If you are an outdoor enthusiast and/or works in a trade requiring the cutting of hard objects, you should learn about the laws governing knife ownership in the State of Tennessee.
Like many other states, knife statutes in The Volunteer State remain vague enough to require interpretation by state courts. Unfortunately, the Tennessee court system has dragged its legal feet ruling on knife ownership statutes. However, state legislators cleared up several debated statutes in July of 2014.
Tennessee Knife Laws: An Historical Perspective
Tennessee has historically enacted restrictive knife laws, that is, until 2103 when SB 1771 legalized the ownership of switchblades and butterfly knives. Moreover, HB 581 extended the same rights of knife ownership granted to adults for minors.
This means it is no longer unlawful to make switchblades gifts for minors. Section 7 of HB 581 includes a rule of preemption, which prevents any county or municipal government from passing any knife ownership statute that imposes stricter ownership conditions or establishes more punitive fines and prison sentences.
Overview of Tennessee Knife Laws
Legislation passed by the Tennessee House and Senate in 2014 makes it legal to own any type of knife, which includes knives such as dirks and throwing stars many other states have banished.
The only exception mandated by Tennessee law concerns the clause “any other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury or death, which has no common lawful purpose.” The ambiguity of the clause has prompted the Tennessee judicial branch to weigh in on its meaning.
Here are the types of knives the state allows for ownership:
- Pocket Knife
- Folding Knife
- Butterfly Knife
- Bowie Knife
- Ballistic Knife
How Tennessee Regulates Blade Length
Since the 2014 change in Tennessee knife laws, there are now no restrictions on knife length or knife-blade length. Before 2014, the law prohibited open or concealed carry of knives with blades longer than four inches, but that has since been superseded, making knife length generally unrestricted.
TENNESSEE KNIFE OPEN CARRY LAWS
Since 2014, open carry of all types of knives of any length has been lawful under Tennessee law. Basically, knife-carry laws are unrestricted when it comes to open carry. The only exceptions are the restrictions concerning carrying on school property and the (often appealed) intent to go armed.
TENNESSEE CONCEALED KNIFE LAWS
Tennessee law makes no distinction between open and concealed carry of knives. Any knife that can be legally carried openly can also be legally carried concealed. The same exceptions obtain here as well: on school property and with the intent to go armed.
POCKET KNIFE LAWS TENNESSEE
Under Tennessee law, pocket knives of any length may be legally owned and carried, whether openly or concealed. Tennessee treats all knives the same with respect to both ownership and carry regulations, with the only exceptions the same as those above: carrying on school grounds and with intent to go armed..
FIXED BLADE KNIFE LAWS IN TENNESSEE
Tennessee law does not distinguish between a folding blade and fixed blade knives with respect to ownership and carry. So just as with pocket knives, fixed blade knives of any type and length may be legally owned and carried openly or concealed.
Since the clarity and uniformity brought to Tennessee knife laws in 2014, there is no longer a restriction or prohibition on carrying knives with blades longer than four inches, which would have included many fixed blade knives such as Bowie knives.
How Tennessee Knife Statutes Apply to Schools
So, carrying a knife in Tennessee is generally unrestricted – except, of course, on school property. The maximum fine, however, for using a knife in the commission of a felony doubled, from $3,000 to $6,000. While, in general, it an offense to carry a knife on school property, the law possible allows carry of very small knives.
But “very small knives” is terribly inexact and open to interpretation. So the best conclusion to draw is that carrying a knife, whether openly or concealed, is unlawful in schools and on school property.
What Does “Intent to Go Armed” Mean?
If for some reason, a person is charged with unlawful possession or carry under Tennessee’s sometimes ambiguous statutes – especially the hazy “intent to go armed” heading – there are several defenses/exceptions that person has recourse to.
These include use in a person’s home or place of business or on the person’s property, as well as the special dispensations for certain government employees. Others include those “incident to”: 1) a lawful activity such as hunting, fishing, camping, or sport shooting, 2) using the knife in a manner that is “reasonably related” to a lawful dramatic performance or the conducting of scientific research, and 3) display of the knife in a public exhibition or museum.
TENNESSEE KNIFE LAWS IN 2018
In 2013 with SB 1771, Tennessee lifted the ban on switchblades, making ownership, sale, and trade, and carry of them legal. The latest update to Tennessee knife laws was in 2014 (SB 1438), which lifted the four-inch blade limit for lawful carry. There are no changes or new laws on the horizon for 2018.
None of the material in this article should be interpreted as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. Never take any action with legal consequences without first consulting with a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. This article should not be relied upon for making legal decisions. This information is provided for scholarship and general information only.