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The History, Legality, and Practicality of Brass Knuckles

The History, Legality, and Practicality of Brass Knuckles

Brass Knuckles, The Legality and Practicality

In Benjamin Whitmer’s dark-as-tar noir novel Pike, the titular character is an aging man trying to protect the granddaughter he barely knows from a corrupt cop who cares little about the law and a lot about getting his hands on Pike’s 12-year-old charge. The book more than earns its noir designation. In it, bad people do bad things to even worse individuals, and the obligatory blood-soaked ending has less resolution in it than simple relief. But despite the fact that Pike has plenty of bullets and cordite in it, the most gruesome scene involves a much more primitive weapon: brass knuckles. In that moment, the main antagonist executes (there’s really no other word for it) a woman with a few precise blows, and Whitmer’s precise prose renders it all in stomach-churning detail.

For years, brass knuckles have seemed little more than the hardboiled seasons in gritty crime stories. But as Pike reminds us, these weapons have true self-defense potential. In this article, we’ll discuss the history of brass knuckles, their legality in the United States, and how you can use them to protect yourself.

The History of Brass Knuckles

We don’t normally think of brass knuckles as weapons proper, but they very much are, and warriors have used them from ancient times in the same way they employed spears, swords, axes, and bows. And though historians differ as to when our modern conception of brass knuckles came into being, they agree that similar implements existed in ancient Greece and Rome.

When in combat, both Greeks and Roman took to binding their fists with straps, both to provide added stability and (eventually) extra impact potential. While Greeks merely wrapped their fists, wrists, and forearms, Romans would bind up bits of metal and even spikes in these lashed together gloves, which came to be known as cestus. The added weight increased the damage an ordinary blow could do.

Halfway across the world in the global East, the Japanese crafted a similar invention. The tekkō (鉄甲) came into existence in Okinawa during a period when weapons were outlawed. Inhabitants repurposed horseshoes as punching implements, eventually developing a martial arts practice around them. Variants include a closed, stirrup-shaped version and even a bladed tekkō.

Whereas India incorporated similar horn- or ivory-crafted spiked striking weapons known as vajra-mushti into their wrestling as early as the 12th century A.D., hand-loaded weapons began to develop differently in the West. The classic brass knuckle design with its individual slots for each finger appeared during the American Civil War with soldiers purchasing them out of prefab iron, melting down lead bullets to craft them themselves, or even carving makeshift versions out of wood. Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguards carried brass knuckles while protecting the 16th president. The World War I trench knife famously (some might say infamously) incorporated elements of brass knuckles into its design. And American, British, and Argentinean paratroopers have employed knuckle-based weapons at various points in their history.

In the United States today, brass knuckles are mostly seen as self-defense weapons, an image reinforced by their popularity in certain kinds of crime-related media. Film, television, and other kinds of narrative fiction have heavily featured them. But just because they’re widely known doesn’t mean they’re equally legal.

The Legality of Brass Knuckles

Despite their incorporation into several weapons used by worldwide armed forces, brass knuckles aren’t generally considered military equipment today — but that hasn’t kept them from being regulated as such across the globe. For example, Australia not only forbids individuals from owning brass knuckles, it also has banned their import into the country. Germany has similarly outlawed them, and in Russia, they’ve been considered illegal since the creation of the Russian Empire (which started in 1721).

Other nations have somewhat more idiosyncratic rules governing them. France allows residents to purchase brass knuckles as collectables but will change anyone found carrying or using them for any reason, self-defense included. Canada won’t allow metallic brass knuckles, but those crafted of plastic or resin are acceptable. While Sweden won’t allow the free selling of brass knuckles in stores, it does allow citizens over the age of 21 to buy them just so long as they don’t carry or use them. And Serbia permits purchase, but outlaws carrying them in public.

Nations such as Brazil, Mexico, and Italy freely allow the purchase and carrying of brass knuckles — but the United States is not one of these countries. While no federal laws exist regarding them, brass knuckles are significantly regulated by the states. In fact, according to WiseVoter.com, only 12 states have no restrictions on brass knuckles. They are:

  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Montana
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Twenty-one states have banned them outright, and the remaining 17 states allow them with conditions, which usually translates to some form of screening and licensure. For example, North Carolina requires a permit, and in Florida, you must have a concealed carry permit.

Note that even states where brass knuckles are legal may increase penalties if they’re used in the commission of a crime. Additionally, local municipalities may declare brass knuckles illegal even in states where they’re allowed. Check all applicable laws prior to purchasing and carrying brass knuckles.

Brass Knuckles for Self-Defense

Two years ago, Mel published an article with the following headline: “Brass Kunckles Are Antiquated, Often Ineffective and Mostly Illegal — But They’re Still Ingrained in American Culture.” An evocative title for sure, but less than completely accurate. While naysayers have a point that brass knuckles face certain drawbacks, they can still serve as an effective self-defense solution.

Let’s acknowledge those drawbacks right now. Brass knuckles require training to use properly, run a risk of injuring the wielder, often cause severe damage but not death, and open one up to legal risk. But it’s not difficult to account for these considerations, and when they’re factored for, you’ll find yourself with a frightening weapon that’s highly effective and easy to conceal.

Here at TacKnives, we offer a single-finger knuckle duster crafted out of titanium and designed to fit around you middle finger. Light, strong, and easy to conceal, it’s an ideal option for those who want to discretely punch up their, uh, punch.

Browse the remainder of our options here.

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