Everyone wants to know that they are able to protect themselves in dangerous moments.
For example, people feel much safer knowing that they are able and allowed to defend themselves if they are threatened with bodily harm.
However, many US citizens aren’t clear on the laws and regulations surrounding using a knife in self-defense, which can lead to serious and life-altering consequences.
In this article, I will be explaining how and when you can use a knife in self-defense and what might happen as a result if you need to defend yourself in this way.
Are Knives Legal In The United States?
No US states have made it blanketly illegal to carry a knife for the purposes of self-defense, so no matter where you are in America, you can carry a blade to defend yourself.
With that being said, different states have different laws regarding the kinds of knives that can be carried by citizens.
For example, in Colorado, citizens can carry almost any kind of knife, with the only exception being a ballistic knife.
Arizona, on the other hand, places no restrictions on the types or sizes of knives that can be carried in public, and there are no guidelines on concealed or open carrying.
Some states, such as Massachusetts, have stricter knife laws, placing carrying restrictions on any knives with blades longer than 1.5 inches.
This goes to show that the law surrounding knife legality varies from state to state.
Therefore, if you’re planning on carrying a knife on your person for self-defense, make sure you understand the legal position of the state you are residing in or traveling to.
Even if you have a legitimate need to defend yourself, if you do so with a deadly weapon that is prohibited in the relevant state, you will face criminal charges, so this is very important.
Note, also, that there is a difference in legality between concealed and open carrying in some states.
When To Use A Knife In Self-Defense
Assuming that you are carrying a knife in accordance with the law in your state, when can you use your weapon to defend yourself in an attack?
Basically, you can use a knife to defend yourself provided that there was no way, using lesser force, to ensure your safety in the situation.
Self-defense using a knife is also permissible as long as you use reasonable force and, ideally, allow the attacker to retreat without causing more bodily harm than you need to.
For example, if you were approached by a single, unarmed attacker who tried to engage in a fistfight and you pulled out a knife and immediately stabbed that person, your self-defense claim wouldn’t hold up in court.
Even if you were generally afraid for your life in that situation, the legal system would deem your use of force to be unreasonable within the context of the attack.
However, let’s explore a different situation. You’re walking alone at night and are suddenly surrounded by a group of attackers, all with knives, and you have no way of escape.
In this context, if you were to pull out your knife and brandish it as a warning before using it as a last resort, you’d be much more likely to have the court rule in your favor.
The reason I recommend (if you have time) making it clear that you have a knife and are prepared to use it before you actually use it is because many attackers don’t expect resistance from their victims.
That means that when you pull out a knife, many attackers will back off out of surprise. This will save you from having to actually use the knife and facing all the legal implications of doing so.
Can You Go To Jail For Using A Knife In Self Defense?
After using a knife in self-defense, even if you used the knife with reasonable force in a situation where you had no other choice, you can expect to spend some time in jail.
This might seem very unfair, but after there has been a report of bodily harm using a knife, law enforcement officers will need to ensure the safety of everyone involved while they gather the necessary information, including details and evidence of the incident.
You may be required to serve extended jail time beyond the initial investigation period if it is deemed that you have done any of the following:
- Carrying an illegal knife. If the knife you used to defend yourself is not legal in the state in which you were attacked, you will still be in breach of the law, regardless of whether you were legitimately defending yourself. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you’re complying with the knife laws in your state.
- Using unnecessary force. If you are found to have used unnecessary force while defending yourself, you could end up serving jail time. For example, if you stabbed the attacker with your knife multiple times despite them trying to remove themselves from the situation, that’s unnecessary force because at some point during the fight, you no longer needed to defend yourself.
- Not exiting the situation through other means. If you had other options to safely exit the situation but chose to defend yourself with your knife instead, you could be found guilty in court and sentenced to jail.
- Entering the fight voluntarily. It’s important to note that it doesn’t count as self-defense if you initially entered into the fight willingly (or even instigated the fight) and then pulled out a knife.
- Attacking in retaliation. Self-defense cannot be used as a defense in court if you were attacked at some point in the past and decided to instigate an attack yourself later.
It can be tricky to determine when it’s necessary to use a knife in self-defense and when doing so can land you in legal trouble.
Try to only use a knife in self-defense if you’re outnumbered or in a 1-1 fight, if you have no other means of escaping the situation, and as a last resort.
This means that it’s best to let your attackers know that you have a knife before you use it, try to de-escalate the situation through other means, and try to remove yourself from the environment before resorting to using your knife.