Even for a legal expert trained in understanding weapon laws, Wisconsin knife laws are often difficult to understand. The primary reason for the confusion stems from the ambiguous wording of statutes that lead to protracted legal battles inside civil and criminal courts.
Legislative leaders in Wisconsin have made an effort to clear up the ambiguous language by passing laws defining the meaning of a number of knives, as well as clarify the intent of unclear knife statutes.
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A thorough review of Wisconsin knife laws leads to the conclusion the state does not consider knives to be labeled as “dangerous weapons” as defined by state law. Let’s review the important components of Wisconsin knife laws to determine where residents and visitors stand.
Recent Changes in Wisconsin Knife Laws
On April 14, 2015, the Badger State passed a law that provides visitors and residents with more legal freedom to own and carry knives. Senator Terry Moulton and representative Kathleen Bernier sponsored the landmark knife law, with Governor Scott Walker a persuasive supporter of the new law.
Governor Walker played an instrumental role in lobbying legislators that sat on the fence during the extended debate that at times turned confrontational.
The governor made a statement that tied the new law to the fundamental meaning of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. “Wisconsin citizens have the fundamental right to defend themselves and feel safe and secure in their homes and we remain committed to protecting those rights,’ remarked Governor Walker during an emotional speech.
AB 142 removed every restriction placed on switchblade knives, which the state categorizes as a type of automatic knife. The lifting of restrictions includes the concealed carrying of a switchblade.
State lawmakers made an exception to the new switchblade rules by stating “person who is prohibited under state law from possessing a firearm may also not go armed with a concealed knife that is a “dangerous weapon.”
In February of 2016, legislators removed additional restrictions when it comes knives, concealed carry, and how the state views municipalities that pass more onerous knife laws that what is mandated by the State of Wisconsin.
With myriad lakes and plenty of wilderness to provide homes for wildlife, the reform of Wisconsin knife laws came about primarily because of the strong support demonstrated by the anglers and hunters living in or visiting the state.
Here are the types of knives that are legal to own in Wisconsin:
Wisconsin Defines the Meaning of Concealed
In a monumental 1993 Wisconsin Court of Appeals case, State v. Keith ruled there are three criteria for defining what is a concealed weapon. First, the weapon must be completely hidden, Second, the defendant in a criminal case must be aware of the presence of the hidden weapon.
Finally, the weapon is within the defendant’s reach, attached to a part of the body, or stored in a clothing pocket.
Another case litigated by the Wisconsin court of appeals ruled a person was guilty of carrying a dangerous concealed weapon in situations where all the three of the following criteria are met:
- Defendant was aware of the presence of the weapon
- The weapon was located inside a car and within the defendant’s reach
- The weapon was hidden from ordinary view
Subsequent court rulings defined the ambiguous term “ordinary view” to mean a person could not see the weapon standing outside a vehicle or within a vehicle.
Concealed Carry Knife Law in Wisconsin
Knife laws in the Badger State allow residents and visitors to conceal carry a legal to own knife.
“Unless other facts and circumstances that indicate a criminal or malicious intent on the part of the person apply, a person is not in violation of, and may not be charged with a violation of, this section for loading, a firearm, or for carrying, or going armed with a firearm or a knife, without regard to whether the firearm is loaded or the firearm or the knife is concealed or openly carried.”
AB 142, Act 149, Section 11 prohibits a person from possessing a firearm, if the person is also prohibited from conceal carrying a legal to own knife.
Additional Wisconsin Knife Laws Information
State preemption language for Wisconsin knife laws is highly ambiguous.
“With regard to state preemption of local regulations, political subdivisions are prohibited from enacting or enforcing an ordinance regulating the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration, or taxation of any knife, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.”
AB 142, Act 149, Section 2 also prevents local regulations from prohibiting a person’s right to open or conceal carry a legal to own knife.
Here is where the state preemption statute for Wisconsin gets muddied.
Although there is a state preemption provision written in AB 142, local governments can forbid the possession of knives carried into a building that is owned, occupied, or controlled by the local political entity. Note the Wisconsin legislature uses the word “building” instead of the term “real estate” to create a narrower restriction for knife prohibition. Knives remain outside the definition of a “dangerous weapon.” However, Wisconsin law has not changed the law that forbids dangerous weapons on school property.
Other Important Provisions of Wisconsin Knife Laws
In the Badger State, minors are not allowed to own a weapon or receive a weapon that was transferred to a minor by an adult. Wisconsin does not place a restriction on the length size of a knife blade. The lack of a blade size restriction is relatively rare among American states. Most states place blade restrictions that range from three to five inches.
Where Do Wisconsin Knife Laws Go from Here?
In a show of unity, both prominent Democrats and Republicans in the Wisconsin statehouse have publicly stated the importance of further clarifying state weapons statutes. State preemption language especially needs more work to unify state and municipal knife laws. Expect some type of law to pass in 2019 that merges state and local knife ownership interests.
Please note: 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.