There is no such thing as an “illegal knife” in Texas.
Dirks and daggers, stilettos and poniards, even machetes and swords can now legally be carried just about anywhere — even “down Congress Avenue,” said state Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, the author of House Bill 1935, the law that made it so beginning Sept. 1.
HB 1935 effectively eliminates prohibitions on where certain knives can be carried by getting rid of the category of “illegal knives,” a designation critics called ambiguous. Under the new law, a smaller subset of newly dubbed “location restricted” knives will be prohibited in places like college buildings and bars.
Previously, knives with blades longer than five-and-a-half inches, as well as Bowie knives and a few other types, could not be legally carried outside the home. The new statute expands knife owners’ freedoms, advocates said, and also eliminates a great deal of confusion. Bowie knives, for example, were designated “illegal” under the previous law, but they were not legally defined.
Oversights like these made it difficult for knife owners to know whether they were in compliance with the law, “making criminals of people who had no intention of doing anything wrong,” Frullo said.
Todd Rathner, director of legislative affairs for the national organization Knife Rights, said the law’s significance stretches beyond practical concerns.
“Texans carry all kinds of knives for all kinds of purposes, whether it’s working on a ranch or opening envelopes in an office. So they want to be able to know that whatever knife they stick in their pocket or hang on their belt, that it’s legal,” Rathner said. “There’s also principle involved: In the United States of America, we have the Second Amendment right to bear arms — it doesn’t say ‘guns,’ it says ‘arms.’”
An amendment restricting knives in certain locations — beyond college campuses, certain knives are also prohibited from jails as well as from certain bars and hospitals — was added to the law in the wake of a deadly stabbing this May on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Police said junior biology major Kendrex White used a “large, Bowie-style hunting knife” to kill one fellow student, Harrison Brown, and wound three others. HB 1935 passed the House a week after the tragedy.
The measure faced very little opposition in either chamber.
“The safety concern here was too great for me to vote favorably on this legislation without more debate,” said state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, one of only a handful of legislators who voted against the bill.
But Frullo said that the law does not increase danger, arguing that knife threats are most likely to come from individuals who weren’t following the laws anyway.
“Definitely, knives can be used as a weapon, but also they have a lot of other practical purposes,” Frullo said. “The fact of whether or not we have a law is not going to change whether somebody is doing something bad.”
Rathner said he aims to push in future sessions for legislation that would eliminate the location restrictions entirely.
Cliff Hill, a competitive knife thrower and the owner of an Austin knife-sharpening store, said changing this law doesn't mean "that you're going to see people walking around with swords hanging off their belt." Instead, he said, it makes it easier for enthusiasts like him to pursue their hobbies without breaking the law.
For example, when Hill takes his collection of blades to a knife-throwing competition or to teach a knife-throwing class, he's been "driving illegal."
"I think it's good in that sense," he said. "If I'm on my way to teach a class, how am I not going to have throwing knives with me, you know?"
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.