Pocket knives and public transportation

While aboard Caltrain Wednesday evening, I was slicing away with my pocket knife at some duct tape on my bike when I wondered, “Are pocket knives legal on public transit?”

Topeak Alien multitool

First a big disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. But here’s what I’ve found out about the kind of small knives you’ll find your typical bicycle multitool.

In California, it’s legal to carry (concealed or openly) a pocket knife. It’s up to you to find out if your local jurisdiction has stricter controls.

Some states and municipalities have a restriction against carrying concealed “deadly weapons.” A handful of cities have code prohibiting the carry of “any knife” on board a bus or in a transit center, but they generally have wording to the effect of “intended for use as a weapon.” IANAL, but I don’t imagine small multitool blades fall into that category.


  1. Long ago, in what seems like a different reality (1993). I was visiting the US capitol building. I walked in and started to go through the checkpoint there. I had a small 2-3″ gerber pocket knife in my pocket and I stopped and showed it to the guard and asked if this was a problem or if I could keep it with me. He replied “it's not a problem unless you make it a problem.” and waved me on.

    I rather liked that attitude. He assumed I wasn't a criminal. I think we should have more of that.

  2. it's such a different world now, isn't it? It's the reason I even checked — even 10 years ago the thought wouldn't have occurred to me. I was surprised to learn Portland OR banned pocket knives. This ban survived 3 court challenges before it was overturned by Oregon Supreme Court.

    More recently (last year), a state senator in Hawaii introduced a bill to ban pocket knives in that state!

  3. I had a colleague who used to whittle (abstract geometric shapes) on the train.

    The CalTrain crews were cool with it. He made sure not to leave wood shavings all over the seat.

    Granted, he was riding in from Gilroy, and I undertand crews and passengers are pretty much on a first name basis down there.

    I once had my bike tools confiscated at the airport (stupid to bring them, but I came straight from work with my usual backpack), but that was in around 2002 and I think they've loosened the rules somewhat since then (I don't the TSA would even hassle you over a small pocket knife these days–they only consider a knife a weapon if the blade is over some specified length).

  4. Don't try taking your multi-tool through Belfast airport – security will tell you to check it in and then the baggage handlers will nick it out off your bag. It happened to me!

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