Quick Legal Facts
Concealment is not a factor.
Pennsylvania law prohibits the possession of any knife on school grounds.
On September 28, 1776, the first Pennsylvania Constitution was ratified. Aspects of Article 1, as well as the Preamble from that Constitution, remain in effect.
That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and unalterably established, WE DECLARE THAT-
§ 1. Inherent rights of mankind A
ll men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.
This Constitution further provides that the right of citizens to bear arms is something that shall not be questioned.
§ 21. Right to bear arms
The right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
As a matter of historical context, this Pennsylvania Constitution was ratified slightly less than three (3) months before the Continental Army, under the command of George Washington, would cross the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey and overpower the forces of King George III at Trenton. It was also some fifteen (15) years before the first Ten Amendments, or Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, were ratified in 1791.
The Pennsylvania law regulating knives is found at Title 18, and in particular, § 908, captioned Prohibited Offensive Weapons.
It may be that by outlawing or prohibiting certain “offensive” weapons that the Pennsylvania legislature intended to act within the limits of the State Constitution. The only prohibited knife or edged weapon in Pennsylvania is any “dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism or otherwise.”
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized by law, he makes repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in, uses, or possesses any offensive weapon. (b) Exceptions.– (1) It is a defense under this section for the defendant to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he possessed or dealt with the weapon solely as a curio or in a dramatic performance, or that, with the exception of a bomb, grenade or incendiary device, he complied with the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. § 5801 et seq.), or that he possessed it briefly in consequence of having found it or taken it from an aggressor, or under circumstances similarly negativing any intent or likelihood that the weapon would be used unlawfully.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 908
Given the construction of the sentence in question, the words “blade of which is exposed in an automatic way”… modify and qualify the nouns dagger, knife, razor and cutting instrument.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an intermediate level appellate court, has held that a knife which must be opened or exposed by a “flick of wrist” does not come within prohibition. Commonwealth v. Ashford, 397 A.2d 420 (1979). This opinion substantially predates the 2009 Amendment to the Federal Switchblade Act and the “bias toward closure” wording adopted in the Federal statute and also by a number of other states. Knives within the “assisted-opening” category are widely sold and carried in Pennsylvania.
The same prohibition regarding possession of offensive weapons applies to the sale thereof. Additionally, 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6302(a), captioned Sale or lease of weapons and explosives, provides
Sale or lease of weapons and explosives (a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he sells or causes to be sold or leases to any person under 18 years of age any deadly weapon, cartridge, gunpowder, or other similar dangerous explosive substance.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that a “penknife” with a three-inch blade was a “deadly weapon” for purposes of the statute. Accordingly, for purposes of sales or transfers to minors, the category of “deadly weapons” can be more restrictive than the category of prohibited offensive weapons. Commonwealth v. Duxbury, 67 4 A.2d 1116 1996).
Concealment is not a factor. There are no prohibitions regarding the possession of carrying knives, whether concealed or unconcealed, with the limited exception of offensive weapon knives, as discussed above.
Pennsylvania law prohibits the possession of any knife on school grounds. 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 912.