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Ask the County Law Librarian — Is it legal to carry a wooden sword in public in California?



Q. Is it legal to carry a wooden sword in public in California? Also in schools?

Sincerely Yours,

Daniel

A. The basic answer to your first question is “it depends.” Simply carrying around an unconcealed wooden sword is legal in California. In fact, there’s no law prohibiting carrying around a metal sword, either. A number of laws restrict or prohibit carrying concealed weapons, such as cane swords, switchblades, pen knives, and even lipstick case knives, but openly carrying a sword or stick is not expressly prohibited.

It is a misdemeanor to carry a deadly weapon with intent to assault. California Penal Code § 17500. It seems likely that a sturdy wooden sword could be considered a deadly weapon, even if it is not sharp. A “deadly weapon” is anything likely to produce death or great bodily injury. Even things like pencils and forks have been found to be deadly weapons in certain circumstances. See People v. Page, 123 Cal. App. 4th 1466 (2004); People v. Moran, 33 Cal.App.3d 724 (1973).

There are twenty-six items specifically defined as “generally prohibited weapons” in California. California Penal Code § 16590. Common characteristics for classification in this category seem to be concealable weapons (cane swords and shobi-zue, cane guns, concealed dirks or daggers) and trendy weapons (nunchakas, shuriken, and the surprising lipstick case knife). Neither swords nor wooden sticks or batons are expressly covered, but a “dirk or dagger” is defined as “a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death.” California Penal Code § 16590. It is therefore possible, depending on the size and build of the wooden sword in question, that, if concealed, it might be prohibited under California Penal Code § 16590. If the wooden sword were being used in a “motion picture, television, or video production or entertainment event,” however, it might be exempt under California Penal Code § 17720.

So, under California state law, it appears there is no restriction on simply carrying a wooden sword. Your city or county may have such restrictions, however, so you may wish to check those codes for limitations on carrying such weapons. For instance, Sacramento’s City Code prohibits carrying concealed “dangerous or deadly weapons” while loitering or fighting, and prohibits transporting such weapons by car, except for “for uses of honest work, trade or business or for the purpose of legitimate sport or recreation.” The City Code defines “dangerous or deadly weapons” to include “any cutting, stabbing or bludgeoning weapon or device capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm,” so that would almost certainly include a wooden sword. Sacramento City Code § 9.32.010-9.32.050.

The law regarding bringing or possessing weapons on school grounds is stricter, of course. California Penal Code § 626.10 prohibits anyone except a duly appointed peace officer or someone summoned by and assisting the officer in preserving the peace from bringing or possessing on school grounds “any dirk, dagger, ice pick, knife having a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches, folding knife with a blade that locks into place, razor with an unguarded blade,” etc. The item need not be concealed to fall under this restriction, and no intent to assault is required. There are exceptions for food preparation or consumption, any lawful purpose within the scope of a person’s employment, and items brought at the direction of a faculty member for a school-sponsored activity or class. As in the “generally prohibited weapons” Penal Code section mentioned above, “dirk or dagger” means “a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death.” So, it is possible that, depending on the size and build of the wooden sword in question, it might be prohibited under the “bringing or possessing weapons on school grounds” Penal Code section.

In order to determine the answer to your question with any degree of probability, you would need to come to the Law Library and do more extensive research. The Library is currently closed, but we hope to re-open at our new 609 9th Street location on March 1, 2012. While we’re closed, you can still visit our website at www.saclaw.org for a wealth of information, including sample forms and instructions for navigating a variety of common legal procedures.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian
www.saclaw.org