• Brad Keating

Tennessee Knife Laws

The ins and outs of knife law in Tennessee have been inherently complicated in the past. Confusing legislation and a sliding scale of legality have been a source of contention in the state for decades. That was until 2014 when lobbyists won the appeal to loosen- and effectively remove- restrictions.


Today, Tennessee is considered the most lenient of all US states in regards to knife carry laws and knife ownership. With no per se, illegal knives and an unmatched liberal approach to possession under the new Tennessee statutes laws, the state is a benchmark for knife rights enthusiasts.


In summary, there are no restrictions or carry regulations in the State of Tennessee regarding knives of any kind.


It is perfectly legal under Tennessee law to open carry blades of every size and style. Residents can do so without fear of prosecution, as long as they are not in violation of the intent to go armed legislation, and provided they do not enter school property. (See below for further details).




Overview


  • It is legal to carry any kind of knife in Tennessee

  • Felony charges are pressed only if a bladed weapon is used in a crime

  • No permit requirements apply to either open carrying or concealed carrying

  • If questioned about your knife, you must have a valid reason for carrying

  • There is no age restriction on who can own a knife, but it is illegal to sell to a minor

  • Laws are uniform across the entire state due to pre-emption


Specifics


The sweeping statement applied to Tennessee knife law is that knife ownership and possession are almost entirely unrestricted (see below for the exceptions). However, it is essential for knife carriers to know the specific legislation that protects their rights.


Knives by Type

Since the passing of the knife rights bill repealing switchblade prohibition, there are no specifications about what type of knife can or cannot be carried.


Automatic Knives (Switchblade Knife)

Automatic knives are an unlawful possession in many areas, without specialized permits.


Switchblade knives were the last type of blades not permitted in Tennessee and were a central feature of the lobbying from 2013 to 2014. The law prohibited open or concealed carry of switchblades, butterfly knives, and any other automatic knife.


The term automatic knife applies to any blade that flicks out of its holder. Butterfly knives, gravity knives, and the classic switchblade design.


Folding Knives (Pocket Knives )

A folding pocket knife is permitted in most states, and all pocket knives are legal in Tennessee. Balisong knives (also called butterfly knives) are an example of a folding blade pocket knife that, although illegal in many states, is permitted under Tennessee law.


Fixed Blade Knives

Many fixed blade knives carry complicated and ever-changing regulations. Yet again, Tennessee law bypasses all of them. Everything from bowie knives to boot knives is permitted, regardless of permit or size.


Examples of fixed blade knives include:

  • a bowie knife

  • a hawk bill knife

  • machetes

  • swords


Tennessee knife laws- or lack thereof- also allow throwing stars, sword canes, and all varieties of daggers. Essentially, there is no knife you cannot legally carry, provided you do not intend to commit a crime.


Knife Blade Length

The 2014 bill also removed the law that prohibited weapons with blades longer than four inches. There is now no specification of what knife length is permitted. As such, any size of blade can be legally carried openly or concealed.


Open or Concealed Carry

While concealed carry usually refers to gun laws, there is no distinction between open and concealed carry under Tennessee knife laws. Concealed carry is defined as having a weapon on one's person that is hidden from public view, as opposed to open carry, where the weapon is in full display.


Some states require different permitting for knives to be legally carried concealed, but Tennessee state law does not differentiate between that and open carry in any way. The lack of specification between the two is a grey area, but the focus is on the intent rather than the way it is carried.


Exceptions Under Tennessee Law

Exceptions Under Tennessee Law


Double sentencing for any serious crime committed with a knife was one of the conditions applied to the removal of the state's antiquated ban on automatic knives.

Knife crimes considered "serious" include:

  • serious bodily injury to another

  • armed robbery

  • criminal murder

  • kidnapping

  • production or selling or narcotics

  • manslaughter


All the crimes on this list all carry a maximum fine of up to $6,000 and the possibility of six years in jail. In the event of any one of these offenses, any sharp-edged knife could be considered a deadly weapon. If you or someone you know has been injured by no fault of your own, an experienced lawyer can help you file an injury claim.


Other than outright criminal acts, the only two exceptions to knife rights in Tennessee are carrying on school grounds and intent to go armed. If either of these laws is broken, the penalties are high.


Carrying Knives on School Property

Carrying any knife on school grounds or school property is prohibited. Knives of any kind are illegal on both a public or private school campus, public or private school building, or any private educational institution other than for school-sanctioned ceremonial purposes.


There is unclear legislation referring to "very small knives" that may be legal to carry on school property. As this vague law subject is difficult to specify, it is advisable to avoid it all together.


If any person is found with a knife on school or university premises, felony charges may apply.


School premises includes, but is not limited to:

  • Campus grounds

  • Student accommodation

  • Any building owned or occupied by the school board

  • Sporting grounds belonging to or currently in use by a school or university

  • Courtyards or any outdoor area connected to the educational authority


Intent to Go Armed

Intent to go armed refers to any person carrying a deadly weapon (in this case a knife) at the time of committing- or going to commit- a crime. Tennessee concealed knife laws allow all residents to carry at any time, but if a knife is found on their person during an arrest, they could face felony charges.


Although the knife laws do not restrict any knives, some are more suspect than others. A bowie knife, for example, is more likely to attract questioning and concern if carried openly.


Legal advice surrounding intent to go armed exceptions and defenses are often hazy. If a person is questioned about their reason for carrying a knife, there are circumstances the county government recognizes as valid purpose.


If open carrying, the knife owner should have reasonable cause to have the blade on show at that time. A concealed weapon that is discovered should also be justifiable.


Certain government employees are given special dispensation, as well as people who can prove one of the following purposes:

  • Sport shooting, hunting, fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities

  • Scientific research

  • Lawful dramatic performance

  • Relevance to employment


The intent rule is where Tennessee knife law gets slightly complicated.

Although there are almost no restrictions about who can carry, what they can carry, and where they can carry- if there is any suspicion of malicious intent, they could face legal trouble.


Minors Under 18

Although it is against the law to sell a knife of any kind to a minor without parental consent, it is not an offense to offer one as a gift. Until recently, any switchblade (a butterfly knife, for example) was a prohibited item for anyone under 18 years of age, and providing one was classed as a crime.


Tennessee knife laws now extend the same rights to minors as adults relating to knife ownership. However, the University Board restricts the possession of any knife whatsoever on any premises or land owned or operated by the board of education by adults and children alike.


Pre-emption Knife Laws

Pre-emptive laws addressing state-wide uniformity of firearm carrying rights also extend to knives. It ensures that local governments within various regions of Tennessee cannot impose any law that differs from that of the state.


Because of this, it is legal to carry the same knives anywhere within state lines. It applies to ownership, possession, transfer, and transportation of knives of any kind.


These laws protect citizens' rights to travel anywhere within state borders and know exactly what laws apply and how they affect them.


Summary


Tennessee knife laws are amongst the most lenient in the country, if not the world. The signing of the knife rights legislation by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam in 2014 confirmed the state as a blade-friendly area.


Although these knife laws are minimal, the penalties applied to any knife-related crimes are exceptionally high. A law-abiding citizen who carries their registered knives in a safe and responsible manner is unlikely to find any trouble or be considered a criminal just for having one on their person.


However, the consequences of being caught up in any criminal activity while in possession of a knife are discouragingly high.


Understanding the knife laws in Tennessee is essential to protecting and exercising one's right to carry a blade safely and compliantly.