Friday, August 3, 2012

Way of the Warrior: Responsible knife carrying (Part 1)

Should you carry a knife for self-defense? A lot of my students and peers ask or discuss this question, and there are as many answers as there are inquiries. As individuals, we martial artists want to be in control of situation. We do not want to become victims, especially of crimes we explicitly train to overcome. A weapon gives us a secondary, or primary, layer of defense and offense. It equalizes strength and size differences, and gives a literal edge to its wielder in combat.

As with many martial issues, it ultimately becomes a point of personal preference and comfort. I never carry a weapon, but my teacher carries a folding knife. In some states, everyone tucks a bowie in their belt. In others, you can incur fines and jail time just by walking from the store to your car with a newly purchased kitchen knife in hand. Kali and Silat practitioners are more likely to forget their cell phones than their blades when they leave home, but judoka and jujitsu men might not even have held a plastic training knife. Despite these variations between person, region, and style, there are still objective points to consider (some of which are incidentally personal, regional, and stylistic). In my experience, knife carrying should always return to three questions:
  1. What are local laws? (Part 1)
  2. What is your formal training? (Part 2)
  3. Why do you really want to carry? (Part 3)
In these next few posts, I want to talk about these 3 questions and how they can inform you about knife-carrying tendencies. I am going to start with the letter of the law. Self-defense confrontations are won as much in the courthouse and police station as on the sidewalk. The letter and spirit of the law will arbitrate your post-conflict fate just as much, if not more, than your actual prowess in battle.

WHAT ARE LOCAL LAWS?
A close friend of mine in law school would chastise me if I left out a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. Most martial art teachers are not lawyers. For the final word on legal issues, talk to a police officer or a lawyer in your city. That said, Chicago is my home and I know enough of its laws to offer a relatively informed opinion; of course, don't trust your freedom and bank account with these legal observations. Do try and use them as a starting point for more extensive research.

Most cities allow knife-carrying within certain limits, even those with strict gun control ordinances (such as Chicago and Washington, D.C.). This makes blades a potentially attractive replacement for a concealed gun, or other more specialized self-defense tools. Chicago outlaws not only tasers and stun guns, but also telescoping force batons, knuckle dusters, and 'excessively strong' pepper sprays (such as hornet or bear spray). This leaves knives as the 'best' weapon you can still legally bring around town. But what are the laws governing your tool of choice? If you live in Chicago and want to arm yourself with a blade, you need to keep the following three laws in mind. I am going out of order to start with the single most important piece of knife-related legislation that Chicago martial artists must remember.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (f)     No person shall carry concealed on or about his person a or dagger, dirk, stiletto, bowie knife, commando knife, any blade of which is released by a spring mechanism, including knives known as “switch- blades” or any other type or kind of knife, any blade of which is more than two and one-half inches in length, ordinary razor or other dangerous weapon except that no person 18 years of age or under shall carry concealed on or about his person, any knife, the blade of which is two inches in length or longer.  

This is a longer legal article, but I have bolded the most important part. If you don't remember anything else from this entire post, at least try and remember the Chicago length requirements for a legally carried knife:
DO NOT CARRY A KNIFE THAT HAS A BLADE LONGER THAN 2.5 INCHES!
A police officer told me that the "blade" is measured from the base of the protruding metal to the tip. Anything inside the handle (the 'tang') does not count against your knife length. How strict are these requirements? It depends what you are doing with the knife. If you got pulled over for running a stop sign and had a 2.6 inch knife on you, it is unlikely you would face charges. If, however, you stab a robber with a 2.6 inch blade in a self-defense confrontation, you could well be charged with a weapons violation because of the magnitude of the offense. Even if you are justified in defending yourself, the law can still be against your weapon. To make matters worse, the robber might be able to pursue a civil suit against you for your illegal knife.

Ignorance is never a good criminal defense. If you can't be bothered to measure your knife, you are clearly not responsible enough to carry one in the first place. Now, finding a decent 2.5 inch knife is another matter entirely; most of the better brands are at least 3 inches. Cold Steel has some good options, although they might feel uncomfortable given their small size.
http://www.coldsteel.com/microrecon1.html

As a quick reference, American dollar bills are all 2.61 inches wide. Your knife needs to be just a hair shorter than the width of our currency, at least in Chicago.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (c)     No person shall carry or possess any knife, the blade of which is released by a spring mechanism, including knives known as “switch-blades”, any blackjack, slingshot, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles or bludgeon

It's the standard bad boy weapon of the mid 20th Century. They are fun to play with and fun to show off. They are also wildly illegal in Chicago. NO SWITCHBLADES! What exactly is a "switchblade"? If it has a spring or other assisted release button/switch, it is a switchblade in the eyes of the police and the courts. It does not matter how the weapon looks. It only matter is it has a spring or a similar automatic release mechanism. Both blades below are switchblade, even though the one on the left appears to be a more traditional folding knife.
BOTH ARE ILLEGAL
In both cases, these tools have buttons that automatically release the blade without any wrist movement (on the left weapon, it is just over the pivot screw). This "automatic button" should not be confused with the flipper or thumb stud commonly found on folding knives. Thumbs studs are legal. Folding knives can be legal. Spring loaded buttons are never legal in this city.

Legal! (As long as the blade isn't too long)

If you are worried about losing speed without your West Side Story sidearm, just set aside a little time to practice drawing and flipping your folder. With training, and a good weapon, you can deploy a folding knife almost as fast as you can a switchblade. Some can do it faster. Remember, the weapon does not make the warrior.

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-24
    (d)     No person shall carry or possess with intent to use same unlawfully against another a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon.

I saw a UChicago student cut his hand with a butter knife in the cafeteria. Does that make it a 'dangerous knife'? Only in the hands of a UChi! But it goes to show that the courts and police will always have the final say on what qualifies as an illegal and dangerous weapon. This article gives some more specific guidelines that we need to follow if we are to carry a knife.

Daggers are long weapons that have both sharp edges and a sharp tip, specifically those made for combat. Dirks are thrusting weapons with sharpened tips made for stabbing, not slashing. A stiletto is similar to a dirk, except it is often thinner and lacking any edge; it is a long needle for Venetian style assassinations. As to a "billy", this refers to the standard truncheons and billy clubs of law enforcement, the bludgeoning crowd-control weapons of 1968 Chicago and 1950s Alabama. It is illegal to carry any of these in Chicago. Here are some samples below:
(Note on K-Bar: Not all K-Bars are technically daggers, because some have a flat "dead edge" near the grip. The weapon would still be highly illegal for street carrying, however)

From left to right: K-Bar combat knife/dagger, Cold Steel Scottish Dirk, Tonfa style billy club, stiletto
All of these laws have one underlying principle; the law does not want you to carry around a weapon. It wants you to carry around tools. There is one knife that will almost always be legal to carry, but it is also not one you generally think of in self-defense; the pocket knife. Swiss Army folders (so long as the blade is less than 2.5 inches, which most are) are legal because they are tools. They can double as weapons, but so can almost anything. 

  • Municipal Code of Chicago: Chapter 8-4 - Disorderly Conduct  
    A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:
    (h)     Carries in a threatening or menacing manner, without authority of law, any pistol, revolver, dagger, razor, dangerous knife, stiletto, knuckles, slingshot, an object containing noxious or deleterious liquid, gas or substance or other dangerous weapon, or conceals said weapon on or about the person or vehicle; or
When you openly carry a weapon, you are making some kind of statement. The specifics of that statement might vary depending on your audience and weapon of choice, but you are still saying something. When you have that weapon in Chicago, a liberal, urban area with a serious violence problem, you need to ask yourself questions like this:

1) How will a group of young professionals going out for drinks in Wrigleyville view my weapon?
2) How will a mother and her two 5-year-old daughters riding the Red Line view my weapon?
3) How will an elderly couple on a walk through Lincoln Park view my weapon?

You get the idea. It does not matter if I personally think that carrying a Ka-Bar in my hip sheath is threatening or menacing. It matters only if an average, reasonable bystander thinks it is threatening or menacing. If any of those individuals above feels afraid, I am probably committing disorderly conduct.

Once you face that charge, it is probably rather uncomfortable to go before a jury or judge and  argue your case. "C'mon your honor, it's just a big knife. I have no idea why that little girl and her mom were so scared!" For most average and reasonable citizens, especially those who have no martial experience, there are few things more threatening than a knife in a public space.

As a final note, the phrase "authority of law" does not reference some hidden statute that empowers well-trained martial artists to carry weapons. It means that police officers, soldiers, sheriffs, etc. have the State's authority to bring these tools to the job. We do not.

SUMMARY
From a legal perspective, here are the qualifications your knife needs in order for you to avoid jail time in Chicago.
  1. The blade must be 2.5 inches or less.
  2. The knife cannot have an automatic, spring-powered release mechanism or button. 
  3. Stick to folding knives and pocket knives.
  4. Open carry is just disorderly conduct.
Remember, the only time your knife matters is when you use it. Only after you have defended yourself with the weapon are you going to have to justify it to the authorities. Observing these regulations will be the difference between justified self-defense and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Again, I am not a lawyer or in any position to give legal advice. These are just my own observations on Chicago knife laws and my own perspective on the issue. It is a good place to start, but for the final word, seek out a police officer and/or lawyer in your city (especially if you aren't actually from Chicago).


32 comments :

  1. Thanks, I just moved into Chicago proper, and this post has been the clearest explanation of city knife laws I've been able to find anywhere online. My next step was going to be to head to the nearest CPD station for clarification. I'm well trained, and want to obide to the letter of the law, if ever implemented in self defense I want to be cleared and the use of force justified, in the right hands blade length matters little when correctly applied to ligaments, tendons & arteries.

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    1. I am glad you found it helpful. Definitely not a lot of good information about Chicago self-defense laws around. Enjoy the city! Hope you never have to use your tool and skills.

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  2. Just a quick comment/question: The code seems to indicate that the 2.5-inch restriction applies to /concealed/ weapons...so technically you'd be able to openly carry whatever you want (like a Ka-Bar), no?

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  3. Great question Seth. I checked some sources and here is what I found. I will also add this to the main post so everyone can look over it.

    Here is an additional, relevant law:

    8-4-010 Disorderly conduct.
    A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:

    (h) Carries in a threatening or menacing manner, without authority of law, any pistol, revolver, dagger, razor, dangerous knife, stiletto, knuckles, slingshot, an object containing noxious or deleterious liquid, gas or substance or other dangerous weapon, or conceals said weapon on or about the person or vehicle; or

    (Quick legal note before we go on: I am not a lawyer. Check with actual lawyers before acting on any legal advice!)

    When you openly carry a weapon, you are making some kind of statement. That statement might vary depending on your audience, but you are still saying something. So when you carry a weapon you have to ask yourself some questions:

    1) How will a pair of consultants going out for drinks view my weapon?
    2) How will a mother and her two 5-year-old daughters view my weapon?
    3) How will an elderly couple view my weapon?

    You get he idea. It does not matter if I think that carrying a Ka-Bar in my hip sheath is threatening or menacing. It matters only if an average, reasonable bystander thinks it is threatening or menacing. If it fails that test, then you are probably in direct violation of this law.

    I would personally be very uncomfortable going before a jury or judge and trying to argue my case. "C'mon your honor, it's just a big knife. I have no idea why that little girl and her mom were so scared!" For most average and reasonable citizens, especially those who have no martial experience, open-carry is very threatening and menacing.

    As a final note, the phrase "authority of law" does not refer to some hidden statute that empowers guys like you and me to carry weapons. It means that police officers, soldiers, sheriffs, etc. have the authority to carry these tools. We do not.

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  4. Its bullshit that im limited to a Swiss army knife while walking my dog after the pm shift while im surrounded by strong arm robberies. In most cases the robbers are probably carrying above a .22 caliber bullet. My city is so naive when it comes to self defense. Its beyond sad and its a broken system.

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    1. At least Chicago's citizens will have a concealed handgun carry option in the near future. The new system is probably going to have tons of flaws, but it should still be a useful new tool for concerned Chicagoans (at least, those who have the time, money, resources, etc. to get through the licensing process).

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  5. Thanks for this site. Very helpful, and answered the points i needed. However, I come away feeling that the scenario i would be preparing for, would not likely go my way, however it ended. I'm taking my wife and 12yr. old boy for a week downtown. We will be walking around day and night, to take in as much as possible. I've concluded that should we encounter some threatening youths or mugger, that it's best we just give them what they want, and hope to live another day. God forbid i use equal or greater force to inflict injury or death on my assailant. I most likely will be sued for everything i have, or locked up in prison for a good portion of my life. Glad we don't have your archaic laws here in KC, at least not yet...

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  6. Conarian, you're always welcome to stay in downtown KC if you don't like the laws here.

    As for the post, it was pretty informative... However, there are tons of knifes that can be carried in this city legally www.knifecenter.com will be the spot to look for any kind of blade you want. If you are looking for a defense blade in this city your best chance is a 2.5" fixed blade in a neck, boot, or waist sheath. Folders are for work, fixed blades are for fighting. And, if you confident in your training, and your training isn't specifically in knifes, I would always suggest going hand-to-hand if given the option. Your blade doesn't have to be illegal for you to have a civil suit on your hands.

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  7. Conarian: Hope your visit to the city is fun and safe. I should say that the CPD are historically fairly lenient in self-defense cases, often siding with the victim. That's especially true in cases of robbery, and ESPECIALLY true if the victim is with a family and kids. All the same, stay safe and be smart!

    Cooperific: Great place to get some legal knives. A 2.5" fixed blade would be the perfect self-defense tool for those comfortable using it. You are totally right in saying that your knife doesn't have to be illegal for you to have a civil suit.

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  8. Informative and insightful, thanks.

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  9. get hold of the perfect switchblade stilettos for you, then it would help you to make the best use.

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  10. Fantastic article. i really pleased to read it. It gives detail picture about Chicago self-defense laws around.

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  11. Amazing article, its provides a details information about self defense system of Chicago.
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  12. Hi, Good post. your description about switchblade knives is very clear and concise. State laws must be taken in to consideration while buying a knives. But some knives are don't require permission. such as Every day knives
    Thanks for this informative blog.

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  13. I think you are being a bit overly cautious in your interpretation of the law. While it's true that nothing larger than 2.5" can be concealed, it is not true that you cannot open carry a larger knife. The law reads, "No person shall carry or possess with intent to use same unlawfully against another a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto or other dangerous or deadly weapon." The key here is the inclusion of the wording, "with intent to use same unlawfully against another". This means that as long as you do not intend to commit a crime, you can carry a knife that is legal (meaning one that is not a switchblade, etc.).

    Also, concerning the disorderly conduct section of the law, the words, "Carries in a threatening or menacing manner," mean you cannot brandish a knife or threaten people with it. Carrying a knife clipped in your pocket would not be concealed (as the top of the knife is visible) and would not be considered brandishing. That said, you could end up in front of a kooky, liberal judge who hates any and all weapons - but that really is not likely. If you are on the right side of the law otherwise, I hardly thing you're going to get in trouble for having a folding knife visible, or even a belt knife in a scabbard (within reason). FWIW, I've been carrying a 3.5" folder in my front pocket (clipped to the top of the pocket) for seven years now in Chicago, many times right in front of police whom I'm having a conversation with, and I've never had an issue.

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  14. I never carry a weapon, but my teacher carries a folding knife. ... 2kitchenknives.blogspot.com

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  15. http://www.coldsteel.com/microrecon1.html ... aswitchblade.blogspot.com

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  16. The folding knife is the most easy to carry tool for everyday outdoors. I always carry some sought of folding knife for my EDC.

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  18. Responsible knife carrying is very important. It's also very important to invest in a great knife sharpening kit so that you can keep your valuable blades sharp and effective in the long-run. Just my two cents!

    - J.O.

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  19. I do believe that the folding knife are more convenient to carry for outdoors.

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  20. I like your post & I will always be coming frequently to read more of your post. Thank you very much for your post once more.
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  21. Good and compact switchblade knives can be used as a multipurpose gadget in crucial times. It's okay to carry one.

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  22. Very informative site, i must bookmark it, keep posting interesting articles...
    sword versus gun

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  23. I am a Urban explorer in Chicago, I read blog and experiences about the abandoned places I will go visit before I go and explore then, but even if I know what I will be dealing with I take a knife with me because you never know,just recently there was a woman stabbed to death near train station of a building a go visit, there is a reason for me to carry it, it's a folding knife BUT the blade is 3 inches, now here is the catch, it's trenspassing yes but in the urbex community it's always recommend that if you are caught by authorities, being nice and complying with them is a good step, most of the time they like to see what you carry to see if you mean any harm to the place, they don't find anything because its mostly camera equipment, what if they see my 3 inch knife? What if i go ahead and get the 2.5 law going? Super sketchy i know but i got to inform my self, I want to stay protect. Thanks in advance. I really want to emphasize that I mean no harm to the places or people in it, it's all for self defense, am just there to take pictures and explore.

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  24. I am a Urban explorer in Chicago, I read blog and experiences about the abandoned places I will go visit before I go and explore then, but even if I know what I will be dealing with I take a knife with me because you never know,just recently there was a woman stabbed to death near train station of a building a go visit, there is a reason for me to carry it, it's a folding knife BUT the blade is 3 inches, now here is the catch, it's trenspassing yes but in the urbex community it's always recommend that if you are caught by authorities, being nice and complying with them is a good step, most of the time they like to see what you carry to see if you mean any harm to the place, they don't find anything because its mostly camera equipment, what if they see my 3 inch knife? What if i go ahead and get the 2.5 law going? Super sketchy i know but i got to inform my self, I want to stay protect. Thanks in advance. I really want to emphasize that I mean no harm to the places or people in it, it's all for self defense, am just there to take pictures and explore.

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