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Multitools are so useful that we want to carry one all the time. Texas is a long way from the Big Apple, both in distance and on the political spectrum. Before a recent trip to NYC we did some checking to make sure our EDC Skeletool would not cause any problems. Hopefully we won’t even need to use it but the whole point of EDC is to have it when you need it.
Are multitools legal to carry in New York City? You may carry a multitool in public in New York City provided the knife blade is less than 4 inches and the tool remains concealed. However, weapons including gravity knives and box cutters are prohibited on NYC subway and buses.
Provided you are 18 or older, a US citizen, and do not have a criminal record then NYC laws allows you to carry a multi tool with knife blade(s) less than four inches in length. Knives must be fully concealed – visible pocket clips or the tool ‘printing’ through your clothing may lead to an arrest. Knives of any kind are also prohibited on school grounds, school buses, mass transit, as well as court and correctional facilities. Switchblades and other ‘dangerous knives’ are prohibited and a case in 2018 decided by the New York Court of Appeals provides that one-hand opening blades may be considered a ‘switchblade’.
How to Legally Carry a Multitool in NYC
- Knife blades must be less than four inches in length
- Knives and multi tools must be FULLY concealed
- Don’t use a pocket clip, in fact it is better to remove the pocket clip completely so you don’t accidentally use it from habit
- Don’t use a belt sheath
- Do carry your multitool in a pocket, preferably an inside jacket pocket or front pocket of your jeans in summer
- Make sure your multitool does not print through your clothing
- Because one-hand opening blades and any assisted opening blades may be considered prohibited ‘switchblades’ it is best to avoid them. Choose a multi tool with the blade inside the handles like a traditional pocketknife.
- Remember that gravity knives are prohibited on public transportation.
- Stay off school property and other prohibited areas.
New York City Laws for Knives and Multi Tools
§ 10-133 Possession of knives or instrumentsTitle 10 – PUBLIC SAFETY
b. It shall be unlawful for any person to carry on his or her person or have in such person’s possession, in any public place, street, or park any knife which has a blade length of four inches or more.
c. It shall be unlawful for any person in a public place, street or park, to wear outside of his or her clothing or carry in open view any knife with an exposed or unexposed blade…
The requirements and restrictions are contained in the NYC Administrative Code:
§ 10-133 requires the knife to be completely concealed – it must not have a pocket clip exposed and it must not ‘print’ through your clothing. The legislative findings in 10-133(a) make it clear what the lawmakers were thinking when they wrote the statute. They directly say that possession of large knives is a menace to the public health and connected to robberies and homicides as well as youth crime and gangsterism. New York City is not Texas my friends.
Because of the tight regulations and strict enforcement it was obvious to us that our multitool needed to stay concealed unless we really needed it. In Texas we wouldn’t think twice about casually pulling out our knife to open a stubborn snack pack for our daughters, but in New York City that could get me arrested. I always consider my multitool as a tool, but in NYC it is viewed as a weapon.
Are Multitools Gravity Knives?
Until recently, if you were in New York City and found carrying a gravity knife you could be arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Since gravity knives are still prohibited in the subway and bus system by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) we needed to understand the legal definition of gravity knife.
Most multitools would not meet the legal definition of a gravity knife, but the practical application of the law by police and prosecutors made it a gray area that put anyone with a one-hand opening knife blade at risk. Here is why. Gravity knives had been banned in NYC since 1958 until May of 2019. During that time the legal definition of gravity knife was as follows:
§ 265.00(5) “Gravity knife” means any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.New York City Penal Law
However, this was verified with the “wrist flick” test. If the blade opened with a flick of the wrist, the knife was considered a gravity knife for prosecution. As you can guess, the skill of the user and the condition of the pivot were major factors in whether a knife would fail the test. In some cases, owners of one-hand opening knives with a thumb hole or thumb stud were charged under the statute.
Effective May 30, 2019 the term “gravity knife” was removed from relevant NYC Penal Law provisions the Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Gravity knives are now legal to possess in NYC (gravity knives are still prohibited in the subway and on buses per 21 NYCRR § 1050.8).
NYC Compared to the State of New York
The State of New York weapons laws are generally less restrictive than those of New York City. Outside NYC, knives can be open carried but they are prohibited on school property and school buses as well as court facilities, correctional facilities, airports, etc… New York state law does not restrict the knife blade length but does prohibit switchblades, ballistic knives, metal knuckle knives, and cane swords (switchblades have an exception for hunting and fishing).
Within the State of New York, any knife can become a ‘dangerous knife’ if there is intent to use the knife unlawfully against another. In other words, a completely legal multitool can become illegal under the statute if you intend to injure someone with it. This has led to some perplexing court cases where people have been charged under the statue simply for possession of a knife after stating that it was ‘for protection’. For example People v. Richards, 869 N.Y.S. 2d 731, (2008). Even though the case was dismissed by the court that is a situation we prefer to avoid. If you are interested in more legal cases and explanation check out the New York Knife Laws article by American Knife & Tool Institute.
The Multitool We Decided to Carry in NYC
Given all the history and political climate above, we decided to leave our favorite EDC multitool at home. Even though the blade on the Leatherman Skeletool CX is well under the 4 inch requirement and it just disappears in the corner of our pocket, it wasn’t worth the risk. The pocket clip does not meet the concealed requirements and the carabiner would be uncomfortable and prone to ‘print’ if we just put the whole tool in our pocket. Additionally, the one-hand opening knife blade put the Skeletool into the gray area that is open to interpretation.
Instead, we brought our Leatherman Juice. Compact enough for easy pocket carry without ‘printing’ and no one-hand accessible blade. The Juice gives us a great light-duty pliers and functional knife blades. We didn’t have any trouble on our 4 day trip, my Juice only came out of my pocket once and that was to open a bottle of wine in our hotel room to get an early start on our final evening in the city.
State laws and local ordinances make for a complicated patchwork of restrictions and requirements. In some states, cities and local municipalities are permitted to create additional restrictions that can further complicate matters. Always check your circumstances and consult a legal professional if necessary.
Texas state law preempts any city or local ordinances. Blade length greater than 5.5 inches is considered a ‘location restricted knife’ and prohibited in bars, schools, college campuses and other locations. Knives of any length can be open carried in public.
California knife laws are in a state of flux but the restrictions are centered on fixed-blade, switchblades, and gravity style knives. As folding knives, multitools are generally permitted.
Illinois has some of the most restrictive knife laws, prohibiting knives with a blade length greater than 3 inches on public land without prior security clearance. The City of Chicago further restricts blade length to 2 1/2 inches. Illinois law also defines the blade length be measured as the non-handle portion of the knife, not just the sharpened length.
Florida prohibits ballistic or self-propelled knives since 1985 by state law and has an exception for a ‘common pocketknife’, but does not legally define what constitutes a ‘common pocketknife’. Case law has generally set the blade length limitation at less than 4 inches, encompassing all current multitools. Additionally, many cities in Florida have enacted their own local restrictions.
Arizona does not prohibit any knives. However, concealed carry is only allowed for ‘pocket knives’. Just like in Florida there is no legal definition in case law or statute for ‘pocket knife’.
Pennsylvania state law restricts the possession of automatic knives, but the restriction has not been applied to assisted opening or gravity knives by the Pennsylvania courts. There are no restrictions on open carry or concealed carry, except where there is criminal intent. Pennsylvania does not have statewide preemption statute and Pittsburgh has implemented §10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places. ALL knives are prohibited in all public spaces. The city where the Declaration of Independence was signed completely prohibits any bladed multitool.