Rhode Island Knife Laws: What You Need to Know

https://www.survivalsullivan.com/rhode-island-knife-laws/

Legal to Carry Openly or Concealed:

  • Any knife with a blade of 3” or less that is not a dirk, dagger, stiletto, sword cane or bowie knife. Advise caution, see below.
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Knife Law Overview

Rhode Island is a tough state for knife owners. A blanket restriction on open or concealed carry of any knife with a blade longer than 3” means that heavy duty knives are a no-go in this state.

Worse yet, several major “families” of knives are banned by type and this is compounded with the ever-popular language that could see any closely or nearly related knife illegal as well.

The situation is fairly grim in Rhode Island, and its lack of preemption, poorly worded statutes covering knives and absolutely sluggardly behavior regarding tuning up their antiquated and outmoded laws seals their fate as one of the poorer states for knife owners in the U.S.A.

We’ll take a look at the laws and discuss what if anything can be done to keep you carrying the straight silver within the borders of RI in this article.

Relevant Rhode Island State Statutes Covering Use and Ownership of Knives

  • 11-47-2 Definitions
  • 11-47-42 Weapons other than firearms prohibited
  • 11-47-47 Display of weapons
  • 11-47-60 and 11-47-60.2 Possession of firearms on school grounds

Definitions are up first. While you might think you don’t need to read the long, drawn out and dry definitions in a state’s legal statutes, you’d be unwise to do so.

A state’s definitions of seemingly mundane or everyday words can drastically alter the interpretation and scope of a law and in some cases can even add wholesale meaning to a word that would mean no such thing.

That is just one of the many tricks that lawmakers use to keep the deck stacked the way they want it.

Rhode Island’s definitions covering knives and weapons can be found in Title 11, Chapter 47 Section 2:

Section 11-47-2 Definitions.

(4) “Crime of violence” means and includes any of the following crimes or an attempt to commit any of them: murder, manslaughter, rape, first- or second-degree sexual assault, first- or second-degree child molestation, kidnapping, first- and second-degree arson, mayhem, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering, any felony violation involving the illegal manufacture, sale, or delivery of a controlled substance, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance classified in schedule I or schedule II of § 21-28-2.08, any violation of § 21-28-4.01.1 or § 21-28-4.01.2 or conspiracy to commit any violation of these statutes, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault or battery involving grave bodily injury, or assault with intent to commit any offense punishable as a felony; upon any conviction of an offense punishable as a felony offense under § 12-29-5.

(9) “Person” includes an individual, partnership, firm, association, or corporation.

(13) “Sell” includes let or hire, give, lend, and transfer, and “purchase” includes hire, accept, and borrow, and “purchasing” shall be construed accordingly.

(4) above contains no surprises for those who are familiar with the classification of forcible felonies in the context of self-defense use of force, but number 13 is definitely interesting and perfect example of what I prefaced this entry with.

In this case, to “sell” in this entire part of the law means to lend or borrow as well aside from the standard definition as well. It also notes that “purchase” shall be construed the same.

Good to know in case, you know, you actually, innocently wanted to lend someone a knife, which is operatively different from selling it to them, and not commit a crime.

Speaking of crimes! Section 11-47-42 tells you all about how you can become one if you carry the wrong knife in the wrong way in the state of Rhode Island.

11-47-42. Weapons other than firearms prohibited.

(a)(1) No person shall carry or possess or attempt to use against another any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slingshot, billy, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, slap glove, bludgeon, stun-gun, or the so called “Kung-Fu” weapons.

(2) No person shall with intent to use unlawfully against another, carry or possess a crossbow, dagger, dirk, stiletto, sword-in-cane, bowie knife, or other similar weapon designed to cut and stab another.

(3) No person shall wear or carry concealed upon his person, any of the above-mentioned instruments or weapons, or any razor, or knife of any description having a blade of more than three (3) inches in length measuring from the end of the handle where the blade is attached to the end of the blade, or other weapon of like kind or description.

Any person violating the provisions of these subsections shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, and the weapon so found shall be confiscated.

Any person violating the provisions of these subsections while he or she is incarcerated within the confines of the adult correctional institutions shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than three thousand dollars ($3,000), or by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five (5) years, or both, and the weapon so found shall be confiscated.

(b) No person shall sell to a person under eighteen (18) years of age, without the written authorization of the minor’s parent or legal guardian, any stink bomb, blackjack, slingshot, bill, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, slap glove, bludgeon, stungun, paint ball gun, so called “kung-fu” weapons, dagger, dirk, stiletto, sword-in-cane, bowie knife, razor, or knife of any description having a blade of more than three inches (3″) in length as described in subsection (a) of this section, or any multi-pronged star with sharpened edges designed to be used as a weapon and commonly known as a Chinese throwing star, except that an individual who is actually engaged in the instruction of martial arts and licensed under § 5-43-1 may carry and possess any multi-pronged star with sharpened edges for the sole purpose of instructional use.

Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than three thousand dollars ($3,000), or by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five (5) years, or both, and the weapons so found shall be confiscated.

We can learn a fair bit from the above statutes if we can read the tea leaves. (a)(1) is unremarkable except that its naming of the “kung-fu” weapons- geeze, when was this law written?- could potentially include one of a few rare-ish kinds of knives associated with Eastern martial arts and get you in hot water via the long way ‘round.

Section (1)(2) says you may not carry any sort of dagger, dirk, stiletto, sword-in-cane, bowie knife, or other similar weapon designed to cut and stab another if you intend to harm another.

The types of knives are obvious, more or less, but dagger and dirk along with bowie are always troubling whenever they appear because they can, with loose interpretation of the definitions, catch all kinds of fixed and folding knives up along with their strict technical definitions.

What is less obvious is the use of “other similar weapon.” What does that mean? How similar are we talking? How close, what percentage of features and characteristics must match to be considered a similar weapon? Who decides?

This is not ruthless pedantry or inquiry; this stuff makes all the difference on the dark day you stand before a judge in a courtroom. Nowhere in the statutes is this mentioned or defined; an all too common occurrence in state weapons laws…

Now, the real kicker, and one that is the source of no small amount of consternation and mayhem, (a)(3). The passage prohibits the possession of the names knives in (1) and (2), but it uses the words “wear or carry concealed.”

That is troublesome, since it can be interpreted a couple of ways. The first, is that “wear” supplements and bolsters “carry” and both are modified by “concealed.” Meaning, in short, that you cannot carry any of the above named knives concealed.

The other, harsher but equally valid version is that “wear” is distinct from “carry concealed” and in this instance “wear” as interpreted by its common definition is more apt to apply to open carry.

That means that you could neither wear openly nor carry concealed on or about your person any of the knives above. Ouch.

Readers, this argument continues to this day! It is entirely possible that either could apply at any time.

You must think twice and choose carefully before carrying any knife in Rhode Island, and redouble your care if you plan to carry an otherwise forbidden type of knife on a technicality. If you are wrong in the “n-th” degree, you could face charges if caught.

The post text spells out some pretty gnarly penalties for violators; no less than $1,000 fine and a year in the pokey. The high side for a first time offender could be as much as $3,000 and five years. Ouch! You can ill-afford that.

Some laws can tell you a lot about a legislature’s “state of mind.” In this case, check out this gem of a law, 11-47-47:

11-47-47. Display of weapons.

No person, firm, or corporation shall display in a place of business by means of a window display any pistol, revolver, or other firearm, as defined in § 11-47-2, or any dagger, dirk, bowie knife, stiletto, metal knuckles, or blackjack; provided, that dealers in sporting goods may include in a window display pistols or revolvers upon a permit issued by the chief of police or town sergeant of any city or town.

Any person, firm, or corporation violating the provisions of this section shall be punished by a fine not exceeding twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for the first offense and one hundred dollars ($100) for every subsequent offense.

The leaders and lawmakers of this state saw fit to waste taxpayer money and time on the clock to implement a law precluding retailers from displaying knives in the windows of their shops and stores?! Okay… Folks, it is pretty obvious now, surely, how RI really feels about knives. Remember that.

No-Go Zones

Schools, primary and secondary, public or private, and this includes all vehicles used for transportation, grounds, and any place where a school sponsored event is taking place.

This does not apply to colleges and universities. The fines are harsh and the terms of incarceration are lengthy if you violate the law here, so don’t screw around. See 11-47-60 and -60.2 below:

11-47-60. Possession of firearms on school grounds.

(a)(1) No person shall have in his or her possession any firearm or other weapons on school grounds.

(2) For the purposes of this section, “school grounds” means the property of a public or private elementary or secondary school or in those portions of any building, stadium, or other structure on school grounds which were, at the time of the violation, being used for an activity sponsored by or through a school in this state or while riding school provided transportation.

(3) Every person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five (5) years, or shall be fined not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).

(4) Any juvenile adjudicated delinquent pursuant to this statute shall, in addition to whatever other penalties are imposed by the family court, lose his or her license to operate a motor vehicle for up to six (6) months.

If the juvenile has not yet obtained the necessary age to obtain a license, the court may impose as part of its sentence a delay in his or her right to obtain the license when eligible to do so, for a period of up to six (6) months.

(b) The provisions of this section shall not apply to any person who shall be exempt pursuant to the provisions of §§ 11-47-9, 11-47-11, and 11-47-18 or to the following activities when the activities are officially recognized and sanctioned by the educational institution:

(1) Firearm instruction and/or safety courses;
(2) Government-sponsored military-related programs such as ROTC;
(3) Interscholastic shooting and/or marksmanship events;
(4) Military history and firearms collection courses and/or programs; and
(5) The use of blank guns in theatrical and/or athletic events.
(c) The provisions of this section shall not apply to colleges, universities, or junior colleges.

11-47-60.2. Possession of weapons on school grounds – Notification.

(a) If a student is found to be carrying a weapon, as defined in § 11-47-42, a firearm or replica of a firearm, or commits an aggravated assault on school grounds as defined in § 11-47-60, the principal or designee shall immediately notify the student’s parents and the local police and turn the weapon over, if any, to the local enforcement agency.

(b) Any person who has reasonable cause to know that any person is in violation of this statute shall notify the principal or designee.

The principal or designee shall immediately notify the student’s parents and the local police. Any person acting in good faith who makes a report under this section shall have immunity from any civil liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of making the report.

(c) School superintendents shall receive notice from the clerk of the family court regarding the disposition of all cases involving juveniles from their school districts adjudged pursuant to this statute.

This information shall remain confidential and be shared with school officials who deal directly with the student.

(d) The provisions of this section should not apply to the following activities when the activities are officially recognized and sanctioned by the educational institution:

(1) Firearm instructed and/or safety course;
(2) Government-sponsored military-related programs such as ROTC;
(3) Interscholastic shooting and/or marksmanship events;
(4) Military history and firearms collection courses and/or programs; and
(5) The use of blank guns in theatrical and/or athletic events.
(e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to colleges, universities or junior colleges.

Preemption

There is no preemption in the state of Rhode Island. You’ll need to pay attention to all municipal and county laws, and be especially vigilant when travelling.

Rhode Island is bordered all around by states with some strict knife laws of their own, and it is all too easy to stray into them when you have your knife with you. Be cautious: it might not be legal if you are just a mile over the line.

Bottom Line

Rhode Island is a fairly strict state for knife owners. It certainly has a dim view of them, as their fuzzy, outdated and open-to-interpretation statutes governing their use and throttling the rights of citizens will show plainly.

Your best bet for carrying a knife without getting into trouble in the state is to get one well under the legal length and make sure it says “tool” and not “weapon” even at a glance to the uninitiated.

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