A look at knives and Ohio law

A knife is something that is used every day by many Ohioans. Sportsmen carry carry a variety of knives depending on their outdoor pursuit. Farmers and many workers carry knives as part of their daily jobs. A knife is a necessary tool.

The news media often carries stories about robbery and assault with a knife as a weapon. Knives taken to school have recently been in the news in Greene County. Self-defense minded Ohioans may take knife fighting classes in addition to handgun or concealed carry training. Ohio’s concealed carry law is actually a concealed handgun license and does not include other weapons such as a knife. So when is a knife a tool or a weapon under Ohio law?

Ken Fitz, Executive Administrator Law Enforcement for the ODNR Division of Wildlife explained, “The ODNR Division of Wildlife does not see the carrying of hunting knives as an issue. Our officers expect anyone hunting, fishing or trapping to have a knife as the normal course of business. The Division has no laws specific to knife use or carry while hunting. The only regulation is a knife is not defined as a legal method of taking game.”

That certainly should make sense to outdoor enthusiasts.

Greene County Prosecutor Stephen Haller said, “What we are talking about is whether or not carrying a knife is a violation of the ORC and considered as carrying a concealed weapon. Some research provides a case (2010-Ohio-4953 State of Ohio vs. Dominique Cattledge Court of Appeals Tenth District) that is a very good explanation of when a knife is considered a weapon versus what outdoor people would use as a tool. The Court of Appeals addressed the question of the knife used as a weapon or not. The court lists specific use and the case involved a knife in a school.”

Haller continued, “Basically is the knife designed or adapted to be a weapon. We are regulating weapons and not tools. The first question is how was the knife used? If it is used to threaten someone that becomes pretty easy. It will depend on varying circumstances of how the knife is presented.”

Additional guidelines regarding knives or other weapons on school property is detailed in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) under education and section 3313.66 Suspension, expulsion or permanent exclusion – removal from curricular or extracurricular activities.

The ORC references switchblade knife, springblade knife, gravity knife, or similar weapons. However, the court addressed several major features to determine if a knife may be a weapon including:

• A blade that can be opened with one hand such as a switchblade or spring loaded blade. Knives designated as gravity knives will fall into this category.

• A blade that locks into position and cannot be closed without releasing the lock.

• A blade that is serrated.

• A blade that has a sharp tip.

• An additional design element on the blade such as a hole that aids in unfolding the knife.

• It does not look like an ordinary pocket knife.

• Is the type of knife that is commonly considered a weapon?

A closer examination of some of my favorite knives revealed that several incorporate one or more of the features described by the court. All have a sharp point and are maintained to be sharp. After all, a dull knife is not an effective cutting tool.

The fixed blade fillet and skinning knives (knives 1 and 2 in the photo) are pretty obvious as tools for performing a job even though they have the sharp point. The folding knives 3, 4 and 5 have locking blades. Knife 3 can easily be opened with one hand thanks to tabs on the back of the blade. I love this feature as I am often holding something in my other hand.

Knife 4 quickly caught the eye of Prosecutor Haller. It has a locking blade, a hole in the blade for opening, a serrated edge and a sharp tip. That covers four of the features the court considered as a weapon. The hole in the blade makes it much easier to open with gloves or if my fingers are wet and cold. The sharp tip is great for cutting while the serrated edge aids in sawing through heavier material.

The smaller knife 5 is carried in the pocket while the others may be in a backpack or a pouch on the belt. Lock back knives are very popular with sportsmen as the feature is an excellent hand protector. The design features that the court indicates may define a weapon also make them popular and effective tools for sportsmen.

Knife 6 is a straightforward pocket knife. It is easy to identify and hard to confuse with any other type of knife. It has no design features that indicate it is anything other than a tool.

Knife 7 is a Tactical Defense Institute self-defense knife made by Ka-Bar.

Haller immediately noted, “This knife looks like a weapon. The question may come down to how it is carried to be concealed or not.”

The type of sheath can be clipped inside the waistband of pants or to a belt. It has a number of different positions to allow a person to carry it comfortably for long periods. It is often referred to as a fighting knife. Whether or not this is a weapon may depend on the circumstances.

Clearly the design features the Tenth District Court of Appeals considered are often the same features that make a knife a useful tool How a knife is used or carried certainly matters in determining if it is a weapon. Hopefully sportsmen and others who rely on a knife will avoid conflicts.

Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year, the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year and the 2014 Ohio NWTF Outdoor Writer of the Year.

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