Serious pocket knife and EDC enthusiasts know that traveling with knives can prove difficult. It’s no surprise that knives are dangerous. And, as such, many countries and individual states here in the U.S. have different laws regarding what constitutes a pocket knife versus a weapon (usually blade length) and whether or not it’s legal to own or sell them. Of all the styles and shapes of knives, the butterfly knife, a.k.a. the balisong knife, tends to be the most commonly criminalized. Below we’ll get into the details of where and why the butterfly knife has been deemed illegal.
What is a Butterfly Knife?
The butterfly knife is characterized by two handles that rotate around the tang. When the knife is closed, the blade is concealed within the handles. The most common association with the butterfly knife is the series of fast flourishes used to quickly open the knife and reveal the blade. As such, there are many training butterfly knives so users can safely practice whipping it open without fear of slicing off a finger.
Butterfly knives, also called balisongs or fan knives, originated in the Philippines. The term balisong comes from the Tagalog words “baling sungay” which means “broken horn.” Initially, butterfly knives were used as self-defense tools or pocket utility knives. Some reports even claim they were used as razor blades before they were popularized.
Now, butterfly knives don’t serve many practical functions. Owners and collectors might keep them as decorative items or, as mentioned earlier, demonstrate the opening and closing flourishes.
Are Butterfly Knives Illegal?
Many countries have outright banned balisongs and butterfly knives. Where they are legal to own, there may be restrictions on carrying them.
In the United States, the legality varies from state to state. For instance, in Hawaii, it is illegal to possess, manufacture, sell, transfer, or transport balisongs. In California, all knife blades over 2 inches are banned so many butterfly knives would fall into that category. But in Maine, it is legal to purchase, sell, and carry balisongs/butterfly knives.
The legality of butterfly knives tends to revolve around their designation as “gravity knives” or “switchblades.” Because balisongs don’t possess much utility, it’s easy to label them as weapons. Plus, butterfly knives can be extremely dangerous. With enough skill, they can be opened extremely quickly (like a switchblade) and cause serious harm.
But, because balisongs have a rich history and such intricate, unique designs, you can find antiques that serve a purely aesthetic purpose. Many butterfly knives can feature beautiful patterns, not dissimilar to damascus knives. But, if you’re interested in collecting butterfly knives, it’s best to learn where to start.
Where Can I Buy a Butterfly Knife?
The USPS prohibits the shipment of butterfly knives. So, it can be difficult to find an online retailer. For instance, Amazon only sells training butterfly knives, which feature a dull blade.
You can find some genuine balisong retailers/manufacturers online. Blade HQ offers a wide variety of genuine butterfly knives as well as practice versions.
But because butterfly knives tend to serve strictly decorative purposes now, your best bet for finding beautifully made balisongs is at reputable knife stores or sometimes at antique stores. Wherever you try to purchase butterfly knives, just make sure to familiarize yourself with the local knife legislation.