Open Carry: New Law Allows Texas Residents to Carry Swords and Knives

Since September 1, 2017, Texans over the age of 18 have been allowed to carry knives, spears, sabers, machetes, and swords in most places statewide. H.B. 1935 (Texas Knife Law Reform Bill) eliminated ownership and restrictions on knives with blades longer than 5.5 inches, including daggers, double-edged knives, swords, dirks, poniards, dirks, stilettos, and Bowie knives.

If you’ve never heard of these types of knives, you’re not alone. Knife Rights, a national pro-knife advocacy group, said that the bill was 95 percent intact when Governor Abbott signed it. Advocates promised to continue fighting until all “minor restrictions” concerning knives are cleared in Texas.

Knife activists were passionate about the bill because they believe that prior to it Texans were inappropriately considered as “criminals” for carrying blades and knives. The 2017 law removed the term illegal knives from the criminal code and instead set minimal regulations on location-restricted knives.

H.B. 1935 and Location-Restricted Knives

The 2017 law allowed Texans to carry knives anywhere in the state, with certain notable restrictions. For example, knife owners still may NOT carry “restricted” knives (knives with blades longer than 5.5 inches long) into:

  • Schools or school-sponsored events
  • Airports
  • Racetracks
  • Places of worship
  • Sporting event facilities
  • Government buildings
  • Colleges and universities
  • Amusement parks
  • Correctional facilities
  • Hospitals and mental hospitals
  • Polling places
  • Bars (establishments that make at least 51 percent of income from the sales of alcohol)

The law also restricted minors under age 18 by not allowing them to openly possess a knife longer than 5.5 inches unless he or she is at home, in a car or watercraft, or he or she is being supervised by a parent/guardian.

Weilding a location-restricted knife in one of the restricted places listed above can result in a Class C misdemeanor (or a third-degree felony if carrying in a bar).

The states of Oklahoma and Montana also passed legislation regarding the open carry of knives and swords.

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Open Carry as a “Cultural Shift”

H.B. 1935 was widely seen as a cultural shift by many law enforcement professionals. Texas police say they don’t predict most Texans will carry a machete or sword, despite the 2017 open carry law. They believe most Texans will view the law as a similar transition from concealed carry to open carry gun laws. Fewer Texans took advantage of the new law to openly carry firearms than some news outlets predicted.

Police also say that H.B. 1935 doesn’t prevent prosecutors from punishing those who commit knife violence. Police encourage the public to report any criminal use of knives and weapons in general.

University of Texas Campus Stabbing

The bill was signed shortly after a 21-year-old male student stabbed and killed 1 person and wounded 3 others with a hunting knife (referred to as a Bowie knife) on the UT-Austin campus on May 1, 2017. The stabbing caused legislators to delay debate on the bill.

The defendant told reporters he carried the knife “for protection” in lieu of a handgun on campus. State law allows students to carry a concealed firearm on a college campus.

As a result, Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) worked to clarify that location-restricted knives would be illegal on college and university campuses. Her district includes the University of Texas-Austin. Rep. John Frullo (R-Lubbock), the bill’s author, confirmed that knife blades greater than 5.5inches long would be illegal for on-campus carry.

Texas’ Open Carry and Knife Laws

According to the Lone Star Gun Rights group, the law prior to September 1, 2017, prohibited any knife with a blade length of greater than 5.5 inches.

The legislation that became effective on September 1, 2017 removed the term illegal knife and replaced it with location-restricted knife. This new law clearly defines the location-restricted knife as a knife with a blade over 5 and ½ inches.

Under Texas Penal Code Chapter 46 Title 10 (“Weapons”), a knife is considered “any bladed hand instrument that is capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by cutting or stabbing a person with the instrument.”

What blade length is legal in Texas?

According to past rulings by Texas appellate level courts (McMurrough v. The State of Texas, 1999), this measurement of 5.5 inches includes the length of the “flat-edged part of the knife, which includes the sharpened part of the instrument and any remaining flat-edged part up to, but not including, the handle.”

There are no laws or restrictions in Texas for carrying a knife with a blade length less than 5.5 inches.

The law specifically referring to daggers, dirks, stilettos, poniards, Bowie knives, swords, switchblade knives, and spears as illegal knives was removed in 2017. For a while, knives with knuckles and tomahawks were still not legal to carry in Texas, but those restrictions have since been lifted as well.

In other words, it is legal for adults to openly carry knives in most places under current Texas law.

  • Under Tex. Penal Code § 46.01 (2012), it’s legal to own and openly carry knives, along with throwing stars (and any other type of throwing knife), swords, spears, switchblade knives, pocket knives, and Balisongs (butterfly knives).
  • Under Tex. Penal Code § 46.06 (a2), it is illegal to “intentionally or knowingly” sell, rent, lease, give or offer a location-restricted knife to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Under Tex. Penal Code § 46.02 (2012), it’s illegal to “intentionally,” “knowingly,” or “recklessly” carry a location-restricted knife (or handgun or club) if the individual is less than 18 years old and isn’t on his or her own premises or on premises that are under his or her control, or inside (or directly traveling to) a motor vehicle/watercraft owned by him or her or under his or her control.
  • If convicted of an offense under § 46.02 (c), the offender faces a Class A misdemeanor and a maximum one-year jail sentence in county jail and/or a maximum $4,000 fine. If the offense occurs on a premises licensed or permitted by the state of Texas for the sales of alcoholic beverages, the offender faces a third-degree felony charge, or a minimum 2 to a maximum 10-year prison term and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Is it legal to carry a sword in Texas?

While swords are not directly mentioned in Texas’ weapons code, they fall under the category of “location-restricted knives” since they measure more than 5.5 inches long. Therefore, it is now legal to carry a sword in most places in Texas, except for the list of restricted locations above that includes places like schools, churches, bars, government buildings, etc.

As a location-restricted knife, swords cannot be sold or given to individuals under the age of 18.

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Knife Concealment Laws

Article 1, Section 23 of the Texas State Constitution specifically recognizes the individual’s right to possess and bear arms but simultaneously empowers the legislature to regulate these to reduce crime.

Regarding the legal carry of knives, the current law doesn’t really consider concealment as a major issue since most knives are permitted in most places in Texas.

Exceptions and Affirmative Defenses for Unlawful Weapons Carrying

If a person is charged for carrying a location-restricted knife in a restricted area, Texas law lays out several affirmative defenses that may be used to get the charge dropped or dismissed. In addition, minors (individuals under the age of 18) caught carrying a restricted knife may be able to get the weapons charge dismissed or dropped using certain defenses.

For instance, under Tex. Penal Code § 46.06 (c), it is a valid defense if the minor’s parent or legal guardian gave written permission for a sale or “effective consent” for a non-sale transfer.

Another affirmative defense to Texas’ weapons law regarding location-restricted knives can be found in Tex. Penal Code § 46.15 (Non-applicability), which says that the law doesn’t apply to individuals who are “engaging in lawful hunting, fishing, or other sporting activity on the immediate premises where the activity is conducted, or is en route between the premises and the actor’s residence, motor vehicle, or watercraft, if the weapon is a type commonly used in the activity.”

Other potential exceptions to § 46.02 apply to:

  • Peace officers and special investigators
  • Public security officers in the line of duty (or while traveling to/from a place of duty)
  • Individuals engaging in official duties as a member of the armed forces, state military forces or correctional facility guard
  • Individuals who are traveling
  • Individuals who hold a security officer commission issued by the Texas Private Security Board
  • Personal protection officers in the line of duty
  • Law enforcement trainees who are engaging in a required activity where the weapon is commonly used
  • Individuals who are using a location-restricted knife in an historical demonstration or in a ceremony in which the knife is significant to the performance of the ceremony

Have You Been Charged with a Weapons Crime in Houston, TX?

Texans enjoy freedom in all its forms but, as you can see, the law is sometimes complex and imprecise where weapons are concerned.

What’s more, these laws apply only to Texas. If you are planning to travel across state lines, be aware that other state’s knife laws may not be so lax.

If you have been charged with owning or carrying an illegal knife, or if you have been accused of a crime involving a weapon, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Matthew Sharp has the criminal justice experience you need. Contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp to arrange an free initial case evaluation now.