Occasionally, I get questions on the status of various types of knives in a particular state, and the reasons for listing a particular type of knife as prohibited or not under that state’s law in my book, Knife Laws of the Fifty States: A Guide for the Law-Abiding Traveler. I recently received an inquiry from a reader concerning the status of automatic knives (switchblades) and balisongs in Virginia, and thought I’d share the key points of my analysis and response to that reader’s question.
I noted in the book that as a practical matter, state law prohibits possession of switchblades, because Virginia Code Sec. 18.2-311 prohibits possession of any switchblade "with the intent of selling, bartering, giving, or furnishing," and defines mere possession as prima facie evidence of such intent. This means that the law presumes that your mere possession of a switchblade signifies your intent to violate Va. Code Sec. 18.2-311. Thus, while technically possession without the required intent may be legal, as a practical matter, mere possession of a switchblade would likely land you in legal trouble.
While the legal presumption in Sec. 18.2-311 regarding mere possession may be rebuttable, mere possession will likely support a charge (a Class 4 misdemeanor per the statute) of violating Sec. 18.2-311, and, absent other defenses or challenges, you (via your attorney(s)) would likely have to overcome this legal presumption in order to avoid a conviction under this statute.
Even if you were acquitted of a Sec. 18.2-311 violation for mere possession of a switchblade, you might have now have an arrest record that can affect you later in life, and your attorney(s) will be richer for the experience. That was why I listed the switchblade carry status as "No" in the book -- I'd rather my readers stay out of legal trouble in the first place, especially where the law is stacked against them with regards to mere possession.
Note also that Virginia Code Sec. 18.2-308 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to carry a switchblade concealed.
With regards to balisongs (butterfly knives), Virginia appellate case law suggests caution, as in at least one case, the Virginia Court of Appeals has upheld a conviction for concealed carry of a butterfly knife, and upheld the trial court’s determination that such a knife was a prohibited weapon (see the Selected Caselaw section of the book for the case citation). This illustrates why it's always important to consider case law in addition to statutory law when assessing the law of a given state in a particular area, such as knife law. Case law can, and does, often have an important effect on the legalities of knife carry.
DISCLAIMER: The information above should NOT be considered legal advice or a restatement of the law, and is not a substitute for such advice. The information is of a general nature and is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice regarding specific situations from a lawyer licensed to practice in the applicable jurisdiction(s). No guarantee of accuracy is expressed or implied, and the reader should not consider any information in this document (including, but not limited to, any explanatory or summary text) as legal advice, or a restatement of the law. The author and publisher of this document expressly disclaim any and all liability whatsoever arising out of any reliance on the information contained in this document, or due to any errors or omissions therein. Please consult an attorney should you need legal advice about your specific situation.