If you participate in sports or recreation (hunting, fishing, shooting, hiking, camping, cycling, boating, diving), or you have a tool-oriented profession (contractor, plumber, electrician, miner); you probably own knives and carry knives. However, it’s very easy to stray into criminality when carrying some knives. Most people who violate the law with a knife don’t even know that they’ve done so. I’ve defended several, recent cases involving knives, and there are misconceptions in the community about knife laws.
I’ll do my best to generally explain knife laws in Michigan. However, this post is intended as a general overview of knife laws in Michigan, and you should consult a criminal-defense attorney if you have a specific question about owning, possessing, or carrying a knife in Michigan.
What knives can be owned or possessed in Michigan*?
In Michigan, it’s legal to own or possess almost any knife. The following are all legal to own or possess in Michigan:
- Swords regardless of the number of edges or length;
- Axes or hatchets;
- Throwing or ninja stars;
- Throwing knives;
- Butterfly or balisong knives;
- Switchblades (whether out-the-front or side-opening), gravity knives, mechanical push-button knives, or automatic/spring-assisted knives;
- Dirks, daggers, stilettos, or other stabbing knives;
- Hidden knives like belt-buckle knives, lipstick knives, umbrella swords, or cane swords (a sword concealed in the shaft of a walking cane); and
- Undetectable knives like ceramic knives and 3d-printed knives that do not set off metal detectors.
It was formerly a crime to possess a switchblade, a mechanical push-button knife, or an automatic/spring-assisted knife until Michigan law changed and legalized these knives in 2017. MCL 750.226a, repealed. 2017, Act 96, Eff Oct 11, 2017.
*Please be careful though—Michigan law allows municipalities to restrict the possession of knives, and Detroit has done so. In Detroit, it is illegal to possess, sell, offer for sale, use, or loan any cane sword, switchblade, or umbrella sword.
What knives can be open-carried in Michigan*?
In Michigan, it’s legal to open-carry any knife, as long as you do it with lawful intent. Open-carrying a knife means that the knife is not being concealed, which generally means that ordinary people upon casually observing the person carrying the knife would understand that a knife is being carried. So, walking around with a knife clipped to a belt with a shirt tucked in so that casual observers can see the knife is open-carry and legal. However, walking around with a knife clipped to a belt with a shirt untucked and covering the knife so that casual observers cannot see the knife is conceal-carried and might be illegal depending on the knife.
*Please be careful though, Michigan law allows municipalities to restrict the open-carry of knives, and Detroit and Lansing have done so. In Detroit and Lansing, it is illegal to carry any knife having a blade of over three inches in length, whether sheathed or not, and whether open-carried or conceal-carried, in any public place.
What knives can be conceal-carried in Michigan?
Only certain knives can be conceal-carried in Michigan, and it’s easier to state knives that are illegal to conceal-carry. Under Michigan law, the following knives cannot be conceal-carried:
- Dagger, dirk, or stiletto;
- Double-edged, non-folding (fixed-blade) stabbing instrument of any length; and
- Any other dangerous weapon, which is defined as an object that is carried as a weapon for bodily assault or defense and that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death when used as a stabbing weapon.
Switchblades and automatic/spring-assisted knives that fold and emerge from the side of the handle are legal to conceal-carry if they are single-edged and not carried as a dangerous, stabbing weapon. Switchblades that emerge from the end of the handle and do not fold are illegal to conceal-carry (sometimes called an out-the-front blade).
Generally, it is legal to conceal-carry (1) a pocket knife (sometimes called a jack knife or a buck knife), (2) that only has one edge, (3) as a tool and not as a dangerous, stabbing weapon. Any other knife that is being conceal-carried might invite a prosecutor to consider it as an illegally-carried, concealed weapon under the right (or wrong) circumstances.
Note the catchall, dangerous-weapon component: if the prosecution can convince a jury that the stabbing instrument was carried as a dangerous weapon, all sorts of stabbing instruments could fit the definition of an illegal, dangerous weapon: screwdriver, ice pick, box cutter, steak knife, drill bit.
Lawyer speak for this crime is “carrying a concealed weapon,” and the crime is punishable by up to five years in prison. MCL 750.227.
There are three notable exceptions to the prohibition on conceal-carried knives:
- Hunting knife while in the field hunting;
- Knives, tools, implements, arrowheads, or artifacts that are manufactured from stone by means of conchoidal fracturing (primitive knife production by hand); and
- Within a person’s own dwelling house, within a person’s place of business, or on a person’s possessed land.
What happens when a knife is carried in a vehicle?
Many criminal cases involving knives occur when defendants are legally open-carrying a knife until that person gets into a vehicle, at which point the knife becomes a conceal-carry knife and illegal. Also, it doesn’t matter if the person is operating the vehicle or just occupying the vehicle. MCL 750.227(1).
I cannot stress this enough—if you enter a vehicle, do not have on your person anything other than (1) a pocket knife (sometimes called a jack knife or a buck knife), (2) that only has one edge, and (3) is being carried as a tool and not as a dangerous, stabbing weapon. Any other knife will be considered carrying a concealed weapon and is illegal.
There is an exception for conceal-carrying a knife in a vehicle if that vehicle is within a person’s own dwelling house, within a person’s place of business, or on a person’s possessed land. MCL 750.227(1).
So, how is a knife like a bowie knife or machete for hunting or a filet knife for fishing legally transported to the field? The knife has to be in a container and inaccessible to you and to the driver. MCL 750.222a(2). This means that the knife has to be in a case (knife case, gun case, tool box, tackle box) and in the trunk where no person inside the vehicle can get to the knife.
What’s this business about lawful intent?
In Michigan, it is illegal to carry any dangerous or deadly weapon (pistol, rifle, shotgun, knife, sword, axe, hammer, ball bat, golf club) with unlawful intent to use the weapon against another person. It doesn’t matter whether the weapon is open-carried or concealed, if a person is carrying the weapon with unlawful intent, that person has violated the law.
The crime involves (1) carrying (2) a pistol, firearm, pneumatic gun, dagger, dirk, stiletto, knife having a blade of over 3 inches in length, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument, (3) with the intent to use the weapon unlawfully against the person of another.
I think of this as the stop-them-before-they-kill-somebody law. The easiest way to illustrate this crime is the scenario of the jealous lover who states “I’m going to kill so-and-so” while stomping off with a hammer in-hand. Lawyer speak for this crime is “carrying with intent,” and the crime is punishable by up to five years in prison. MCL 750.226.
If you have questions or concerns about owning, possessing, or carrying a knife in Michigan, please consult with a criminal-defense attorney. I would be happy to respond to emails or telephone calls specific to Marquette County, Michigan.
Posted on April 12, 2021,
Jeffrey M. Schroder, Esq.
Senior Assistant Public Defender
Marquette County Public Defender’s Office
228 W. Washington St., Ste. 3
Marquette, MI 49855
Office: (906) 226-4370