Why are butterfly knives illegal?
In Summary, Butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, are knives with two handles that counter-rotate around the blade. There are a few reasons why butterfly knives are illegal in some States and Countries.
For one, they can be easily concealed, which makes them popular among criminals. Secondly, they are easy to use and can cause serious injuries. Finally, they are often associated with gangs and violence, making them a target for law enforcement.
So if you’re thinking about carrying a butterfly knife, be aware of the laws in your state. In some states, they’re illegal to carry, possess, or sell. So it’s not worth the risk to get caught with one.
The butterfly or Balisong knives are very popular, especially among flipping knife lovers. Also known as the Batangas, these knives also own a different kind of fame; they are illegal in many places.
So, why are the Butterfly knives illegal, especially given the kind of pull that they have on the market
History of the Butterfly Knives
Legends have it that the Butterfly knives originated from the Philippines. One of the earliest mentions of the Balisong knives was in 1710 in Le perett, a French authored book. The book describes the Balisong as utility knives.
The author further suggested that the blade’s popularity goes back to 1500. But other sources claim that the knife has been used since 800 AD.
Balisong is a Philippine name that comes from the words baling sungay. When translated, the words mean broken horn. As the name suggests, the traditional Philippines used broken horns to make the balisong blades.
Over time, the Philippines have not lost love for the Butterfly knives. The blades are still major trade items, especially in Batangas.
Another theory of the Balisong origin suggests that the knife came from the French. As the story goes, the historical Batangas served the purpose of a measuring tool in France. The tool, pied du roi, dates its invention between the 16th and 18th centuries.
This theory does not explain how the knife reached the Philippines. But word has it that Spanish sailors, who cruised through France, introduced the tool to the country.
Whichever theory is true, the Philippines are the ones who perfected the knife. They also developed the famous Balisong flipping techniques.
Of interest is how the traditional knife bears similarities to the contemporary blades. Of course, the unique functionalities of the knives are a major contribution to their consistency in design.
Modern Butterfly knives have a variation in the blade designs. Moreover, as opposed to the broken horns, the manufacturers now use steel in making the blades.
But those are the only notable differences between the contemporary and the traditional Balisong knife.
What makes the Butterfly knives different from other knives?
Unlike other knives, the handles of the butterfly knives are rotatable and not fixed. These handles counter rotates around the tang when in use. When folded, they conceal the sharp blade between them.
You can swing the knife in your hands like a butterfly, hence the name butterfly knives. The Balisong knives are popular in knife competitions. The participants twirl the knife in varying styles to achieve a set goal.
While you may enjoy watching the captivated swings, the knife competition is very dangerous. In some instances, the participants cut off their fingers in random swirls.
Why are the Balisong knives illegal?
Below are some reasons why butterfly knives are outlawed in most places.
Butterfly knives are often illegal because they can be easily concealed. This is because they typically have a small handle that can be easily hidden in a pocket. Additionally, the blade of a butterfly knife is often not visible when the knife is closed, making it difficult for law enforcement to spot.
Criminals often prefer butterfly knives because they are easy to use and can cause serious injuries. The blades of these knives are sharp and can be quickly deployed. Additionally, the handle of a butterfly knife can be used to punch or strike an opponent.
- Ease of deployment
One of the biggest concerns of the Balisong is their potential for use as weapons. A skilled person can draw and withdraw the knife with immense speed. This characteristic is the most dangerous trait in the Butterfly knives. The speed at which one can deploy the knife makes it a favorite tool among criminals.
Most states perceive that the Balisong knives are synonymous with increased crime. From 1981 to 1984, there was an influx of importation of butterfly knives in the United States of America.
These knives came from the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and China. With the increase of knives in the market, there was a surge in knife-related crimes. Many jurisdictions outlawed the use of these knives to curb criminal activities.
Some states only curbed the use and carrying of the knife in public. Other stricter states also made it illegal to own or buy the Balisong knives.
With the ban on the Balisong blade, the knife-related criminal activities also went down. This result increased lawmakers’ perception of the Balisong knife as a weapon. Thus, most states continued imposing stringent laws on their ownership and use.
- Inflicting of self-harm
Another concern from 1981 to 1984 was the increase in emergency cases. Most of these cases were knife-related and self-inflicted.
As the knives were new in the market, most people were curious and took up flipping knives games for leisure. But most of the users were inflicting themselves with injuries as they learned.
The lawmakers concluded that outlawing the Butterfly knives could mitigate the self-harm. It is possible that people still inflict themselves with knives. But the fear of getting to the wrong side of the road stops them from going to the hospital.
Even when closed, a bite from the handle is enough to bite your skin. The danger increases when you flip the blade from one handle to the other. This potential danger is why you need a trainer before you can handle a Balisong by yourself.
The best place to keep the butterfly knife is out of the street. But a simple warning was not enough to quench the interest that the buyers had in the knife. Thus, the second best option was to outlaw them.
- The role of the film industry
The film industry is a greater influencer regarding how we view things. And, no matter how you look at it, the movie industry has contributed to the negative perception of the Balisong.
This blade is often used in movies for cruel and crime-related purposes. For instance, the Hit-girl in the film kick-ass wields the knife in a heinous manner. In the real sense, the knife is a strong handy knife useful for many legal activities.
Some movies use butterfly knives in martial arts scenes. The fact that the Butterfly knife is a useful tool in martial arts stands. But most movie consumers use tactics they borrow from movies in their day-to-day lives. Such enthusiasts buy Butterfly knives and use them without any guidance.
Where are the butterfly knives illegal?
The legality of the Butterfly knife differs from the knife of different jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions classify the Balisong knives as gravity knives, switchblades, or daggers.
In such states, butterfly knives are illegal. Lets us look at the specific countries where the Balisong knives are illegal.
The United States of America
In the United States of America, butterfly knives are illegal in some states. Each state has a varying degree of illegality. In some, it is unlawful to own knives. Others allow ownership but restrict the use and transportation of the knives. The following states prohibit the possession of butterfly knives.
In California, carrying any blade with a length of more than two inches is illegal. But you may find Balisong blades with blades as long as 4 inches. Thus, you may want to confirm the blade length of the butterfly knife before carrying it.
It is legal to own and keep the knife in your house no matter the length of the blade.
Under chapter 46 of the penal code of Texas, the Butterfly knife has the style of a switchblade. Thus, owning, repairing, selling, or manufacturing the knife within Texas is unlawful.
In Hawaii State, carrying, selling, or manufacturing the Balisong knife is illegal. If you violate this law, you may serve 3-5 years in prison.
The Butterfly falls under the category of gravity blades and is illegal in Kansas.
- New York State
In the state, the Balisong knives are gravity blades. This category of knives is completely banned from use or possession.
The Butterfly knives are legal in Utah as long as they are not concealed. Covering the knife is illegal and punishable by State law.
Like in Utah, you may not carry the Balisong knife in a concealed state in Oregon.
You may carry the Balisong knife, whether concealed or open in Wisconsin. But you may only carry the knife within your property or premises.
Thus, you may not carry the knife, open or concealed, in public areas. Also, carrying such a knife on other people’s property is illegal.
Butterfly knives in federal states and properties
States such as Utah, Oregon, Wyoming, Dakota, and Oklahoma allow you to own Butterfly knives. But even in such states, there are some places where carrying a knife is unlawful. You may not carry any knife on a federal property unless you are a federal agent. Breaking this rule is punishable by the federal law governing the state.
- The Philippines.
The Philippines classify any pocket knife as a utility blade if you can use one hand to open the knife. The blade of the knife must not exceed the length of a palm.
All the knives that fall under the switchblade are legal in the Philippines. But you may need a license in some urban Philippines to carry the knife. This case applies even if you use a knife to carry out your day-to-day activities.
- The United Kingdom
Since January 1989, the United Kingdom Government has considered the Butterfly knives offensive. Thus, these knives are illegal in the UK.
Under the UK’s 1953 prevention of crimes act, the law permits you to own a knife in the country. But carrying a knife in public places is an offense.
The Criminal Justice act of 1988 has more prohibitive laws regarding the butterfly knife. It states that it is illegal to carry, lend, import, sell or hire the Butterfly knife within the UK. Also, the law has the right to seize a balisong knife upon importation. But you enjoy exemption from the law if you prove that the knife is more than 100 years and classified as antique.
German is one of the strictest countries when it comes to weapon rules, including knife laws. If caught with a Butterfly knife in your possession, you are punishable by up to five years in prison. This knife law extends to selling, buying, transporting, or manufacturing the knife.
Any proof that you tried to sell or buy a knife in Germany will attract a fine of 10,000 pounds. The law will also confiscate the knife. On top of that, you will not escape the knife possession penalty.
In other words, it’s better to distance yourself from the Butterfly knives in Germany.
Switzerland is another strict country when it comes to the Balisong knife. You may not own, trade, or uses the knife anywhere near the Swiss border if you want to remain on the right side of the law.
Balisong knives fall under flick, gravity, and switchblades categories in Australia. All these classifications are illegal in the country. Thus, you may not carry the knife or use it unless you have a legitimate reason for doing so.
But you may carry the knife if you can prove that you use it in your day-to-day activities or have a valid license.
The Canadian Government classifies the Butterfly blades as gravity knives. Thus, these knives are illegal and prohibited within the country. You can only use the knife if you received an exemption before the laws.
Where are the Butterfly knives legal?
The other states in the United States do not prohibit you from carrying the Butterfly blades. But you might want to go through the knife laws in that particular state for a better understanding of the knife laws.
Some restrictions that might concern you are if you can carry a concealed knife and the length of the permissible blade.
New Hampshire restricts the possession of butterfly knives to some citizens. If you were ever convicted of some crimes of violence against people, you might not carry a knife.
It’s good to remember that no style of knife is permissible across the 50 states. Thus, if you are keen on keeping the knife laws, you are better off keeping to the Swiss Army blades. These are utility knives and are legal in most states.
Poland has no restrictions on the carrying and possession of the Balisong knife. The country welcomes the importation of gravity knives and switchblades.
Unlike in other jurisdictions, knives are not considered a weapon in the country. Thus, you may own, sell, trade, and manufacture butterfly knives within Poland’s boundaries.
Lithuania is another country where butterfly knives are legal. Like in Poland, knives are not considered a weapon in the country.
Knife laws offenses and penalties
As we have seen, knife laws differ from one state to another. Thus, the offenses and penalties therein are different between the states. But some of the common violations of the knife laws are as below:
- Hiding or concealing a knife you are only allowed to carry in the open.
- Brandishing a knife, such as wielding or aggressively drawing the knife in a fight.
- Violating the restriction of ownership laws in a particular state.
- Inflicting deadly damage to a victim using a knife
In some states, you can get an extra sentence of one year for using a deadly weapon such as an illegal knife. This sentence is beside the penalty for the illegal possession of the knife.
Is it illegal to buy a butterfly knife online?
Some states prohibit the sale and shipment of butterfly knives. Thus it may be difficult for you to find an online retailer for the blades.
On the Amazon site, you can only find the dulled Balisong knives. These knives are for training and are not as sharp as genuine ones.
If you want a real butterfly knife, your best bet is in antique or legal knife shops like BladeHQ. It would be best if you familiarized yourself with the knife laws within your state before buying the knife.
Legal defenses for knife charges
The most obvious defense against carrying weapon charges is to claim no violation. But for this defense to apply, the knife should be within regulation.
If you are planning to carry a knife, you need to understand the knife laws in your state. This knowledge can help you in case you encounter any enforcing authorities.
Carrying a forbidden knife without realizing it is illegal is also a defense. In this case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. He will need to prove that the charged person knew the knife was in their possession.
Also, he must provide evidence that the charged person knew the knife was illegal. If the prosecutor cannot supply enough evidence to support the case, he might opt to drop it.
The charges of carrying a concealed knife may drop if you confirm that you abided by the open carry law.
Also, you may avoid knife law charges if you can prove that the police found the knife during an illegal search.
If there was police misconduct during the time of arrest, you might not appear in front of the court of law.
The Balisong knife is as cool a blade as it is dangerous. Hence there is a need to have it regularized. The knife laws vary from state to state. It is good to confirm whether the knife is legal in your state before attempting to buy one. Also, ensure that your knife has the proper blade length.
It is also important to check the law of other states if you are traveling from your state with a knife. If all these factors check, you can be confident about operating on the law’s right side.
Regents, B., Members, A., Members, P., Us, C., Policy, R., & Service, T. et al. (2022). The Unwelcome Butterfly | American Knife and Tool Institute. Retrieved 28 May 2022, from https://www.akti.org/the-unwelcome-butterfly/
Where are Butterfly Knives Legal? A Guide to Owning a Butterfly Knife. (2021). Retrieved 28 May 2022, from https://tacknivesusa.com/where-are-butterfly-knives-legal-a-guide-to-owning-a-butterfly-knife/
My name is Jonathan M, and I’m a passionate Mechanical Engineer, a knife enthusiast, and the author of this website. I have a bachelor's degree in Mechanical engineering with a specialization in material science. I am particularly interested in researching knife steel, knife properties, and brands. I hope you will find value in the articles on this website. Contact me if you have any questions or input!