Five Key Takeaways From Texas' New Laws On Carrying Knives

In 1871, the Texas Legislature passed a bill forbidding Texans from carrying Bowie knives and other arms like slingshots, swords, canes and brass knuckles. In 2017, these restrictions have ended.

State law defines an illegal knife as a knife with a blade longer than 5½ inches, a hand instrument designed to cut or stab by being thrown, a dagger, a Bowie knife, a sword or a spear. But Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1935 into law this month, changing the term “illegal knife” to “location-restricted knife.” Changes will take effect Sept. 1.

It's a move that knife advocates hail as lifting a nearly 150-year ban because it allows Texans to carry location-restricted knives almost anywhere in Texas.

Texas experienced lawlessness after the end of the Civil War. Armed organizations known locally as Pale Face, Knights of the White Camellia and the White Brotherhood — better known as the Ku Klux Klan — operated east of the Trinity River with their own brand of justice.

Outlawing the knife named after Jim Bowie followed in the footsteps of the passage of an 1856 act that doubled the punishment for assault with intent to murder if a “Bowie knife or dagger” was used, according to Stephen Halbrook, a lawyer and noted authority on the history of gun policy in Texas. He wrote about the laws in a paper titled “The Right to Bear Arms in Texas: The Intent of the Framers of the Bills of Rights,” which was published in the Baylor Law Review.

Halbrook said in his paper that the Bowie knife was originally used as “the main eating implement, to cut limbs from trees, and to skin and butcher game." But Texas lawmakers, determined to bring order and justice to the Texas frontier, outlawed all blades longer than 5½ inches, he said.

The new rules are not cut and dry.  Here are five things you need to know before strapping a 12-inch blade on your hip this fall.

Change in penal code language
Rep. John Frullo and Rep. Harold Dutton’s co-sponsored bill also removes the definition of “illegal knife” from Section 46.01(6) of the penal code, including the prohibition on double-edged switchblades favored by greasers in the Outsider movies. The bill “completes Knife Rights’ efforts to bring knife freedom to Texas," according to the group, a nonprofit that describes itself as giving voice to knife and edge tool owners “to influence public policy and oppose efforts to restrict the right to own, use and carry knives and edged tools."

It amends the family code by changing “illegal knife” to “location-restricted knife” and simply defines it as “knife with a blade over five and one-half inches,” removing other definitions like “a hand instrument designed to cut or stab another by being thrown, a dagger including but not limited to a dirk, stiletto and poniard, a Bowie knife, a sword or a spear."

Expelling students
The new law also allows students to be expelled if they use, exhibit or posses knifes with blades longer than 5½ inches. It also states that a person commits an offense if he or she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly carries a location-restricted knife and is younger than 18, is not on his or her premises or premises under his or her control, is not inside or en route to a motor vehicle or watercraft that he or she owns or is under his or her control, or is not under the direct supervision of a parent or legal guardian.

Banned from schools and bars
There are places you can't carry a long blade. The new law says those locations include "schools or education institutions or passenger transportation of a public or private school or educational institution, businesses earning more than 51 percent of their income from alcohol to be consumed on the premises and a polling place on Election Day or during early voting." Any blade longer than 5½ inches is also not allowed in government courts or court offices; any place where a sporting event or interscholastic event is taking place; at a correctional facility or a 1,000 feet around; at hospitals or nursing facilities; at racetracks and amusement parks; at churches, synagogues or other places of worship; or in secured areas of airports. Violating this portion of the law is a third-degree felony, but the use of ceremonial blades for historical and theatrical events are exceptions.

Knife sales
You still can’t intentionally or knowingly sell, rent or lease, or give — or offer to sell, rent or lease, or give — any firearm, club or location-restricted knife to any child younger than 18.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.