A 4-inch knife is a concealed weapon

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By Pierce Kelley

K. M. of Old Town writes, “I’ve got a question…last month you wrote about taking a gun into a bar being illegal, but taking a gun into a restaurant wasn’t, if you have a concealed weapon permit. What about a knife? What’s the rule there?

Dear K. M.

Thank you for your question. It is an interesting one, especially in this part of the country, where many people use knives in their work, such as clammers and oystermen in Cedar Key, or men who work construction. Anyone who has flown on a commercial airplane in the last twelve years, after 9-11, knows that a one inch fingernail file will be taken from you, but I wonder how many people realize just how small a knife can be and still be considered a “weapon” by the law. Here is my analysis:

Florida Statute 790.001.01 defines the term weapon as follows:

”any dirk, metallic knuckles, slingshot, billie (club), tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapon except a firearm or a common pocketknife.”

As you can see, the term pocketknife is not defined or explained. You will be surprised to learn how complicated it has been for courts of law to determine exactly what is meant by the term “common pocketknife.”

The case of Bunkley vs. State of Florida, 569 So. 2d 447 (Fla. 2nd DCA, 1987), is particularly interesting. It involved a knife with a 2-inch to 3-inch blade. Mr. Bunkley was convicted of having a concealed weapon, largely because the knife was found in his pocket after he was arrested for committing a burglary. A jury decided that he was carrying a concealed weapon, in violation of Florida Statute 790 et seq., in furtherance of that crime. 

A few years later, in another case, the Supreme Court of the State of Florida found and determined that a knife which had a blade less than 4 inches long was a “common pocketknife,”  and a juvenile was acquitted of the charge that he was carrying a concealed weapon. L.B. vs. State of Florida, 700 So. 2d 370 (Fla., 1997). It was the same statute that Mr. Bunkley had been convicted under. Nothing had changed from the time he was convicted to the time the L.B. case was decided.

Mr. Bunkley filed post-conviction appeals which ended up in the Supreme Court of the United States on the issue of what the definition of a common pocketknife was and whether or not Mr. Bunkley deserved to have his conviction reversed. He argued that if a pocketknife less than 4 inches long was not a weapon then he should not have been convicted under the statute, since his pocketknife was less than 3 inches long. The U.S. Supreme Court granted Bunkley’s request for relief, in part, and sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court for further clarification of the apparent discrepancy.

The Supreme Court of the State of Florida ultimately decided that Bunkley’s conviction was valid, but it held that its decision in the L.B. case was good law, too, and for reasons not relevant to this discussion, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Florida’s revised opinion, which basically held that 4 inches was the standard, but the statute does not specifically determine that 4 inches is the rule. It is left to a jury to decide if a person was carrying a knife as a concealed weapon or not. So there can be exceptions to the rule.

Therefore, I feel safe in saying to you, K.M., that if you carry a knife which has a blade that is less than 4 inches long, with no intention of committing a crime, you are not violating Florida’s concealed weapon law. However, you do so at your own peril because, as you can see from the above, it is often a fine line, a very fine line, between what is legal and what is not, and you don’t want to have to go in front of a jury and have the jury decide exactly what your purpose or intentions were when carrying that knife.

Incidentally, for those of us who have obtained a permit to carry a firearm, if you look at the license issued to you, it states CONCEALED WEAPON OR FIREARM LICENSE. So a firearm and a knife are covered under that license and you should consider that when carrying a knife on or about your person. Basically, a knife longer than 4 inches is a weapon but if you have a concealed weapon (firearm) permit, you are licensed to carry that weapon, with exceptions discussed in last month’s article and as found in the statute.

I hope I have satisfactorily answered your question, K. M., and the answer is that you should consider a knife to be the near equivalent of a gun in all situations, and even if it is less than 4 inches long, be careful out there.

Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper who will pass it along to the attorney. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be. 

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.