Is It Illegal to Defend Yourself with A Knife (Your Question Answered)

One of the topics that I have talked about at some length on this website is using knives for self-defense.

Today, it occurred to me that we didn’t flesh out the part of how legal it is to defend yourself with a knife.

So, frankly speaking, can you use a knife for self-defense legally, or can you go to jail for pulling a knife in self-defense?

Knives can be used for self-defense when there is no lesser force available to get out of the situation. The knife should be used with a reasonable force that allows the victim to escape while not causing more than necessary harm to the attacker.

When a knife is used for self-defense, you might still spend some days in jail/ under arrest for assault till the investigators can get all the facts and clear you of all charges.

What happens if you use a knife in self-defense?

In most cases where you should pull out your knife in self-defense, there is no one else there but you and the attacker.

Because, if you were in a public place and suddenly broke out into a fight with someone, you are looking at two offenses already:

  • Fighting in a public place; and
  • Pulling out an assault weapon on someone.

That is why I advised using a knife when you are in a one-on-one situation (or with multiple attackers) and you absolutely cannot get away unless you pull a knife on them.

Now, when you bring out a knife in self-defense, be prepared to use it – but you don’t have to.

I am a strong advocate for waving the knife authoritatively so that the attacker knows that you are not scared to use it, but enough to make them back down. Most of these attackers don’t expect any resistance and will, thus, back down when they see that you have brought a knife into the mix.

If you will use the knife at all, make sure to know what you are doing. As with knife throwing by an amateur and making knife moves that you have not practiced, you might end up arming your opponent with yet another weapon to attack you with.

Now, when the attacker does not step back and you have to use the knife, go through this guide.

Once you have escaped, find the nearest police station or law enforcement officer and report the assault. Better for the first account to come from you than anyone else as this helps your case greatly.

Consult with your lawyer first, if you must, so that you have the best approach for your unique case.

Can you go to jail for self-defense with a knife?

The short answer is yes.

Even if you do everything right, you might still go to jail.

A couple of reasons why this might happen is:

  • Use of excessive force – self-defense laws are a little dicey in that they make the provision for you to get out of a grave situation but without too much damage to your attacker also. If it is deemed that you used the knife with excessive force, you could be charged and sentenced.
  • Retaliation attacks – you cannot use a knife to defend yourself against an attack that has happened in the past. At this stage, things are beyond your power and you should leave it to the law. Knives can only be used for self-defense at the moment the attack is happening.
  • Carrying unsuitable knives – if you got into a situation where you had to use your knife for self-defense, and you brought out a butterfly knife, bowie knife, or ballistic blade, best believe that you are going to jail on multiple counts. For one, these knives are illegal in many places in the US. They are also not protected under the open carry laws, so it can be argued that you must have been looking for some action when you carried them in the first place.
  • Not trying enough – I have not found a trusted source to support this, but I believe you need to make the effort to get out of the situation you are in before you can pull a knife. Not once, but twice at least. When all else seems not to be working, then you can bring out your knife. Otherwise, you just took the excuse to start a knife fight.
  • Legal interpretations – this one is beyond my reach. Depending on the argument of the prosecutors, it might be decided that you could not have gauged the true intentions of the attacker and that you were not in as grave a danger as you mentioned. Of course, they weren’t there with you at the moment. This is one of the reasons why I believe you should speak with your lawyer first.
  • General fight scenario – believe it or not, some people go into a fight willingly then find out that they should have kept their calm. If you ever find yourself on the losing side of such a fight and you pull a knife to better your chances, you are suddenly looking at some serious charges. The best advice is to avoid that fight in the first place.

When can you use a pocket knife for self-defense?

From the above, it almost seems like any hope of using a knife for self-defense is dead. That is not true.

There are some scenarios where you can bring out your knife to defend yourself and you’ll still get the self-defense plea in any reasonable court of law.

Here are such scenarios:

  • The attacker is stronger than you – an average petite woman facing a 6’3 man, for example, cannot possibly think to wrestle him to the ground if he ever attacked her. A pocket knife can be deemed reasonable force.
  • There are multiple attackers – because, contrary to what we see in the movies, your chances of beating multiple attackers are low. Given the chance that they will most likely come in different directions, using a knife to scare them off sounds like a great idea to keep yourself safe.
  • You possess lesser skills – if you ever come up against a random attacker who has superior combat skills to you, it is only logical that you use everything at your disposal to get out of the situation. Just hope they don’t collect that knife and use it on you instead.

Wrapping Up

Is it illegal to defend yourself with a knife or not?

Going through the above resources, you will find that the answer to that differs based on the scenario. You should also be mindful of state laws around knives as well as self-defense before you attempt anything at all.

Always remember that you can be arrested for pretty much anything, but you won’t be charged at all times. Thus, a cop might decide to arrest you for pulling out a knife even if you were in the right spot to have done so.

The only difference is that you will not be convicted if you have done everything right – and have no charges against your name. Work with your local law enforcement agents and your lawyers to get to the bottom of the matter, if you ever find yourself in this situation.

Generally, stay safe out there and remember to only ever pull out a weapon as a last resort. Cos, when you bring a weapon into the equation, you cannot hesitate anymore. You better be ready to use it if need be.


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