Maryland’s knife laws have been under scrutiny lately. The Chesapeake State is not only in close proximity to the Washington, D.C., but it is the home to one of the most violent cities in America, Baltimore, which reported 98.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents in 2018.[i]
However, it is not just a surge in violent crimes that have brought Maryland’s knife laws back into focus. It is the prohibition on the possession of switchblade knives, thought to be an antiquated law that has led to alleged thousands of invalid arrests, that have led activists to investigate and question the laws utility, if any.[ii] Restrictions do not just apply to switchblades and gravity knives in Maryland, however.
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A far more cumbersome system exists in Maryland— and one that has proven not to be knife friendly.
Overview of Maryland Knife Laws
While there are no limitations on the type of knife you can own in Maryland, there are limits on open and concealed carry. Additionally, there is no state preemption so different counties may impose stricter limits on carrying. The law, which is codified at Md. Criminal Law Code Ann 1-101(2012), is regularly described as archaic.
For this reason, many find Maryland knife laws confusing. The text of the law has been the subject of debate recently in the high-profile case regarding the death of Freddie Gray, where there was a sizable debate on whether the knife he was carrying at the time of his arrest was legal or not.[iii] Given that the knife was never shown to the public, this may seem like a moot point, but it speaks to a larger issue in Maryland knife laws – how a dangerous weapon is defined in black letter law.
Even before the case of Freddie Gray, a man was charged with carrying a concealed weapon when he was in possession of a knife at Starbucks.[iv] A careful reading of Maryland’s knife laws is critical.
There are no restrictions on the types of knives that are legal to own in Maryland. Surprisingly, and unlike many other states, undetectable knives, larger knives, throwing stars and bowie knives are also legal to own. The following knives are legal to own:
- Butterfly knives
- Dirks, daggers, stilettos, and other slim knives.
- Gravity knives
- Automatic knives
- Ballistic knives
- Disguised knives
- 4-101 defines star knives and classifies which knives are deemed weapons. The statute, in part, reads: “ ‘[A] Star knife’ means a device used as a throwing weapon, consisting of several sharp or pointed blades arrayed as radially disposed of arms about a central disk. [A] ‘Weapon’ includes a dirk knife, bowie-knife, switchblade knife, star knife, sandclub, metal knuckles, razor, and nunchaku.”
Interestingly, Md. Code, CR § 4-101(a)(5)(i) excludes penknives as a dangerous weapon unless it has a switchblade.
Maryland law does prohibit concealed carry of a dangerous weapon, which includes “chemical mace, pepper mace, or a tear gas device openly with the intent or purpose of injuring an individual in an unlawful manner.” It is worth noting that this prohibition applies in certain counties, including Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, Cecil County, Harford County, Kent County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, St. Mary’s County, Talbot County, Washington County, and Worcester County.
Here is where the arcane language comes in. Minors in certain counties cannot carry a dangerous weapon between certain times. The law reads: “(ii) A minor may not carry a dangerous weapon between 1 hour after sunset and 1 hour before sunrise, whether concealed or not, except while: 1. on a bona fide hunting trip; or 2. engaged in or on the way to or returning from a bona fide trap shoot, sport shooting event, or any organized civic or military activity.”
In Maryland, a person who violates this law is “guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both” and if it “appears from the evidence that the weapon was carried, concealed or openly, with the deliberate purpose of injuring or killing another, the court shall impose the highest sentence of imprisonment prescribed.”
Prohibition on the Transfer of Switchblades and Ballistic Knives
The relevant law reads, in part, “A person may not sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter: (1) a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife; or (2) a device that is designed to propel a knife from a metal sheath by means of a high-compression ejector spring, commonly called a shooting knife.” The penalty for violations of this law? Imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $500 or possibly both.
Specific Bans on School Property
A person cannot possess, display or carry a knife on school property. The pertinent law reads, in part: “A person may not carry or possess a firearm, knife, or deadly weapon of any kind on public school property.” There are, of course, limited exceptions. However, the penalties are stiff: “[A] person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.”[v] Knife owners should be particularly aware of this law and ensure that they do not carry by any means on school grounds.
Given the proximity to the Nations’ capital, advising all knife owners to be wary of their surroundings and jurisdictional changes when traveling is an understatement. While Maryland is not the most restrictive state, there is certainly more that can be done in terms of evolving the state’s knife laws.
While switchblades and gravity knives are legal to own, as with many other states, possessing a knife on public school property is illegal.[vi] There are also specific rules relating to the transfer of switchblades and ballistic knives. Given that Maryland does not have state law preemption, county rules are also important to note. In sum, Maryland knife owners – be careful.
[iii] For more information: https://www.villagevoice.com/2015/04/27/prosecutor-says-freddie-grays-knife-was-legal-under-maryland-state-law/
[v] Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 4-102 (2012)
[vi] Md. Code, CR 4-102.
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.
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