What is a Ballistic Knife – 5 Reasons Why They Are Illegal in the US

So, what is a ballistic knife?

After all, that is why we are here today.

If the name of this knife was a bit confusing to you at first, welcome to the party. I’ve always known that the term ‘ballistics’ is used to refer to guns and bullets so seeing the same thing on a knife was intriguing.

Without wasting too much of your time, a ballistic knife is equipped with a detachable blade that can shoot up to several meters when released by a trigger mechanism. This is similar to how a bullet is ejected from a gun when shot from a distance. The ballistic knife cannot, however, manage the same kind of distance that a bullet from a gun would.

How do ballistic knives work?

All ballistic knives come with a hollow handle which allows the blade to fit into the shell just right.

For better understanding, I will be likening the ballistic knife to some common parts of a gun that you would know.

So, here, the detachable blade is like the bullet in the knife while the hollow handle serves as the gun frame.

Once the blade is loaded into the knife, it can be used just like any other knife. The only condition here is that the user avoids pulling the lever or pressing the trigger button lest the ballistic knife within gets deployed.

Speaking of the trigger, the knife could use compressed air or gas, or deploy by using a spring-operated mechanism. The choice will be dependent on the manufacturer and applications of the knife.

The user can trigger the blade by pressing the button/ lever that comes with the knife.

While they are not around as much today, in the case you wanted to test them out, you can see these knives in action in video games.

I found one such video for those who wanted to see what these knives could do in person. From a video game, too, so don’t worry about too graphic a content.

What is the purpose of a ballistic knife?

Considering how these knives work, this is a more than valid question.

For one, it would not make sense to shoot your knife out of the hollow handle, only to have to re-assemble it before you could use it again. If it were a member of the armed forces in contact with an enemy, they might not be able to get the advantage if they missed with their first shot.

However, sources have shown that the Russian special forces (who liked their ballistic knives) were trained to use the knife especially.

Instead of shooting their spring-operated blade from a long range, like they would a gun, they would move in closer to the enemy. These soldiers will use the knife like they would in any other self-defense case.

Chances are that the enemy won’t know that they are facing a knife with a detachable blade. Once this soldier is close enough, they can deploy the knife, giving it enough force to cause serious damage in such close quarters.

That said, it would make sense to have a non-ballistic knife at hand. That way, if the ballistic knife gets taken out of the equation, the user still has something else to fall back on.

Is a Switchblade a ballistic knife?

Knife laws can sometimes be dicey, so much that they classify different kinds of knives under the same category.

The switchblade is not a ballistic knife as it does not eject its blade when deployed. The ballistic knife, on the other hand, is characterized by the blade leaving the hollow handle of the knife when deployed.

Check what a switchblade knife really is here

Both knives are similar in that they have federal law and state regulations bearing down on them – from possession to usage. They also both require a release mechanism to get the locked knife blade out, but they don’t get released the same way.

Likewise, the switchblade enjoys a legal status in some regions of the US and other parts of the world. There could be restrictions on how long the blade could be and where you could take them to, but they don’t suffer an outright ban like what you have on the ballistic knives.

How far can ballistic knives go?

The ballistic knives might be made to go the distance, even though not that much of a distance. However, they are still better than nothing and can help get to enemies without having to walk up to them.

Depending on the kind of release mechanism that the knife comes with, some ballistic knives can deploy at speeds of up to 39mph. At that speed, you can surely cause a lot of damage to anyone within close range with this weapon. Even if you were not at too close a range, the tool can still wreak some havoc on the target when it does hit.

One of the reasons why these knives will be preferred by armed forces and others carrying them for personal security is the level of training required.

To throw a knife properly, you need to go through a lot of training. From making sure you are throwing straight to getting the right power behind your throw, that is.

With ballistic knives, all you have to do is aim and let the spring/ release mechanism do the rest of the work for you. That surely sounds like a better deal to throwing knives.

So, that said…

Why are ballistic knives illegal?

Ballistic knives have been banned under federal and many state laws in many countries of the world. I started with that so you don’t think that it is only the US that has something against these knives.

Left to me, I see a good reason why the knife is banned in some regions but other reasons do not make that much sense.

Here, it is almost like the case when we looked at why butterfly knives are banned across some state lines including under federal law.


When something occurs in very violent situations, even when it is not that violent on its own, it is calling for a ban.

For the balisong knives, the case was that they were a part of many gang and cult-related clashes from the Philippines where they came from. For the ballistic knives, these blades have been found during international drug trafficking busts and other crime-related scenarios.

Looking at it under that kind of microscope, it is understandable that they would be as banned as they are.


I cannot begin to list the number of things that Hollywood has caused a ban for. That is why I sometimes get edgy when I see my favorite things in a movie.

In movies, exaggerations are rampant. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a character, say, shoot a ballistic knife from a street away and still pierce the skull of their target. Or, maybe, deliver a quick kill to an opponent in a fight.

These expressions in movies can sometimes override common sense from the legislators who see the weapon as an outright danger to society.

Again, no thanks to Hollywood too for the dangerous status that ballistic knives quickly gained.


Barring any other thing, the usage of these kinds of knives should also be considered.

It is much easier to carry out a crime with a ballistic knife than with a gun in public. These knives launch with an explosive charge and don’t make the same kind of noise you would get from a gun.

Allowing them to run rampant could lead to a barrage of attacks that victims won’t even see coming. Even if they did see it coming, it would be harder to apprehend the culprit.

Speaking of usage, did you know that the Spetsnaz (Russian special forces) and other armed forces from around the world love this knife? It is not part of their official gear anymore, but trust them to pick one up when they can find it. It was, thus, little wonder that one of the biggest manufacturers of these ballistic knives was a Russian company.

If I were in a position of power too, I might not want weapons that are associated with the military running rampant in the city and would ban them/ make them illegal to possess.

Special Ballistics

For all that has been said, you would think that ballistic knives could only have a spring inside or use compressed air to get the blade out of the hollow handle.

But then, manufacturers like to get creative with their products. So, some of them thought it would make sense to create ballistic knives that could be propelled by explosives.

I don’t know about you, but that transforms the entire argument. This instantly stops being just a knife but a weapon that could even be more dangerous than a gun at points.


How many times have you heard about politicians passing a bill or act against something that they might not fully understand?

Well, the ballistic knives are one of the objects to suffer this fate too.

Some reports claim that Alphonse D’Amato (one-time senator of New York City during the mid 1980s) heard from one witness that these ballistic knives could pierce through the armor that cops wore on the job.

In that position, it makes sense to want to protect the gallant men and women who have also stepped up to protect us. With that testimony in hand, it was easy to pass the bill that would ban the sale, possession, and dealing of these tools.

That bill is what we’ve come to know as the Ballistic Knife Prohibition Act today.

Imagine a single bill dedicated to one knife, so you know how heavy the hand of the law must be on this one.

Where did ballistic knives come from?

The answer to that question depends on who you believe.

Some reports indicate that the Soviet Union was heavily invested in the creation of these knives while other speculations point to the CIA in the United States. These knives were also massively produced in Russian companies and used by their Spetsnaz, so they might have had a stake in the movement too.

Given that the knives first started making mainstream media around the late 1970s to early 1980s, it is understandable why the history behind them could be a little fuzzy. Also, considering their now illegal status, I don’t blame any region for not having come out to lay a strong claim to pioneering the ballistic knives.

After all, it’s not like the moon landing or space race that everyone wanted to be the first to.

Can I buy a ballistic knife?

I just told you that these knives are illegal: from the intent to sell to possession.

They are so illegal that if you are found guilty of a crime and you had this knife on you, even if you were not using it, you could be looking at a separate charge with 5 years minimum sentence.

It needs no telling at this point that you should not buy one. There are no special considerations (that I know of) around ballistic knives that will allow you to buy them. Given that most of these knives are around 5-10 inches in length, they cannot even be considered a concealed carry knife.

Some DIY people that I know make their ballistic knives at home just for the fun of it. It only takes one thing going wrong for you to get on the wrong side of the law, though.

There are other knives to own, and legally, anyway. So, get them instead of making yourself a target of some law.

If in doubt, look at this guide to open carry laws in the US and beyond to have an idea of what kinds of knives you can carry legally.

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