Virginia Lifts Ban on Concealed Carry Switchblades: What You Need to Know

Virginia Lifts Ban on Concealed Carry Switchblades: What You Need to Know
Out the front (OTF) knives are a subset of automatic knives. The blade moves vertically in and out of the handle. (Blade HQ image)

Repealing the prohibition on concealed carry switchblades marks the second major knife rights win in Virginia in as many years.

Chalk up another win for knife and Second Amendment rights in Old Dominion. On the heels of last year’s repeal of Virginia’s ban on switchblades or automatic knives, the state has now removed them from the list of weapons that cannot be carried concealed.

Cavaliers shouldn’t go throwing their OTF blades into their hip pockets just yet. While Governor Glen Youngkin (R) may have inked the repeal (HB 2298) on March 27, the law doesn’t go into effect until July 1. Until then, the knives remain illegal to carry in the state.

The latest legislation marks a sea-change in Virginia knife right under Youngkin, who broke what was a frustrating stalemate between the state’s legislative and executive branches. Despite legislators’ efforts to temper the state’s longstanding ban on switchblades, the Governor’s two predecessors vetoed the bills leading in that direction—Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, both Democrats. The 2022 repeal not only saw the executive’s support but passed with overwhelming support from a politically divided General Assembly.

The removal of switchblades from the list of prohibited concealed carry items also proved extremely popular, passing unanimously in the Virginia Senate and with close to ¾’s of the House’s support. In addition to further safeguarding valuable civil liberties, the legislation also shows changing attitudes concerning switchblades.

Why Switchblades Are Illegal

A witch-trial panic swept mid-century America concerning switchblades, sparked by an article by an article titled The Toy that Kills and backed up by movies such as Rebel Without A Cause and Blackboard Jungle.

Aside from stigmatizing paten-leather jackets, politicians and social crusaders squarely set their sights on switchblades as a tool of the country’s wild youth. Despite essentially being a silver-screen fantasy, draconian laws that pushed switchblades to the margins of society were passed and in many corners of the country the tools became so rare as to be considered oddities. Though, before this era, auto knives were quite common.

Three jigged bone switchblades, from top: Schrade Cutlery Co., George Schrade Knife Co. and one of the rarest of antique models, one stamped “Keen Kutter,” a trademark of Shapleigh Hardware. Schrade made the knife.
Before the mid-century switchblade panic, the knives were quite common, such as the World War II-vintage Schrade Cutlery Co. examples above.

“I grew up in Washington D.C. in the 40s and 50s and almost every school kid had a switchblade knife. And you played mumblety-peg, throw it to stick in trees. I don’t ever remember anybody being stabbed by a pocket switchblade knife,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) said in a 2022 interview with Virginia Mercury.

Prohibition On Other Edged Weapons

The concealed carry repeal is a step in the right direction, but the law still maintains the prohibition on several other edged weapons for carry. Bowie knives, dirks, throwing stars and “oriental darts” remain verboten for everyday carry and continue to carry stiff penalties if the law is enforced. A first offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A second offense could earn a Class 6 felony, which carries a 1-5 prison stretch and a $2,500 fine. And a third offense could net a Class 5 felony, with a 1-10 prison stretch and a $2,500 fine.

While there is scant evidence the prior concealed carry switchblade ban was ever exercised to the full extent of the law, its repeal is likely a load off knife owners’ minds. For a tool that’s used more by first responders than in gangland rumbles, it’s also a big victory.

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