Brass Knuckles and the Law

Although their popularity has waned somewhat in recent years, brass knuckles remain a recognizable weapon that occupies a prominent place in the American cultural canon. These implements have been depicted in a wide variety of novels, movies and television programs from the beginning of the 20th century through to the present. Depending upon the nationality, age and regional identity of the speaker, brass knuckles may be known by several other names. These include:

  • Knucks
  • Brass knucks
  • Knuckles
  • Knuckle dusters

In their simplest form, brass knuckles are hardened implements that can be secured to the first segments of their wearers’ digits and made to face outwards during the fist-clenching process. In other words, brass knuckles are used primarily to increase the effectiveness of punches thrown during a fight. They have been known to cause the following injuries:

  • Concussions
  • Skull fractures
  • Broken noses and facial bones
  • Facial and body lacerations
  • Serious bruising
  • Internal bleeding
  • Broken bones

On rare occasions, brass knuckles have been implicated in fighting deaths.

There is a considerable amount of controversy over the place of brass knuckles in “polite society.” Since they can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes, many believe that brass knuckles are a legitimate self-defense tool that should be freely available to the public. Others argue that these implements are mainly used by individuals who wish to “send a message” by inflicting serious pain on their adversaries. Some even believe that brass knuckles are implements of torture. In some countries, it is completely illegal to possess brass knuckles.

The American legal code is somewhat more lenient. However, there is significant state-to-state variation in the statutes that govern the use and possession of brass knuckles. Most states have taken one of the following three legal approaches:

Some have made it a misdemeanor to use, possess or sell them. These include California, Vermont, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Some have made brass knuckles illegal for “offensive purposes.” In these jurisdictions, they can only be possessed by individuals who use them exclusively for self-defense. Obviously, this can create some nebulous legal situations.

Finally, some states have adopted a hands-off approach to the use and possession of brass knuckles. Of course, individuals who use brass knuckles during the course of an assault in these states are liable to face felony charges.

Unfortunately, individuals who legally possess brass knuckles may unwittingly find themselves at odds with the law. These misunderstandings often revolve around the “intent” of the individual who possesses or uses these implements. For instance, an arresting officer might incorrectly assume that an individual who wields knuckles in an altercation was responsible for instigating it. In reality, the opposite might be true. As such, anyone who is accused of using brass knuckles in an assault should contact an attorney. An experienced lawyer may well be able to clear up any lingering misunderstanding and secure a reduction or dismissal of these serious charges.

One Response to “Brass Knuckles and the Law”

  • Kyle Bowden:

    I feel like no melee weapon should be illegal. since all you would be doing is keeping the weapons from law abiding citizens. Criminals have them and they are already breaking the law so why wouldn’t they use an illegal weapon. If I owned a Knuckle duster it would be for collective purposes and hobby purposes.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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