If you’re a knife or action movie buff, you’ve probably seen ballistic knives in action. Despite the controversy surrounding them, these knives are incredibly and intelligently designed. They pack quite a punch and offer something unique to the military and self-defense world.
We’re going to break down and go into detail on our “What is a ballistic knife” question. Our goal is to get you informed and to show you how and when these knives should be used. We’re also going to take a quick look at the legal aspects around carrying one of these knives, and where you might be able to legally get your hands on one.
By the end of this guide, you should be able to tell a true ballistic knife apart from knockoffs, know about the different types, how they work, and whether you can carry one. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What Is Considered a Ballistic Knife?
Although these knives have Russian military roots, a ballistic knife doesn’t need to be from Russia to be considered genuine. As the name hints at, ballistic knives look quite similar to ordinary knives but have a blade that shoots out at high speeds – hence the word “ballistic”. These blades are shot out with a lot of force and can easily pierce through clothes and light armor.
They were initially used by the military as a substitute for throwing knives. They didn’t need as much training to use at a high level, and this was all during the Cold War era – so time wasn’t a luxury. Ballistic knives were designed to be used in close combat and aren’t very effective at ranges over 20ft.
It also had the element of surprise as soldiers wouldn’t expect a blade to come shooting out at them after they managed to scurry out of their enemies’ reach in close combat. Most ballistic knives have some sort of external trigger on the handle that is flipped to release the blade. This high-power release is either done by a strong spring or powered by gas/compressed air – but we’ll talk more about how it all works later in this guide.
Ballistic knives are held and operated in one hand. They’re about the same size as most standard fixed blade military knives and can even be sheathed. Nowadays, ballistic knives are almost exclusively used by the military and there are a ton of regulations against civilians owning or carrying them – but more on that later.
What Are the Uses of a Ballistic Knife?
As we’ve already touched on, ballistic knives are designed for self-defense and military use. The high-impact sharp blade is made to pierce light body armor and severely wound/kill in a fight. Ballistic knives don’t have a large effective range (around 20ft) and are meant to be used in close quarters – usually on an enemy that’s just out of your reach.
They pack a punch and have the element of surprise. This, combined with how easy they are to use, made them very popular in the military and for a soldier’s daily carry. You can use these knives for light utility tasks such as prying things open, but they don’t have the greatest cutting edge.
They’re designed with a sharp and strong tip and high piercing power, not for everyday utility tasks. The purpose of a ballistic knife is to harm or kill in a high-pressure situation. You won’t find these knives used much outside of the military and collectors’ stashes. They’re illegal in many countries and you can’t use them as an EDC knife.
How Does a Ballistic Knife Work?
All ballistic knives have a detachable blade that shoots out at high speeds when the release level/switch is activated. There are two main types of ballistic knives; spring-loaded, and compressed air/gas powered knives.
Some less common models use a small explosive charge, but these are usually totally illegal outside of military use. Spring-loaded ballistic knives use a sturdy coil spring that is compressed when the blade is loaded into the handle. This spring is held in place by a lock that can only be released when the flipper/switch on the handle is pressed.
When you release the blade, it gets launched out of the handle at a high speed and surprisingly accurately. Spring-loaded ballistic knives are generally more accurate than gas-powered ones, but more prone to wear and tear. Gas/air-powered ballistic knives use a container that holds high-pressure compressed air or gas. When the blade-release lever is pulled, a burst of gas is released from the container.
This gas builds up insane pressure in a sealed area behind the blade, shooting it out of the handle at extremely high-speeds. These ballistic knives are very durable and powerful, but lose some accuracy as a result. Reloading spring-loaded ballistic knives can be a little tricky (and takes quite a bit of force) and you’ll need to have the protective cylinder handy. Here’s what to do:
- Place the protective cylinder over the blade and turn the knife upside down (so the blade is pointing down) and slot the cylinder over the handle
- Press down quite hard to set the blade back into the handle
- Once you remove the protective sheath, you can fire the knife again
Are Ballistic Knives Legal?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. You should bear in mind that laws change quite frequently and there can be huge legal differences between states and countries. Carve out some time to get familiar with your local knife laws and legislation. Due to their affiliation with Cold War Russia, these knives had quite a negative reputation in the Western world.
There were several attempts to try and ban ballistic knives in the US, and they eventually succeeded. In the late 1980s, owning, importing, selling, or carrying a ballistic knife was made illegal. While this law isn’t universal (at least in the US) ballistic knives can’t be moved across state lines. This means that you can own one of these knives (but not to carry daily), you just have to buy it within your state.
It also means that the knife has to be manufactured in your state. If you’re outside the US, there are most likely some type of laws limiting the ownership and use of ballistic knives. Take as much time as you need to learn what you can and cannot do. It’s worth the time. Remember, you could get the knife confiscated or even have charges pressed against you if you aren’t careful!
Where Can I Buy a Ballistic Knife?
Where you can buy or find a ballistic knife depends hugely on where you live. For example, if you’re in the US, you’re going to have a hard time finding and legally owning one of these knives without being connected to the military. The first thing you need to do is to check your local and national laws.
There’s no point in looking for a place to buy one of these knives if you aren’t legally permitted to own one. The best you can do is contact a local knife/hardware store and ask them if it’s legal. If you don’t get a concrete answer there, you should reach out to your lawyer or a local police station and ask them for advice.
You’re more likely to find ballistic knives for sale online or in brand-specific knife shops. Given the current climate (Covid-19), online purchases are your best bet. Make sure you know about your country/state regulations regarding the importing of ballistic knives.
You’ll be able to buy and pay for the knife. But it might be held if it goes against any importing laws. If you know anybody that owns a ballistic knife or is a knife enthusiast, they might also be able to point you in the right direction. You should also do a search for second-hand sellers in your state or country.
This is especially important if you live in the US as these knives can’t be moved across state lines. All-in-all, there is no simple or straightforward answer. You need to research your country or state laws to make sure that your purchase is legal. So that you don’t waste your time or money.
Ballistic knives are unique and incredibly fun knives to own. If you’re an enthusiast, you probably have a quiet appreciation for these knives. But it’s important to remember how dangerous they can be. We want to stress that you should do everything you can to make sure you aren’t breaking any local/national laws by buying and using one of these intimidating knives.
If you’ve served with the military, check there to see. If there is a provision that allows you to own and carry a ballistic knife. Hopefully, we’ve given you clarity on the “What is a ballistic knife?” question. You should know what your next steps are and have a good idea of where to start. We’ve covered quite a bit of information here, so take your time to digest it all. It’s better to be safe than sorry!