Are Butterfly Knives Illegal In California?

Butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, have a unique folding mechanism that allows the blade to be quickly deployed with a flashy opening. But are these distinctive knives legal to own and carry in California?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, butterfly knives are illegal to possess, manufacture, import, or sell in California.

California Laws on Butterfly Knives

When it comes to butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, it’s important to understand the laws surrounding their possession and use in California. These unique knives, which have handles that rotate around the blade, have gained popularity among collectors, enthusiasts, and martial arts practitioners.

However, their status under California law is quite clear.

Classified as Switchblades

In California, butterfly knives are classified as switchblades. According to the California Penal Code Section 17235, a switchblade is defined as a knife with a blade that is released from the handle through a spring-operated mechanism.

The distinct feature of butterfly knives, where the blade is concealed within the handles and can be flipped open with a single hand motion, falls within this definition.

Banned by the California Penal Code

As switchblades, butterfly knives are explicitly banned under the California Penal Code Section 21510. This section prohibits the possession and sale of switchblades, including butterfly knives, in the state. Violation of this law can result in criminal charges, fines, and potential imprisonment.

It’s worth noting that California is not alone in its regulation of switchblades. Many other states in the U.S. have similar laws in place to restrict the possession and use of these knives due to their potential for quick deployment and concealment.

Exceptions for Law Enforcement

While butterfly knives are generally illegal for the average citizen in California, there are exceptions for law enforcement officers. These individuals may be authorized to possess and use switchblades, including butterfly knives, as part of their official duties.

Law enforcement officers are typically trained in proper knife handling and are held to specific standards when it comes to the use of these tools. The exception for law enforcement recognizes the need for them to have access to certain types of knives in order to carry out their duties effectively.

It’s always important to consult the specific laws and regulations in your jurisdiction to ensure compliance. If you have questions or concerns about butterfly knives or any other type of knife, it’s advisable to seek legal advice or contact local law enforcement authorities for guidance.

Penalties for Possession or Sale

In California, the possession or sale of butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, is regulated by state law. It is essential to understand the penalties associated with these actions to ensure compliance with the law.

Misdemeanor Offense

Possessing or selling a butterfly knife in California is considered a misdemeanor offense. This means that if caught with a butterfly knife or found selling one, individuals can face legal consequences.

It is important to note that intent to harm or use the knife unlawfully can further aggravate the charges.

Fines and Jail Time

The penalties for possessing or selling butterfly knives in California can include fines and possible jail time. While the specific amount of the fine and duration of imprisonment can vary depending on the circumstances, individuals can face fines up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to six months.

It is worth mentioning that penalties can be more severe for repeat offenses or if the butterfly knife was used in a criminal act. In such cases, individuals may face higher fines and longer periods of imprisonment.

Charges Increase for Minors

It is important to note that penalties for possessing or selling butterfly knives can be more severe for minors. In California, minors can face increased charges and consequences, including probation, community service, or even time in a juvenile detention center.

Parents and guardians should educate their children about the legal implications of possessing or selling butterfly knives and discourage their involvement in illegal activities.

For more information on California’s laws regarding butterfly knives, you can visit the official California Legislative Information website:

Confiscation and Destruction

When it comes to butterfly knives, or “balisongs,” the legality can vary depending on the state. In the state of California, owning or carrying a butterfly knife is generally illegal under certain circumstances.

If law enforcement discovers someone in possession of a butterfly knife in California, it can be subject to confiscation and destruction.

Can Be Seized by Law Enforcement

If someone is found with a butterfly knife in their possession in California, law enforcement has the authority to seize the knife. This means that if you are caught carrying a butterfly knife, it could be taken away from you by the authorities.

The purpose of this seizure is to remove potentially dangerous weapons from the community and ensure public safety.

No Grandfather Clause in California

Unlike some states that may have a grandfather clause, which allows individuals who owned a specific item before a certain date to keep it, California does not have such a provision for butterfly knives.

This means that even if you have owned a butterfly knife for many years, it can still be subject to confiscation if discovered by law enforcement.

Forfeited Knives Typically Destroyed

Once a butterfly knife is seized and forfeited in California, it is typically destroyed. This is done to prevent the knife from being returned to the individual or finding its way back into circulation.

The destruction of forfeited knives ensures that they cannot be used in any illegal activities and reduces the risk of harm to the public.

It’s important to note that the information provided here is based on current laws and regulations in California. It is always recommended to consult with legal professionals or local law enforcement authorities for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the legality of butterfly knives in your specific jurisdiction.

Federal Regulations

When it comes to butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, their legality can vary depending on the state. In the case of California, it is important to understand the federal regulations that impact the possession and use of these knives.

Not Banned Nationwide

Contrary to popular belief, butterfly knives are not banned nationwide in the United States. The federal government does not have a specific law that prohibits the possession or use of these knives. However, it is important to note that individual states have their own laws and regulations regarding butterfly knives.

Subject to Import Restrictions

While butterfly knives may not be banned at the federal level, they are subject to import restrictions. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) prohibits the importation of certain types of butterfly knives that are considered to be switchblade knives under the federal definition.

Switchblade knives are defined as knives with blades that open automatically by pressing a button, spring, or other device in the handle. Some butterfly knives fall under this definition due to their mechanism, which allows for quick and easy deployment of the blade.

Therefore, if you are looking to purchase a butterfly knife from outside the United States and have it shipped to California, it is important to ensure that it does not fall under the category of switchblade knives to avoid any legal complications.

Less Strict Rules in Other States

While California has regulations on butterfly knives, it is worth noting that other states have less strict rules. For example, in some states, butterfly knives are legal to possess and carry openly without any restrictions.

It is always important to check the specific laws and regulations of the state you are in or planning to visit regarding butterfly knives. Some states may have restrictions on carrying them in certain public places or require a permit for concealed carry.

If you are unsure about the legality of butterfly knives in a particular state, it is recommended to consult local law enforcement or legal professionals for accurate and up-to-date information.

Alternatives for Collectors

For collectors of butterfly knives in California, there are several alternatives to consider in order to legally enjoy their hobby. While butterfly knives may be illegal to possess or carry in California, there are options that can still satisfy a collector’s passion without running afoul of the law.

Purchasing Out of State

One option for collectors is to purchase butterfly knives from out of state. While it is important to ensure that the knife complies with the laws of both the state it is purchased from and the state it will be shipped to, this can be a viable solution.

However, it is essential to research and understand the laws of both states involved to avoid any legal complications.

Owning Only for Display

Another alternative is to own butterfly knives strictly for display purposes. In California, it is legal to possess butterfly knives if they are permanently mounted and unable to be opened. This means that collectors can still showcase their butterfly knife collection without violating any laws.

Displaying these knives in a secure and decorative manner can add a unique touch to any collection.

Collectible Replicas

Collectors can also explore the option of acquiring collectible replicas of butterfly knives. These replicas are often crafted with attention to detail and can be a great addition to any collection. It is important to note that these replicas must still comply with local laws, so it is advisable to thoroughly research and verify the legality of any replica before making a purchase.


Butterfly knives have been restricted in California since the 1950s due to their ability to be quickly deployed as a stabbing weapon. It is illegal to manufacture, import, possess, or sell these specialty balisong knives in the state except with special exemptions.

Those who wish to collect or use butterfly knives legally have limited options, like purchasing out of state or owning only display models while in California. Understanding the specifics of the law can help knife enthusiasts avoid penalties.

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