Quick Legal Facts
It is unlawful to conceal carry a dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, throwing star, oriental dart, or “any weapon of like kind.”
Possession of any knife with the exception of a pocket knife having a folding metal blade of less than three inches is a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
Less than three inches is the maximum length of a folding pocket knife which may be lawfully possessed on school grounds.
At a Glance:
Virginia knife law is wordy, restrictive, and complicated by local ordinances across the state.
It is an unlawful Class 1 Misdemeanor to carry in a concealed manner any “dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete,” or “razor” beyond one’s own place of business or home.
It is a Class 4 Misdemeanor to have in one’s possession a switchblade knife or ballistic knife with the intent to sell, barter, or transfer the item. Having possession is prima facie evidence of intent to sell.
18.2-282.1. Brandishing a machete or other bladed weapon with intent to intimidate, penalty.
18.2-283. Carrying dangerous weapon to place of religious worship.
18.2-283.1. Carrying weapon into courthouse.
18.2-287.01. Carrying weapon in air carrier airport terminal.
18.2-308. Carrying concealed weapons; exceptions; penalty.
18.2-308.1. Possession of firearm, stun weapon, or other weapon on school property prohibited, penalty.
18.2-309. Furnishing certain weapons to minors; penalty.
18.2-311. Prohibiting the selling or having in possession blackjacks, etc.
“Ballistic” and “switchblade” knives are essentially forbidden. Evidence that one possesses such an item is sufficient or prima facie evidence to charge that individual with possession with intent to sell under § 18.2-311.
Any “dirk, bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete.” or “razor” may not be carried concealed. A statutory definition is supplied only for “ballistic knife.”
Restrictions on Sale or Transfer:
It is unlawful (Class 4 Misdemeanor) to sell, barter, give, or furnish a “switchblade knife” or “ballistic knife.” It is a Class 1 Misdemeanor to furnish a switchblade knife, dirk, or bowie knife to a minor.
Restrictions on Carry in Specific Locations/Circumstances:
The knives may not be carried concealed under § 18.2-308. Carrying concealed weapons; exceptions; penalty, may not be possessed in a courthouse or airport terminal. Such knives may not be possessed in places of religious worship without a good reason. Knives, except for a pocketknife with a blade less than three (3) inches in length, may not be possessed on school grounds to include public or private schools “daycare” through 12.
Preemption of local regulation or statewide uniformity pertaining to knives does not obtain in Virginia except for airports. § 18.2-287.01. Carrying weapon in air carrier airport terminal, provides a uniform statewide rule for airport terminals.
Several statutes impose restrictions applicable to a “switchblade knife.” In the absence of a statutory definition, the Virginia Supreme Court adopted a dictionary definition for such item in the case of Thompson v Commonwealth, 673 S.E.2d 467 (2009):
A “switchblade knife” is “a pocketknife having the blade spring-operated so that pressure on a release catch causes it to fly open.”
(Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2314).
This definition would probably exclude knives having a “bias toward closure.” See Understanding Bias Toward Closure and Knife Mechanisms for additional explanation.
We suggest that automatic knives only be possessed in Virginia in one’s “place of abode or the curtilage thereof” per § 18.2-308.
Virginia law refers to concealed carry as “hidden from common observation.” § 18.2-308. Carrying concealed weapons; exceptions; penalty provides the following guidance:
For the purpose of this section, a weapon shall be deemed to be hidden from common observation when it is observable but is of such deceptive appearance as to disguise the weapon’s true nature.
Whether a knife is concealed will in almost all instances be a question to be answered by the jury or the judge in a non-jury proceeding.
The legislative history of the “brandishing” law indicates it was intended to address “Criminal street gang” activity. It was enacted in 2006. There are no reported cases involving § 18.2-282.1 which provides:
It shall be unlawful for any person to point, hold, or brandish a machete or any weapon, with an exposed blade 12 inches or longer, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons and in a manner that reasonably demonstrates that intent. This section shall not apply to any person engaged in excusable or justifiable self-defense.
Virginia law provides a similar prohibition for brandishing a firearm.
The exception in § 18.2-308. Carrying concealed weapons; exceptions; penalty for the benefit of collectors requires that one be a “regularly enrolled member” of a “weapon collecting organization.” The exception provides that the section does not apply to:
Any regularly enrolled member of a weapons collecting organization who is at, or going to or from, a bona fide weapons exhibition, provided that the weapons are unloaded and securely wrapped while being transported.
Hunting Exception Not Applicable
In states where concealed carry restrictions pertaining to knives obtain, an exception is typically provided for hunting and fishing. The purpose of restricting concealed carry is to prevent persons from deceptively presenting themselves as unarmed. It is reasonable to expect that individuals engaged in hunting will have the required tackle. It is quite likely that individuals who are hunting or fishing will have a knife.
§ 18.2-308 (C) (6) states the lawful hunting exception:
Any person actually engaged in lawful hunting, as authorized by the Board of Wildlife Resources, under inclement weather conditions necessitating temporary protection of his firearm from those conditions, provided that possession of a handgun while engaged in lawful hunting shall not be construed as hunting with a handgun if the person hunting is carrying a valid concealed handgun permit.
The only circumstances which relieve lawful hunters from the concealed carry restrictions apply only to firearms, and then only “under inclement weather conditions.”
Exemptions are provided for various categories of peace officers and criminal justice officials to the restriction regarding weapons in courthouses. Law enforcement officers on duty are exempt from the air terminal restrictions. Carriers of U.S. Mail on duty are exempt from the restrictions of § 18.2-308. There are no U.S. military exemptions.
Violations of § 18.2-282.1, § 18.2-283.1, § 18.2-287.01, § 18.2-308, § 18.2-308.1, and § 18.2-309 are Class 1 Misdemeanors punishable by confinement in jail for not more than 1 year and /or a fine not to exceed $2,500.
Violations of § 18.2-283. Carrying dangerous weapon to place of religious worship, and § 18.2-311. Prohibiting the selling or having in possession blackjacks, etc. are Class 4 Misdemeanors punishable by a fine not to exceed $250.
Updated January 11, 2021, by Daniel C. Lawson