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What are the rules on carrying a knife in France?

The Local France
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What are the rules on carrying a knife in France?
Knife blades are pictured at the headquarters of Opinel, a French knife manufacturing company, in Chambery, in the French Savoie region (Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP)

From a fruit knife for a picnic to a flick-knife or machete - what are the rules around carrying knives in France and what penalties do you risk for unauthorised knives?

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The first thing you need to know is that all weapons are classified as either A, B, C or D.

Category A weapons - these include certain firearms such as machine guns, artillery weapons and 'war material' such as explosives - it is forbidden to hold these weapons without special authorisation. This also covers vintage or antique weapons - Gare du Nord train station is regularly closed down and evacuated because someone tries to take home with them an old artillery shell after a visit to the World War I battlefields. In addition to making every single traveller in the station hate you, this is also a criminal offence. 

Category B weapons - guns that can be legally held provided you have the correct authorisation from your préfecture. This category represents mostly handguns that could be used for sport shooting - like pistol target shooting - or professional purposes (like gendarmes and police). 

Category C weapons - most people using weapons in this category are hunters. The guns require you to make a 'déclaration' with a gunsmith or gun broker to acquire. If you are a hunter, you would need to be registered on France's system for registering firearms (SIA), and in order to do this you must already hold a hunting licence.

Category D weapons - non-firearms weapons. This category includes knives, pepper spray and electric shock devices. While these are available for sale to all adults (over 18s), there are still rules regarding what qualifies as a "D" weapon and whether you can carry it outside of your home. Keep in mind that paintball guns are also considered category D weapons.

Category D weapons include bladed weapons (knives), daggers, and batons. It also encompasses any kind of 'incapacitating device' less than 100ml in size that sprays or projects gas, like pepper spray or mace. 

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Some electric shock weapons also fit onto this list, but not stun guns, they are considered category "B".

In order to transport any category D weapon outside your home, you will need to demonstrate a 'legitimate' reason, which is determined at the discretion of the police officer or gendarme. You can find the full list of 'category D' weapons on the French government website Service-Public.

Knives

French law technically prohibits carrying knives in public spaces - regardless of the size or existence of a blade-locking mechanism, like in a switch-blade. This means that in the majority of cases, it is not permitted to take a knife (couteau in French) with you into the public space or to even keep one in your car, as this is considered to be outside of your own home. 

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However, there is some flexibility in the rules. According to French knife website, Comptoir du Couteau, French courts have ruled in favour of allowing people to carry small Swiss Army knives or 'Opinel' knives based on connections to French history and tradition. 

But even if there might be some jurisprudence supporting the carrying of small pocket knives, the reality is that when carrying any Category D weapon, you still have to be able to prove that you have a legitimate reason for doing so - and it is at the discretion of the law enforcement officer to collaborate your claim.

For example, if you are on your way to a family picnic and you brought an ordinary kitchen knife to cut up the cheese and meat in your picnic basket, this would be unlikely to land you in trouble.

Likewise if you are an electrician on your way to work and are carrying a knife for wire cutting in your tool, a French police officer would likely 

On the other hand, it would be difficult to come up with a reason why it would be vital for you to carry a flick-knife or machete with you in public.

Law enforcement officers are expected to consider the location, context, type of knife being carried, as well as the knife-holder's profile when determining if the reason for transporting the weapon is 'legitimate'. 

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Of course, you will need to consider the location of where you are going. Private rules regarding knife-carrying might apply - most public transport providers such as airlines have a complete ban on carrying knives, regardless of the reason. 

A business, local town hall, sports stadium or other establishment might have their own rules too.

In the big cities, entry to venues such as museums, art galleries and sports stadiums usually involves walking through a metal detector or scanner, and it's highly likely that a knife would be confiscated. 

Pepper spray

Pepper spray or mace (known as a bombe ou gaz lacrymogène in French) can be considered a Category D weapon, meaning you can buy it without needing special permissions as long as you are an adult. However, such devices cannot have a filling capacity that exceeds 100 ml, and there are also limits on the strength of the solution that is legal for public use. 

As with knives, pepper spray is banned completely in certain areas including airports and sports stadiums. 

Before taking your pepper spray canister out with you, think about the 'legitimacy' rules. The only place where you can be certain that you will not face any legal sanction for carrying pepper spray is in your own home.

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Tasers and shock devices

In France, the word 'taser' is often used incorrectly. The TASER - a brand-name and acronym - is not the same thing as an 'electric shocker' device.

For example, the TASER X26, is shaped like a firearm and projects small electrodes from several metres away. This is typically carried by law enforcement officers, and the average person cannot carry or own one (unless you have very specific permissions or work in a qualifying role, like as a police officer). 

A small electric shocker device, like an electric fist (un poing électrique in French) or 'pocket shocker' is legal. These are not subject to any special registration - adults can purchase them online or in stores, but again, carrying them in public spaces is not allowed without being able to demonstrate a legitimate reason.

Penalties 

If you are found to have taken a Category D weapon into the public space without a legitimate reason then you risk up to one year of prison time and a fine of up to €15,000.

If you are found to be in a group (more than two people) who have together inappropriately carried Category D weapons into the public space, then the penalty goes up to two years in prison per individual and a fine of €30,000.

If you were carrying a paintball launcher or air rifle, there is no risk of jail-time and the maximum fine is €750.

What about firearms?

In France, firearm regulation is strict - unlike in the United States, there is no right to bear arms in France.

Being in possession of a gun without the correct registration carries a maximum penalty of €75,000 and five years in prison.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How gun control laws work in France

You must demonstrate that you have a licence (either as a hunter or as a sports shooter), and the regulations will become more involved depending on the capacity of the device in question. There are also limits on how many firearms you can own, as well as how many rounds you are allowed to store per weapon. 

If you are looking to transport a firearm, you will typically need to produce documentation that you are a hunter, marksman, or collector. 

Self-defence

Using any kind of weapon against another person is of course a criminal offence, although you may be able to claim self-defence.

However, in order to be considered legitimate self-defence in France, five strict conditions must be met;

  • the attack must be unjustified/ without just cause;
  • the defence must be for oneself or on behalf of another person;
  • the defence must be immediate;
  • the defence must be necessary to protect oneself (meaning your only solution was to retaliate); 
  • the defence must be proportional or equal to the severity of the attack. 

The burden of proof lies with the person claiming self-defence. 

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