Wisconsin Knife Laws: Breaking down What is Legal & What is not

Knife Laws in Wisconsin
By Pranay Das Updated

Known as the “American Dairyland” because of its leading dairy production, Wisconsin is the 20th most populous and the 23rd largest state by area size in the US. With Madison being its capital, this north-central, mid-west state is divided into 72 counties.  Wisconsin knife laws are often deemed as one of the most confusing knife laws to understand in the entire country due to how complicatedly lengthy and worded they are. The long-lasting legal battles in the criminal and civil courts that rise due to the complex wording of statutes have made the laws very hard to breakdown.

We aim to present that complex ball of data in simple and easy terms. That’s why we are presenting before you everything that you wanted to know regarding Wisconsin knife laws.

Wisconsin Knife Laws

The legislative leaders of Wisconsin have made a conscious effort in clearing up the doubts by passing laws that have helped clearly define the meaning of a bunch of different types of knives, apart from stating the intentions of unclear knife statutes.

Generally speaking, the state of Wisconsin doesn’t restrict carrying or possessing knives either openly or in a concealed manner. Although Wisconsin Statute 941.23 strictly prohibits carrying “dangerous weapon” in a deadly manner, the prohibition has specifically excluded knives.

The statute that is captioned as ‘Carrying a Concealed Knife’, “applies to persons convicted of certain crimes, subject to a restraining order, or having a mental disability.”

Until and unless you are specifically banned from carrying a firearm for any particular reason, you are allowed to carry a knife without getting a permit for concealed carry. In addition, there can’t be any charges with disorderly conduct against you for carrying a knife. You also can’t be stopped by county or city regulations since the new law is a pre-emption, meaning the state law rules out the local laws.

What does “Dangerous Weapons” Mean?

Wondering what the phrase “dangerous weapons” translates into?

The Wisconsin Statute 939.22 defines “dangerous weapons” as “any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded; any device designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or great bodily harm; any ligature or other instrumentality used on the throat, neck, nose, or mouth of another person to impede, partially or completely, breathing or circulation of blood; any electric weapon, as defined in s. 941.295 (1c) (a); or any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm.”

As per Wisconsin law, 66.0409, “Unless other facts and circumstances that indicate a criminal or malicious intent on the part of the person apply, no person may be in violation of, or be charged with a violation of, an ordinance of a political subdivision relating to disorderly conduct or other inappropriate behavior for loading a firearm, or for carrying or going armed with a firearm or a knife, without regard to whether the firearm is loaded or the firearm or the knife is concealed or openly carried. Any ordinance in violation of this subsection does not apply and may not be enforced.”

Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry of Knives in Wisconsin

Knives can be carried both in an open and concealed manner in the state of Wisconsin. In the famous Wisconsin Court of Appeals case State v. Keith in the year 1993, there were three criteria that were ruled for what is to be considered as a concealed weapon. They are as follows:

  • It should be completely hidden.
  • The defendant for a criminal case should be aware of the presence of the concealed weapon.
  • It is within the reach of the defendant, stored in a clothing pocket, or attached to a part of the body.

In another monumental case State v. Walls, it was found that when the following criteria are true, only then a person can be considered guilty of carrying a concealed “dangerous weapon”:

  • The defendant was aware of the presence of the weapon.
  • The weapon was located inside a vehicle and was within the reach of the defendant.
  • It was hidden or concealed from plain view, which means, from the ordinary observation of a person who is located outside the vehicle but in near vicinity to it, the weapon was indiscernible.  

Types of Legal Knives in Wisconsin

Previously, switchblades were criminalized under Wisconsin Statute 941.24, but the new acts have repealed this statute completely, with the only exception being when a specific individual is prohibited from possessing a firearm by the state law.

The knives that are legal to own in Wisconsin are as follows:

  • Switchblade – Also known as pushbutton knife, flick knife, flick blade, automatic knife, Springer, and Sprenger, it is a type of knife that is characterized by a sliding or folding blade contained in the handle that automatically opens with the help of a spring when a bolster, a lever, a switch, or a button is activated. The blade can be folded and locked for safety purposes in the closed position.
  • Bowie Knife – Created in the 19th century by American knifemaker James Black, it is a fixed-blade fighting knife. It basically refers to any large sheath knife that has a clip point and a crossguard. It is used as a hunting and a camp tool as well as a weapon.
  • Ballistic Knife – Featuring a detachable blade that you can eject to a distance of few yards by operating a lever or pressing a trigger or switching on the handle, it can fly at speeds of around 63 km/h (39 mph).
  • Dagger – Having a sharp point, it has two sharp edges and is often used as a stabbing or a thrusting weapon. Historically, it was used during close combat confrontations.
  • Dirk – To put it simply, it is a long thrusting dagger and was used extensively by drummers, officers and pipers of the Scottish Highland regiments during the 1800s. It was also very popular with the naval officers of Japan. In addition, during the Age of Sail, it was used as a personal weapon by officers who used to engage in naval hand-to-hand combats.
  • Lipstick Knife – Considered as a discreet knife due to its unassuming appearance, it is highly trending these days. It is mainly used as a self-defense tool. It has a tiny yet sharp edged-blade that is embedded in the lipstick box. The box acts as a handle to operate the knife. When you turn the knob of the lipstick box, the blade comes out of the box.
  • Belt Buckle Knife – Another discreet knife, it is basically a belt that securely conceals a blade within its buckle. It can be opened and taken out very quickly, which is why it is highly used as a self-defense weapon.

Restrictions on Sale & Transfer of Knives

Wisconsin statute 948.60 states that it is unlawful to sell or transfer a “dangerous weapon” to a minor, as in, someone who is below 18 years of age.  A knife may very well be considered a “dangerous weapon” in this case.

Restricted Locations to Carry knives

It is prohibited to carry knives at all K-12 schools which include buildings, athletic fields, recreation areas, grounds, and any other property operated or used for the administration of a school. Restriction on the possession of knives may be practiced by local governments at government facilities.

To Conclude

As you have probably understood, the Wisconsin Knife Laws are pretty tricky to understand, and with so many changes, appeals, and pre-emption taking place over the years, the complexity of the laws has increased. So, to conclude in simple terms, Wisconsin doesn’t prohibit carrying knives openly or in a concealed manner. The confusion arises from the prohibition of the “dangerous weapons” aspect, carrying of which is prohibited. Knives are generally not considered “dangerous weapons” as long you are not selling or transferring it to a person below the age of 18 years or carrying it in schools, and government facilities, or you are under specific individual restrictions.