Florida's known for a pretty wide range of things: oranges, sunshine, retirees, Disney World and, not least of all, the near daily deluge of bizarre and often entertaining "Florida man" stories: Florida man wearing homemade knife necklace charges at neighbors; Florida man cuts neighbor with knife that has "kindness" written on it; Florida woman pulls knife on man after he complained she "farted loudly." Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in these real-life Florida man (and Florida woman) headlines, but they certainly might have you asking, "What's the deal with knife laws in Florida, anyway?" The answer is that they're pretty friendly to knife owners, but go ahead and sharpen up on the legality of Florida knife carry laws before you take a trip down south – just to be sure you don't end up in the next Florida man or Florida woman headline.
In the big legal picture, owning and openly carrying most knives is legal for adults in Florida, but a permit is required for the concealed carry of weaponry.
Concealed Carry in Florida
There's at least one big blanket law in the Sunshine State that applies to all knives in a significant way: Statute 790.1 of Title XLVI (Crimes), Weapons and Firearms, 2018 Florida Statutes. Per this important legislation, the concealed carry of weapons law in Florida is clear as a summer day in Miami:
"...a person who carries a concealed weapon or electric weapon or device on or about his or her person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree."
And, yes, this does apply to knives, whether we're talking about switchblades in Florida, Florida pocket knife laws or butterfly knife laws in Florida – all of these and other types of blades are covered by Florida Statute 790.1. In addition to knives and blades, other types of concealed weapons include dirks, or short daggers; metallic knuckles; billy clubs and similar types of blunt clubs; tear gas guns; and chemical weapons – basically, any type of deadly weapon counts.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however. Statute 790.1 does not apply to anyone licensed to carry a concealed weapon or concealed firearm as outlined in the provisions of Florida Statute 790.6. Likewise, carrying certain items for lawful self-defense purposes does not violate the law. Self-defense items include:
- Self-defense chemical sprays.
- Nonlethal stun guns.
- Dart-firing stun guns.
- Nonlethal electric weapons.
- Any other nonlethal device designed solely for defensive purposes.
At the other end of the spectrum, concealed firearms escalate potential charges to the felony level.
Open Carry in Florida
While concealed carry knife laws in Florida might not sound at all friendly, the southern state's open carry laws tell a whole different story. The law firm of Salazar and Kelly with offices in Kissimmee, Orlando and Altamonte Springs, puts it pretty plainly: Almost all knives are legal to own and carry in the open in Florida.
Things go a little deeper, too. Although nonlicensed concealed carry can get you into legal trouble, knives and similar bladed instruments used for work aren't necessarily subject to the same rules. According to Salazar and Kelly's website, it's generally okay to carry something work-related in your pocket or elsewhere on your clothing, like a box cutter or a multi-tool with a blade, especially if the blade in question measures less than 4 inches. In the 2004 case of Holley v. State of Florida, the court found that box cutters and razors did not qualify as deadly weapons because they are designed for utility purposes, rather than for bodily harm.
In large part, this legal philosophy finds its roots in the Florida State Constitution, in which Article 1 promises:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and of the lawful authority of the state shall not be infringed, except that the manner of bearing arms may be regulated by law."
License for Concealed Carry
Here's where that part about the manner of bearing arms being regulated by law comes in to play. To legally carry a concealed knife in Florida as means of lawful self-defense, you will need to have a Florida Concealed Weapon or Firearm License. To get your CWFL, any person over the age of 21 may apply in person at any Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regional office or any authorized Florida tax collector's office. You'll need a picture ID such as a driver's license or a state-issued ID and a copy of a training document or similar certificate certifying that you're proficient with a firearm. You'll also have to pay fees, which look something like these for typical Florida residents, as of 2019:
- Fingerprint processing fee: $42.
- Initial license fee: $55.
- Renewal license fee: $45.
- Revised or duplicate license fee: $15.
- New application fee: $22.
- Renewal application fee: $12.
Active and retired law enforcement officers and judges are exempt from fees, while consular security officials and out-of-state residents may be subject to higher costs. Licenses are valid for seven years from the date of issuance, and the license must be carried alongside a valid ID at all times when you're in possession of a concealed knife, weapon or firearm. Eligible applicants must be United States citizens or permanent resident aliens, cannot have been committed to a mental institution within the past five years, and cannot have been convicted of a felony or certain controlled substance and domestic violence violations.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may choose to deny the application in the case of those who have committed violent misdemeanor crimes. The department maintains an automated listing of all CWFL license holders in the state, which is available for online viewing at all times upon request to all law enforcement agencies in the state via the Florida Crime Information Center's website.
Even licensed concealed carry isn't universally legal in Florida. At any school below the college level, concealed knives, firearms and other weapons are prohibited. On college campuses, only registered students, employees or faculty members may carry, if they're licensed. Knives and other weapons are also not allowed in the areas of establishments primarily devoted to dispensing and consuming alcoholic beverages. That's not the be-all, end-all list, though. Other places where both openly carried and concealed knives, firearms and other weapons are outlawed in Florida include:
- Any place where weapons are prohibited by federal law.
- Career centers.
- Courthouses and courtrooms.
- Detention facilities such as jails or prisons.
- Highway patrol stations.
- Meetings of governing bodies of counties, municipalities, public school districts or special districts.
- Meetings of state legislature or state legislature committees.
- Passenger terminals and sterile areas of airports.
- Places of nuisance such as those where gang activity or prostitution take place – basically, any place that tends to injure the health of a community.
- Police stations.
- Polling places.
- School administration buildings.
- Sheriff's stations.
Florida Knife Ownership
Okay, so now you know under what circumstances you can and can't carry knives in Florida. But what about just owning knives in your personal collection or, per the law, "within the interior of a private conveyance" without a license? The laws here are a lot more lax: It's legal to own virtually any type of knife in Florida. Big knives, little knives, real knives, novelty knives and even knives that are disguised like other things. That legal list includes, but is not limited to, knives and blades like:
- Balisong knives.
- Belt knives.
- Bowie knives.
- Butterfly knives.
- Cane knives.
- Disguised knives.
- Multi-tools that include knives and other blades.
- Pocket knives.
- Throwing knives.
- Undetectable knives – those that will not set off metal detectors.
And just in case you're a Floridian ninja in training, throwing stars are okay to own, too.
There is one type of knife that the state of Florida does outlaw, though, as of laws dating back to 1985: the ballistic knife. This type of weapon features a detachable, spring-loaded blade that can be shot or propelled outward when a trigger, switch or other type of lever is activated. Think of it as sort of a gun that shoots a knife blade, and it won't take long to understand why it's illegal in Florida. And Florida is not alone here; according to the federal U.S. Code, Title 15, Chapter 29, Section 1245:
"Whoever in or affecting interstate commerce, within any Territory or possession of the United States, within Indian country (as defined in section 1151 of title 18), or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States (as defined in section 7 of title 18), knowingly possesses, manufactures, sells, or imports a ballistic knife shall be fined as provided in title 18, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
Florida Knife Laws for Minors
Ballistic knives in Florida may be illegal to own no matter your age, while other knives are fair game, but the state does impose some specific laws regarding minors and knives.
In Florida, it's against the law to sell any weapons, including knives, to those under the age of 18 in the absence of a parent or guardian. In fact, adults can't sell, rent, barter, lend or otherwise transfer knives to minors in any capacity at all without the approval of the youth's parents or guardians. Knives aren't alone, either; this law applies to any dangerous weapon. Similarly, it applies to anyone defined as a person of unsound mind, in addition to those under 18 years old.
One exception here is that, under Florida law, an "ordinary pocketknife" is allowed for sale to those under 18. As it occurs throughout Florida law, the term ordinary pocketknife goes undefined. That means it's ultimately up to the decision of judges and juries in the state to decide on the line of demarcation between an ordinary pocketknife and other sorts of blades. Based on legal precedents, such as the 2010 case of K.H v. State of Florida, features that may mark a knife as uncommon or extraordinary include double-edged blades, serrations, locking mechanisms, large metal hilt guards and notched or combat-style grips. The 2001 case of Porter v. State of Florida found that a common pocket knife has a blade of less than 4 inches, which is why you'll often hear the 4-inch rule cited.
Knife Laws: Repercussions
As per Florida Statute 790.1, illegally carrying any type of concealed, deadly knife in Florida can get you slapped with a misdemeanor of the first degree. In the state, a first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and jail time of up to one year. Those guilty of selling or otherwise transferring knives to minors without parental permission may also face first-degree misdemeanor charges and the corresponding punishments.
While most casual knife carriers aren't at too much risk in Florida, enthusiasts will find it wise to check in with their local municipalities. Some Florida counties do have bespoke regulations regarding knives and other weapons set out in their unique municipal codes and, in some cases, these rules may differ from state law.