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Are Pocketknives Illegal in New Jersey?

Pocketknives, jackknives, Swiss Army knives - we all know them and many of us have carried them since we were teenagers. But will this one-time staple of boyhood soon be outlawed? Well, in New Jersey, maybe.

Section 2C:39-3 of the New Jersey Criminal Code makes it illegal to carry "any gravity knife, switchblade knife, dagger, dirk, stiletto . . . without any explainable lawful purpose." Furthermore, you are forbidden from possessing any other weapon "not manifestly appropriate for lawful use." Now the legislators had enough common sense to know that there are legal uses for knives and put in an exception. You are allowed to carry a knife in the woods if you are hunting or on the way to a hunting expedition. Can you carry your handy Swiss Army knife to file your nails or use as an emergency corkscrew, or for any of its other multiple uses? Is your knife "manifestly appropriate for lawful use"?

The problem with the law is that although it defines illegal knives, it does a rather poor job of defining what is legal. That means defining legal gets left to the policeman who sees your prize pocketknife dangling from your key chain and the local judge who hears your case if you are charged with a fourth-degree crime pursuant to the Criminal Code. Take, for example, the young man who made the mistake of carrying a pocketknife in a small town on the New Jersey shore. That mistake cost him an $800 fine. Even though you may be an upstanding citizen with no felonious intent, if you happen to wander into a town that likes receiving revenues from various municipal citations, you may be out of luck. Or a little bit poorer when you leave.

Yes, everyone remembers that 911 hijackers used box cutters and that increased security is necessary. It is just a bit sad that this has to make carrying such a venerable old friend as the pocketknife illegal. Since enforcement varies depending on location, it would be wise to find out how your town treats this issue. If you are leaving the neighborhood, it might be a good idea to leave the pocketknife at home.