and courthouse prohibitions involving knives are a 5th degree felony and carry a maximum penalty of 6 to 12 months confinement and a fine of up to $2,500.
Law Enforcement /Military
Ohio law allows substantial exceptions for law enforcement and U.S. Military along with officers from other states as to the concealed carry section 2923.12:
(C)(1) This section does not apply to any of the following:
(a) An officer, agent, or employee of this or any other state or the United States, or to a law enforcement officer, who is authorized to carry concealed weapons or dangerous ordnance or is authorized to carry handguns and is acting within the scope of the officer’s, agent’s, or employee’s duties;
Similar provisions exist with those sections pertaining to school zones and court facilities.
As there is no objective threshold for what knives may be legally carried in a concealed manner, caution is recommended in the selection of a knife for every day carry. Features, which suggest weapon usage such as a blackened blade should be avoided in favor of more traditional options. It may be prudent to avoid the convenience of one hand operability.
The American Knife & Tool Institute is actively working to change Ohio Knife Laws. See story on legislation introduced.
Updated November 8, 2019 by Daniel C. Lawson
City of Akron v. Rasdan
105 Ohio App. 3d 164 (decided June 21, 1995)
City ordinance banning knives violates substantive due process.