Quick Legal Facts
Concealment is not a factor.
Pennsylvania law prohibits the possession of any knife on school grounds.
At a Glance:
As of January 3rd, 2023, restrictions on the commerce, possession, and carry of automatic knives originally enacted in April of 1956 have been removed. No statewide laws limit the public carry of knives apart from sensitive locations, and criminal intent restrictions obtain in Pennsylvania.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 907. Possessing instruments of crime
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 908. Prohibited offensive weapons
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 912. Possession of weapon on school property
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 913. Possession of firearm or other dangerous weapon in court facility
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6302. Sale or lease of weapons and explosives
Pennsylvania law does not distinguish between open or concealed carry of a weapon, except where there is intent to “employ it criminally.” (See § 907)
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
It is unlawful to sell or transfer any “deadly weapon” to a person under the age of 18. A knife “designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily injury” would fit within the definition of a deadly weapon set forth in 18 PA C.S.A. § 2301. The prosecution must prove the item in question was “designed as a weapon.”
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
All knives are restricted from schools, public and private, K through 12. There is no statewide airport restriction. It is unlawful to possess knives at a court facility. Compliance with posted rules at Commonwealth (State) property is required by law. (18 PA C.S.A. § 7506 Violation of rules regarding conduct on Commonwealth property).
(See the discussion below concerning Philadelphia – §10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places.)
§ 907 Possessing Instruments of Crime
This section provides that possession of a weapon concealed upon the person who intends to employ it criminally is a misdemeanor of the first degree. A knife may be a weapon for purposes of the section. Concealment and criminal intent are elements of the offense that the prosecution must prove.
§ 908 Prohibited Offensive Weapons
An amendment to § 908 effective resulting from the efforts of the American Knife & Tool Institute removed from the statutory definition of “offensive weapon” the phrase:
dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise.
The revised or amended definition does not mention the category of knives or other cutting instruments. The definition now provides:
“Offensive weapons” Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, any stun gun, stun baton, taser or other electronic or electric weapon or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.
The amendment accordingly reflects a legislative intent to remove knives and cutting instruments from the class of items lacking a “common lawful purpose.” Section 908 has been applied to such items as swords and machetes in the past. The amendment should eliminate such prosecutions.
There is no statewide preemption statute in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has enacted a profoundly restrictive ordinance, offensive to both the Pennsylvania State Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the possession of any knife on public streets or public property:
10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places
Cutting Weapon. Any knife or other cutting instrument which can be used as a weapon that has a cutting edge similar to that of a knife. No tool or instrument commonly or ordinarily used in a trade, profession or calling shall be considered a cutting weapon while actually being used in the active exercise of that trade, profession or calling.
(2) Prohibited Conduct. No person shall use or possess any cutting weapon upon the public streets or upon any public property at any time.
(a) Exception: This restriction shall not apply to the use and possession of cutting tools by emergency personnel of the Philadelphia Fire Department, whether on or off duty.
(3) Penalty. The penalty for violation of this Section shall be a fine of not less than three hundred (300) dollars and imprisonment of not less than ninety days.
Ironically, if one would wish to visit the location where the Declaration of Independence was debated, written, and signed; where the United States Constitution was debated and signed; where the Liberty Bell is displayed; or which is the “birthplace” of the United States Marine Corps; he or she is not at liberty to possess even a small knife.
Updated December 28, 2022 by Daniel C. Lawson