Knife Laws in Colorado

Updated


Colorado knife laws generally allow people to openly carry knives. It is also lawful to conceal carry knives if the blade is 3.5 inches or less. The statute 18-12-101 C.R.S. defines "knife" as: 

[A]ny dagger, dirk, knife, or stiletto with a blade over three and one-half inches in length, or any other dangerous instrument capable of inflicting cutting, stabbing, or tearing wounds, but does not include a hunting or fishing knife carried for sports use.  

Ballistic knives can never be carried in Colorado. But people may now carry switchblades in parts of the state. And all knives are banned on school property.

Penalties

Violating Colorado knife laws can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the offense:


 Knife crime

 Colorado penalty

Carrying concealed with a blade exceeding 3.5" (18-12-105 C.R.S.)

Class 2 misdemeanor:

  • 3 – 12 months in jail; and/or
  • $250 - $1,000

Carrying a ballistic knife (18-12-102 C.R.S.)

First offense

Class 5 felony:

Second offense

Class 4 felony:

  • 2 – 6 years in prison; and/or
  • $2,000 - $500,000

Carrying a knife at a school (18-12-105.5 C.R.S.)

Class 6 felony:

  • 1 year to 18 years in prison; and/or
  • $1,000 - $100,000

Defenses

Five common defenses to knives charges may include:

  1. The weapon does not fit the definition of "knife";
  2. The blade was 3.5" or less;
  3. The defendant did not knowingly carry the knife;
  4. The knife was for hunting or fishing purposes; or
  5. The police performed an illegal search

In this article, our Denver criminal defense attorneys discuss:

knife and sheath
For the most part, people may open carry knives in Colorado.

1. Can I openly carry knives in Colorado?

With some exceptions, yes. People may open carry knives in Colorado. "Open carry" means carrying the weapon so it is visible to others. Examples include:

  • Holding in one's hand or under one's arm;
  • Carrying on an outside waistband (OWB) or belt (drop leg or dangle);
  • Carrying on a necklace; or
  • Carrying in a clip attached to the outside of a bag

Keep reading to learn which knives are illegal and what locations are restricted.

lipstick blade
Knives with blades of 3.5 inches or less can be carried concealed in Colorado.

2. Can I conceal carry knives?

People may knowingly carry knives concealed in Colorado if the blade is 3.5 inches or less. Examples of concealed carry include:

  • Carrying on a waistband if other clothes are covering it;
  • Carrying in a purse or backpack; or
  • Carrying in a pocket

Carrying a knife with a blade bigger than 3.5 inches is usually illegal. Knives that typically have blades that exceed 3.5 inches include:

  • Cooking knives and cleavers
  • Ceremonial knives
  • Certain pocketknives
  • Bowie knives
weapon in pocket
Knives with blades longer than 3.5 inches may not be carried concealed in Colorado.

People may lawfully conceal carry knives with 3.5+ inch blades if they are at their own home or property. They can also conceal carry these knives in a private automobile (or other private transportation) for protection purposes.1

CCW permits are usually not necessary to carry concealed knives in Colorado. But people should check with their county sheriff to make sure.

3. What knives are illegal?

Ballistic knives are illegal to carry in Colorado. The law defines them as "dangerous weapons."2 Ballistic knives have blades that forcefully project from the handle by:

  • A spring-loaded device; or
  • An explosive charge3

Switchblades and gravity knives are now legal under Colorado state law. Switchblades open automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in its handle. And gravity knives open by the force of gravity.

However, switchblades and gravity knives remain illegal in certain cities, including:

  • Denver
  • Aurora
  • Boulder, and
  • Lakewood

And it is illegal everywhere to conceal carry these knives if the blade exceeds 3.5 inches.4

4. What places prohibit knives?

students and teacher
Deadly weapons are prohibited on school grounds in Colorado.

Deadly weapons such as knives may not be carried on school grounds in Colorado. This includes:

  • Pre-school;
  • Kindergarten through 12th grade (secondary school); and
  • Post-graduate (college, technical school, etc.)5

There are some exceptions to this rule. People may take knives to school when either:

  1. The knife remains in a vehicle while at a public or private college, university, or seminary. This does not include lower grades such as pre-K, lower school, middle school, or high school;
  2. The person is in a private automobile (or other private means of traveling). And the person is carrying for self-defense;
  3. The person is a school resource officer;6 or
  4. The person possesses the weapon for an approved educational program7

5. Can I carry hunting and fishing knives?

Yes, if they are being carried for sports use. If fact, hunting and fishing knives are not included in Colorado's legal definition of "knife". This means that it can be carried openly or concealed. And it does not matter how long the blade is.8

6. What are the penalties?

6.1. Carrying a concealed knife with a blade exceeding 3.5"

It is a class 2 misdemeanor to carry a concealed knife in Colorado with a blade longer than three-and-a-half inches. The punishment is:

  • 3 to 12 months in jail; and/or
  • $250 to $1,000 in fines9

6.2. Carrying a ballistic knife

A first-time offense of carrying a ballistic knife in Colorado is a class 5 felony. The sentence is:

  • 1 to 3 years in prison (with 2 years parole); and/or
  • $1,000 to $100,000 in fines

Subsequent offenses are class 4 felonies. The sentence is:

  • 2 to 6 years in prison (with 3 years parole); and/or
  • $2,000 to $500,000 in fines10

Defendants convicted of a felony knife crime will also lose their gun rights.

6.3. Carrying a knife on school grounds

It is a class 6 felony to unlawfully take a knife on school property. The punishment is:

  • 1 year to 18 months in prison (with 1 year parole); and/or
  • $1,000 to $100,000 in fines11

Defendants convicted of a felony knife crime will also lose their gun rights.

Ballistic weapon
Ballistic knives are illegal in Colorado.

7. What are common defenses?

There are several ways to fight Colorado knife charges. Depending on the case, ten typical defenses include:

  1. The knife does not meet the legal definition of a knife;
  2. The blade was 3.5 inches or less;
  3. The knife was not concealed;
  4. The knife was for hunting or fishing;
  5. The knife was on the defendant's property;
  6. The defendant was not on school grounds;
  7. The defendant did not knowingly carry the knife (perhaps it was planted);
  8. The police found the knife through an illegal search;
  9. The defendant had no intention of using the knife as a weapons;12 or
  10. The defendant was falsely accused.

Another possible defense is state preemption: This is when state law overrides a local, municipal law. Preemption typically applies when the defendant is traveling in a private vehicle:13

Example: Bill is carrying a switchblade while driving through Denver en route to Trinidad, where switchblades are legal. A Denver police officer sees Bill and cites him for carrying a switchblade. But since Bill was in his own car passing through Denver, the charge might be dismissed. Colorado's law allowing switchblades preempts Denver's local law prohibiting them.

Most criminal cases settle through negotiations and possibly a plea deal. If the case goes to trial, the D.A. has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

8. Can the case be sealed?

Class 2 misdemeanor convictions can be sealed two years after the case ends. For class 4, 5, and 6 felonies, it is three years. But if the charge gets dismissed, then the defendant can petition for a record seal right away. Learn how to get a Colorado criminal record seal.

9. What are the immigration consequences?

Carrying a ballistic knife or carrying deadly weapons to a school may be deportable. Non-citizens facing weapons-related charges should consult with a skilled attorney right away. The attorney may be able to persuade prosecutors to lessen or drop the charges to non-removable offenses.

Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.

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Call our Denver criminal defense attorneys. 303-222-0330. We offer free consultations.

Call a Colorado criminal defense attorney...

Arrested in Colorado? Contact our Denver criminal defense attorneys. You can reach us by phone at 303-222-0330. Or else fill out the form on this page. We offer free consultations 24/7.

In most cases, we can persuade the D.A. to reduce or dismiss charges. But if necessary, we are experienced trial attorneys. And we are ready to fight zealously for a full acquittal.

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

In California? See our article on California knife laws.

In Nevada? See our article on Nevada knife laws.


Legal References

  1. 18-12-105 C.R.S.
  2. 18-12-102 C.R.S.
  3. 18-12-101(a.3) C.R.S.
  4. Noel Brennan, "It is now legal to carry a switchblade in Colorado", 9 News (August 9, 2017); Colorado SB 17-008; Denver Municipal Code Sec. 38-117.
  5. 18-12-105.5 C.R.S.
  6. 22-32-109.1 C.R.S.
  7. 18-12-105.5(3) C.R.S.
  8. 18-12-101 C.R.S.
  9. 18-12-105 C.R.S.
  10. 18-12-102 C.R.S.
  11. 18-12-105.5 C.R.S.
  12. A.P.E., a Juvenile v. Colorado, 20 P.3d 1179 (Colo. Sup. Ct. 2001).
  13. 18-12-105.6 C.R.S.

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