Maine has some of the most picturesque landscapes in the United States. It only makes sense that the state most known for lobster would allow permit possession of most types of knives. Indeed, it is legal to own all types of knives in the Pine Tree State including switchblades and automatic knives.
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However, the laws around concealed carry and the display of knives are less concrete. Recent changes in the law and cases that have tried to illuminate distinctions in what makes a weapon “dangerous” have led to confusion.
However, a brief history of knife laws in Maine will assist in clarifying what one can and cannot do. In summary, Maine, like many other states, relies on an expansive definition of intended use.
History of Maine Knife Laws
Like many states, the year 2015 was a turning point year for residents of Maine. Before 2015, anyone who wanted to carry a concealed weapon needed a police-issued permit.
The permit requirements were extensive and included a background check, fingerprints, criminal history information, domestic violence investigation(s), a screen for drug use and mental health disorders, and proof that the permit applicant passed a gun safety course.
The current law allows legal firearm owners to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The new law also repealed a 1959 ban on switchblades, butterfly knives and other blades that open automatically.
Permitted Knives in Maine
The following are legal to own in Maine:
- Pocket knives
- Bowie knives
- Single-edged and double-edged fixed blades
- KA-BAR knives
- Sword Canes
- Throwing knives
- Belt knives and other disguised knives
- Hunting knives
- Utility blades
Restrictions on Concealed Carry
A person is not allowed to carry certain concealed weapons which include dirks, bowie knives, stilettos, and other dangerous or deadly weapons. With the exception of knives used to hunt, fish or trap, a person may not “display in a threatening manner a firearm, slungshot, knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person; or wear under the person’s clothes or conceal about the person’s person a firearm, slungshot, knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon usually employed in the attack on or defense of a person.”[i] (emphasis added)
There are two elements that are important to the interpretation of this law. First, the statute clearly states that a person cannot “display in a threatening manner” which is not clearly defined. Of course, holding a knife to someone’s throat would be a display in a threatening manner.
However, given that the statue is not clear what constitutes such a display it is easy for one to conclude that a determination one has broken the law will come down to a fact-based scenario. Second, the law does not define the type of weapon that would be usually employed in the attack or defense of another person.
However, it seems that the intended use of the knife, rather than simply the classification of the knife itself, is paramount in determining if it is a dangerous or deadly weapon. As an example, if one can conclude that if a knife was not designed for use against humans it can be carried concealed.[ii] Put another way, if a knife was designed solely to harm other humans it cannot be carried concealed.
It does appear that the Courts are moving away from a strict reading of the statute. In 2012, the Maine Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man who was found in possession of two ordinary folding knives. The Court stated in State v. Jones, that:
“The [trial] court, in its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, noted ‘the size, the heft, and the sharp and serrated edges of the [blades]’ and that ‘these knives would easily do significant damage to human tissue, human organs, and major arteries.’ Such a description, however, could be given of any knife and renders Jones’s knives indistinguishable from those that the Legislature has expressly exempted from the prohibition against concealment.
Thus, there is no factual basis in the record to support a conclusion that Jones’s knives fall within the class of knives that the Legislature has prohibited individuals from concealing.”[iii] (emphasis added)
This decision is important for a number of reasons, among them, being that the decision came down from the state’s highest court. It is also important to note that the Court discussed legislative intent in its decision. The Court also noted: “It is the intrinsic qualities of the knife, not the circumstances in which it is found, that informs the determination whether it is the type of knife that the Legislature has prohibited from being concealed.
Any other approach would produce inconsistent results, leave the public to guess as to how to conform its conduct to the law, and judicially engraft a culpable state of mind requirement into a statutory provision that is silent as to intent.”
Limit of Blade Length & Other Exceptions
There is no maximum blade length is established by Maine’s knife laws. One-armed people are permitted to own and transport gravity knives, switchblades, or balisong knives if the blade of the knife is shorter than three inches long. The only knife length limit is the 3” limit for exempted switchblades and gravity knives carried by one-armed individuals.
Knife Laws Moving Forward
Cases will further clarify Maine’s knife laws by adding to the canon of intended use. Additionally, cases will help clarify which knives (and perhaps which situations) will permit concealed carry. Remember that knives are still prohibited on school grounds under school district rules – state preemption does not apply in Maine.
Knife owners should be cognizant of the jurisdictions they are traveling in at all times. Given that a sweeping overhaul of the law has already occurred in Maine, it is unlikely we will see any changes in the near future. Travelers to Maine should rest assured that residents can own switchblades – a welcome lift of a generations-old restriction.
[i] 25 M.R.S. §2001-A (2012)
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.