New Hampshire is one of the original thirteen colonies. Only three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, the first settlers inhabited present-day Portsmouth. When New Hampshire adopted its own constitution in January of 1776, that founding history of leadership and independence was underscored.
While the state motto of “Live Free or Die” was not officially adopted until 1945, it is arguably the most well-known state motto and undoubtedly rings true – particularly as it applies to the state’s knife laws.
New Hampshire is one of the most knife-friendly states. In recent years, the state has made great strides in overturning legislation many found to be archaic. Today, there are few restrictions on knife owners. In sum, non-convicted felons may own and carry knives with little restriction almost anywhere in the state. There are a few other important points to note about knife ownership as well.
History of New Hampshire Knife Laws
In 2010, bipartisan support for reform in New Hampshire’s knife laws led to a repeal of the ban on switchblades, dirk-knives, daggers, and stilettos.[i] While this would have been revolutionary in and of itself, the very next year, the legislature passed a bill abolishing the complicated local ordinance laws that fragmented the legality of knife ownership.
Currently, New Hampshire joins Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah that also have state knife pre-emption laws.
By prohibiting local ordinance rules from being more restrictive than state law, New Hampshire knife laws are now uniform. The pertinent law, HB 159:26 reads, in part: “[A]ll municipal ordinances and regulations … relative to the sale, purchase, ownership, use, possession, transportation, licensing, permitting, taxation, or other matter pertaining to firearms, firearm components, ammunition, firearms supplies, or knives shall be null and void.”
Given the state law preemption that is at play, there is a dangerous misconception that New Hampshire has no knife laws.[ii] This is patently untrue. In an article written by Dan Tuohy in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Representative Jennifer Coffey, prime sponsor of the legislation repealing switchblades, is quoted as saying “All we did was get rid of an old, antiquated law that was enacted in the 1950s…We need laws on criminal activities, not on objects.”[iii]
Restrictions for Convicted Felons
Unlike other states that rely on the intended use of a knife or take a fact-based approach to possible convictions, there are clear-cut restrictions on knife ownership in New Hampshire.
The most notable restriction on the ownership and possession of knives in New Hampshire applies to convicted felons. HB 159:3 also reads, in part, that a person is guilty of a class B felony if he: “(a) Owns or has in his possession or under his control, a pistol, revolver, or other firearm, or slungshot, metallic knuckles, billies, stiletto, switchblade knife, sword cane, pistol cane, blackjack, dagger, dirk-knife, or other deadly weapon as defined in RSA 625:11, V; and (b) Has been convicted in either a state or federal court in this or any other state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States of a felony.” Knife owners and convicted felons should be critical of the language in the law– it does not simply state “possession” but adds “under his control.”
It is also important to note that a person is guilty of a class B felony if he “completes and signs an application for purchase of a firearm and the person is a convicted felon.” Note that the sale of the firearm need not be completed for a person to be guilty of a crime under this law. Clearly, New Hampshire has prioritized knife ownership, as well as pathways to ownership, for convicted felons as a serious issue.
Permitted Knives in New Hampshire
Where legal, there is no limit on the length of knife blades, the number of edges or the construction of the knife. For non-convicted felons, the following types of knives are legal to own and carry in New Hampshire:
- Gravity knives
- Balisong knives
- Bowie knives
- Martial arts throwing knives
It is important to note that the statewide ban on metal knuckles extends to knives in so much that carrying or selling knives with metal finger rings is a misdemeanor.[iv]
Open Carry and Concealed Carry
Lawful knife owners should avoid carrying knives in schools, government and public buildings (including courthouses) and airports. This same precaution should be applied in all states, but it is particularly important in New Hampshire due to the misconception that there are no knife laws whatsoever in the Granite State. It is also worth noting that New Hampshire is a small state that borders much less knife-friendly states. It is easy for travelers to cross state lines. Knife owners should be cognizant of jurisdictional boundaries at all times.
Sale and Transfer of Knives to Minors
Other than the restriction on knife ownership and possession that applies to convicted felons, New Hampshire state law does prohibit the sale of paintball guns and BB guns to minors. However, there is no law regarding the sale or transfer of knives to minors.
Knife Laws Moving Forward
A review of New Hampshire’s legislative docket suggests that changes in the state’s knife laws are not on the horizon. Further reform would push New Hampshire over the threshold of being the utmost friendliest states for knife owners in the United States. T
he Granite State, however, is not too far from being number one. For now, convicted felons cannot own, possession or be in the control of any knife. Knife owners enjoy a substantial amount of rights, including the right to own almost any type of knife including switchblades.
Metal knuckles and knives with metal rings are illegal to own and, lastly, knife owners should not tout their knives in schools or public buildings. Otherwise, law-abiding citizens should feel relaxed in New Hampshire – the state legislature has certainly fulfilled the motto of “Live Free or Die!”
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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