Do I have the right to carry a knife on me? Ah! The eternal question. Rumours abound, but there’s still no point placing the blade in the hollow of you palm, it’s just a myth. Walking around with a so-called cold weapon (which includes a knife) is prohibited in France. But as any self-respecting French person knows, lawmakers nonetheless allow you to have a knife on your person. Yes, circumstances and the intended use allow you to keep your blade in a pocket. Laws, case law and actual facts: follow the meanders of the law to finally understand when and how French law governs the act of carrying a knife.
What the law says about the right to carry a knife in France
Purchasing, carrying and transporting: 3 distinct legal notions
The law distinguishes between purchasing a knife (and any cold weapon in general), carrying it on your person, and transporting it. Purchasing corresponds to the acquisition as part of a transaction. There is nothing very innovative in that.
Carrying a knife is the act of having it on your person available for immediate use.
Transporting for its part consists in moving the knife while it is close to you but unavailable for immediate use.
Making this distinction helps us understand that everything is based on the real intention of the person walking around with a knife in their pocket.
Am I allowed to carry a knife? The acts of law
Is the knife a weapon?
Article 132-75 of the Criminal Code in effect since 10 March 2004 stipulates that « any object designed to kill or injure is a weapon.
Any other object liable to represent a danger to people is deemed a weapon whenever it is used to kill, injure or threaten, or when the bearer’s intent is to use it to kill, injure or threaten.
Any object is deemed a weapon if it resembles the weapon defined in the first subsection, such as to create confusion, if it is used to threaten to kill or injure, or if the bearer intends to use it to threaten to kill or injure.Using an animal to kill, injure or threaten is construed as using a weapon. »
🔪 So the knife is effectively a weapon, legally speaking
At this stage, the law makes no distinction between folding knives, butterfly knives, fixed blade knives or pocket knives.
A class D weapon
The D category refers specifically to weapons that can be freely purchased and owned. It notably includes « switchblades, daggers, truncheons, non-fire arms, etc ». Only an adult can buy one.
🔪 The knife is a class D weapon.
Please note: the 6th category classification dates from before 2013 and is no longer relevant today.
It is forbidden to carry and transport a category D weapon (in a car for instance) without legitimate grounds. Article R315-1 of the Domestic Security Code is very clear on this subject.
🔪 So it is officially prohibited in France to keep a knife on your person. But keep reading, because France adores adding exceptions to the rule.
Articles R315-5 to R315-10 list the special authorizations such as:
- people facing exceptional threats to their life;
- diplomatic service functions;
- diplomatic service functions;
Article L317-8 of the Domestic Security Code defines the penalties. A person who keeps a knife in their pocket without legitimate grounds is punishable by :
- a €15,000 fine;
- 1 year in prison.
This punishment is doubled if the offence is committed by several individuals at the same time.
It is worth noting that these are national statutory provisions. Local regulations (decided by the Prefect) may ban carrying a knife or any other sharp or cutting object. Such measures primarily apply to entertainment venues, publicly-owned institutions or sports grounds.
This is what French legislation provides for. Let’s look at real life, the facts and the courts’ response.
French case law on the legality of carrying a knife
What the courts say
The cases judged have created case law on the issue. For instance, folding knives (pocket knives) are no longer considered cold weapons, but rather as ordinary knives used for eating. As traditional, cultural French utensils, carrying them is allowed as long as it is for normal use.
However, depending on the planned use, they can be recategorized as cold weapons by the investigating officer or the forces of law and order.
So everything rests on the notion of legitimacy.
Kitchen or pocket knives are only weapons by intended use. They are not considered aggressive as long as you don’t threaten with them.
Legitimacy: a matter of context and place
« Carrying and transporting knives are allowed as long as there is a legitimate reason to do so. The legitimacy of carrying and transporting knives presupposes that the knife in question has features rendering it appropriate for the way in which it is effectively used. »
The legitimacy is determined by the investigating officer depending on the circumstances and the context. This response was published in the Official Journal dated 26 November 2013 (page 12419).
⚖️ According to the legal dictionary the term “legitimate” means: “compliant with a higher principle deemed just in a society at a given moment in time”.
The Ministry of Justice demands that you are able to provide a legitimate reason in the event of a security check (searching a bag, car, etc.).
💡 So you understand that the situation and/or circumstances can justify carrying a knife, or not.
What actually happens when you walk around carrying a knife
The policeman’s assessment counts
So the security guard carrying out the inspection personally assesses whether or not the knife found in your pocket is dangerous. He may equate its use to breaking the law. In the event of a dispute, the judge decides.
For instance, being in possession of a pocket knife, penknife or better yet a Morta folding knife at a picnic among friends will be seen as legitimate. But waving them in someone’s face will transform them into cold weapons. Hence the importance of the notion of the use to which the knife is put.
This is demonstrated by the grounds of the Social Division of the Court of Appeal of Dijon dated 11/02/2016 number 14-010.15 (see appendix 1).
Conversely, having a butterfly knife, automatic cutter or military knife during a public demonstration will be less well viewed by the security guard. Any public place where violence may occur reinforces the aggressive notion of the knife. Being seen with a penknife during a fight accentuates the brutality of the situation.
As you will have understood, the security guard still has to find out that you’re carrying a knife.
Is it legal to search people in France?
There again, no but yes.
A search is prohibited in France in the absence of a crime, offence or police custody. It is governed by the Ministry of the Interior.
Policemen, security guards or agents of a licensed security company are allowed to frisk someone (pat down outer clothing for dangerous objects) during a demonstration. Apart from a sporting or cultural event, it is only allowed in the event of serious threats to public safety. The search must be done:
- by someone of the same gender;
- with the interested party’s express consent.
The right to carry a knife in France benefits from the traditional, culture nature of the pocket knife. We can intelligently conclude that it is all a matter of common sense. Having a Morta knife on you while walking through the forest will only pose a problem for nearby mushrooms. I like living dangerously, I treat myself to a Morta knife.
Article R132-75 of the Criminal Code
The website Légifrance on carrying and transporting knives.
The website Légifrance on the penalties.
Service-public.fr and category D weapons
Appendix 1 (Dalloz excerpt)