Knife Laws in Colorado

Colorado knife laws vary depending on:

  • the type of knife;
  • the length of the blade;
  • whether the blade is concealed; and
  • where the knife is being carried.

Legal Definition of a "Knife"

You know a knife when you see one, but there are specific legal definitions that apply to the law in Colorado.

"Knife" means:

  • any dagger, dirk, knife, or stiletto with a blade over three and one-half (3.5") inches in length; or
  • any other dangerous instrument capable of inflicting, cutting, stabbing, or tearing wounds.

The legal definition of knife does not include a hunting or fishing knife carried for sports use. If any of the latter is what a person possessed, then it is an affirmative defense.

A "ballistic knife" means any knife that has a blade that can be forcefully projected from the handle by means of:

  • a spring-loaded device; or
  • an explosive charge.

Concealed vs. Open Carry

In the State of Colorado, you may carry any legal knife in the open (except in certain restricted areas). It is when the possessor of the blade wants to carry it concealed that issues may arise.

Carrying a concealed knife with a blade longer than three and one-half (3.5") inches is a violation of Colorado law. A knife that is shorter than that length may be carried either while concealed or in the open.

A weapon is "concealed" if:

  • it is on your person; and
  • it is placed out of sight so as not to be discernible or apparent by ordinary observation.

A person cannot be charged for carrying a concealed knife if the person:

  • is in his or her own dwelling or place of business; or
  • is on property owned or under his or her control at the time of carrying; or
  • is in a private automobile and carries the weapon for lawful protection.

Areas You Can't Carry a Blade

Deadly weapons of any kind may not be carried on to school grounds. This includes all types of knives, as that term is legally defined. This applies to all levels of education, including:

  • pre-kindergarten;
  • kindergarten through 12th grade; and
  • post-graduate (college, technical school, etc.)

There are certain exceptions to this rule, which are discussed in greater detail below.

Below, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about Colorado knife laws for Colorado residents:

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1. What is the definition of a "knife" under Colorado law?

Colorado law changes depending on the type of knife carried. Not all knives are a "knife" as that term is legally defined.

"Knife," as a legal definition, means:

  • any dagger, dirk, knife, or stiletto with a blade over three and one-half (3.5") inches in length; or
  • any other dangerous instrument capable of inflicting, cutting, stabbing, or tearing wounds.

A "knife," according to the legal definition, does not include a hunting or fishing knife carried for sports use (an affirmative defense). 1

1.1 Does this definition include a "pocket knife?"

A "pocket knife" is not legally defined, but some information may help clear this up. Not all knives are a "knife" under Colorado law that could subject a resident to criminal action.

Most "pocket knives" are under three and one-half (3.5") inches. As such, most pocket knives are outside the legal definition of "knife" and what constitutes as an illegal knife. Colorado does not intend to make all types of knives illegal.

Example: Reg likes to carry his Swiss Army knife in his pocket at all times as it reminds him of his father, who passed away many years ago. The blade of the knife does not exceed 3.5 inches. As a result, Reg may carry his Swiss Army knife around in his pocket with no concerns about violating the law (assuming he does not use it to commit a crime).

Example: Allison carries around a box cutter when she goes out to the local hardware store to buy more supplies. She is simply carrying it around because she was using it earlier in the day, and she does not intend to use it for a crime. She will not be charged with carrying a knife.

1.2 What types of knives may be illegal to carry that I wouldn't expect?

If a knife meets the legal definition, it may be illegal to carry it or to carry it in a certain way. Blades you may not think about that could still get you in trouble include:

  • chef's knife or other cooking knife;
  • pocket knife that exceeds three and a half inches (3.5") in length;
  • ceremonial knife; or
  • blade purchased at a fair or market intended for decorative purposes.

If the blade meets the definition of a "knife" under the law, a Colorado resident must be aware of how and when it can be carried, if at all.

2. Is there a type of knife or blade that is always illegal to carry?

Under Colorado law, a person may never carry a ballistic knife. A "ballistic knife" means any knife that has a blade that can be forcefully projected from the handle by means of:

  • a spring-loaded device; or
  • an explosive charge. 2

These types of blades cannot be carried legally in the State of Colorado. They are considered too dangerous for typical citizens to carry.

2.1 Why is it illegal to carry a ballistic knife?

It is illegal to carry a ballistic knife under Colorado law because it is defined as a dangerous weapon. Under CRS 18-12-102 (Possessing a dangerous or illegal weapon), a "dangerous weapon" is defined as:

  • a firearm silencer,
  • machine gun,
  • short shotgun,
  • short rifle, or
  • ballistic knife.3

Given the other weapons deemed "dangerous," Colorado takes the possession of a ballistic knife very seriously.

2.2 What are the penalties for carrying a ballistic knife?

A person who carries a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class 5 felony. If you are convicted of a Class 5 felony, you face:

  • 1 to 3 years in prison;
  • $1,000 to a maximum of $100,000 in fines; and
  • a mandatory parole period of 2 years.4

For every additional charge of carrying a dangerous weapon, it is a Class 4 felony. If convicted, a person faces the following penalties:

  • 2 to 6 years in prison;
  • $2,000 to a maximum of $500,000 in fines; and
  • mandatory parole period of 3 years.

3. When is it illegal to carry a concealed knife?

In the State of Colorado, you may carry any legal knife in the open (except in certain restricted areas). It is when the possessor of the blade wants to carry it concealed that issues may arise.

Carrying a concealed knife with a blade longer than three and one-half inches (3.5") is a violation of Colorado law. A knife that is shorter than that length may be carried either while concealed or in the open.5

3.1 What is the definition of "concealed" under Colorado law?

A weapon is "concealed" if:

  • it is on your person; and
  • it is placed out of sight so as not to be discernible or apparent by ordinary observation.

3.2 Are there defenses to carrying a concealed knife?

A person cannot be charged for carrying a concealed knife if:

  • the person is in his or her own dwelling or place of business or on property owned or under his or her control at the time of carrying;
  • the person is in a private automobile and carries the weapon for lawful protection;
  • the person has a valid permit to carry the concealed weapon under CRS 18-12-105.16 as that statute previously existed; or
  • the person is a peace officer or probation officer and in the course of his or her duties.7

The above qualifiers are affirmative defenses. If one of these conditions exist, then the defendant can raise the defense. An experienced Colorado criminal attorney will ensure that all applicable affirmative defenses are raised to protect your rights. But once you raise an affirmative defense, you have the burden to prove it by a preponderance of the evidence.

3.3 What are the penalties for carrying a concealed knife in Colorado?

If a person is convicted of this offense he or she is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. He or she faces the following possible penalties:

  • 3 months in jail up to a maximum of 12 months in jail; and
  • $250 in fines up to a maximum of $1,000 in fines.

4. Where am I not allowed to carry a knife?

Deadly weapons of any kind may not be carried onto school grounds. This includes all types of knives, as that term is legally defined. This applies to all levels of education, including:

  • pre-kindergarten;
  • kindergarten through 12th grade; and
  • post-graduate (college, technical school, etc.) 8

4.1 Are there exceptions to this rule?

There are exceptions to this rule. Exceptions include:

  • the knife remains in the motor vehicle while upon the real estate of a public or private college, university, or seminary (does not include lower grades such as pre-K through 12);
  • the person is in that person's own dwelling or place of business at the time of the act of carrying;
  • the person is in a private automobile or other private means of traveling and the person is carrying for lawful protection;
  • the person had a valid permit to carry the weapon;
  • the person is a school resource officer, as defined in CRS 22-32-109.1;9 or
  • the person possessed the weapon for an approved educational program.10

4.2 What are the penalties for carrying a knife onto school grounds?

If convicted under the statute, a person is guilty of a Class 6 felony. A person convicted of a Class 6 felony faces the following possible penalties:

  • 1 year to 18 months in prison;
  • $1,000 up to a maximum of $100,000 in fines; and
  • a mandatory parole period of 1 year.11

5. Is it illegal to carry a "switchblade" in Colorado?

Carrying a "switchblade" in Colorado is no longer illegal. A switchblade knife means:

  • any knife,
  • the blade of which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in its handle.12

The law changed on August 9, 2017, with the passage of a new law removing switchblades from the illegal weapons category.

However, it can still be illegal to carry a switchblade if the blade exceeds three and one-half (3.5") inches.

6. What defenses can I raise to knife law charges in the State of Colorado?

If you or someone you care for has been charged with a violation of a Colorado knife law, various defenses may help to reduce or dismiss the potential charges and penalties.

6.1 Your knife doesn't meet the legal definition.

If the knife you carried does not meet the legal definition of a knife under Colorado law, you cannot be charged criminally for carrying it. The Colorado Supreme Court has held that a person cannot be charged for carrying such a knife unless it can be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person intended to use that knife as a weapon. Further, intent cannot be inferred just because the person carries the knife.13

6.2 The knife was not concealed.

In many cases, unless the knife is concealed, it is not a crime to carry it. If in your case you were not on school grounds and you carried the knife openly, you can raise this defense.

6.3 The knife was for hunting or fishing purposes.

A knife is not a "knife" under the legal definition if it is to be carried and used for hunting or fishing sport purposes. This means that it can be carried openly or concealed, regardless of the length of the blade (so long as it is not a "ballistic knife").

6.4 The knife was discovered during an illegal search and seizure.

If the knife is to be used as evidence against you, and that evidence was obtained illegally, your attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence. This means that it cannot be used against you to prove your guilt. This often results in a dismissal of the charges or a reduction in charges.

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For questions about Colorado knife laws or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. CRS 18-12-101(f) (Definition of a Knife).
  2. CRS 18-12-101(a.3) (Definition of Ballistic Knife).
  3. CRS 18-12-102 (Possessing a dangerous or illegal weapon).
  4. CRS 18-1.3-401 (Felony penalty classifications).
  5. CRS 18-12-105 (Unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon--unlawful possession of weapons).
  6. CRS 18-12-105.1 (As repealed).
  7. CRS 18-12-105(2). (Citing exceptions to the concealed carry statute).
  8. CRS 18-12-105.5 (Unlawfully carrying a weapon--unlawful possession of weapons--school, college, or university grounds).
  9. CRS 22-32-109.1 (Board of education--specific powers and duties--safe school plan--conduct and discipline code--safe school reporting requirements--school response framework--school resource officers--definitions--repeal).
  10. CRS 18-12-105.5(3).
  11. CRS 18-1.3-401 (Felony penalty classifications).
  12. CRS 18-12-101(j).
  13. A.P.E., a Juvenile v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, 20 P.3d 1179 (Colo. Sup. Ct. 2001).

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