Brass knuckles in California – are they legal? What if they’re not made out of metal?
I’ve been asked by a few people if “brass knuckles” are illegal, even if they’re not made of metal.
There used to be a loophole in the law, but it’s now closed. [And this post is now updated with the recently renumbered Penal Code sections]
“Brass knuckles” (truly called “metal knuckles” in California law – see the new Penal Code section 12020 21810) are illegal. It’s a potential felony to possess metal knuckles. The definition is:
” . . .any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand and which either protects the wearer’s hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow. The metal contained in the device may help support the hand or fist, provide a shield to protect it, or consist of projections or studs which would contact the individual receiving a blow.”
For that section, the device had to be made wholly or partly of metal, but composites materials, such as resins, hard plastics or wood were excluded. Penal Code section 12020 21810is a “wobbler” – it can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.
But now there’s a code section that also covers composite knuckles: Penal Code section 12020.1 21710:
Any person in this state who possesses, commercially manufactures or causes to be commercially manufactured, or who knowingly imports into the state for commercial sale, keeps for commercial sale, or offers or exposes for commercial sale, any composite knuckles or hard wooden knuckles is guilty of a misdemeanor.
The good news is that it’s a misdemeanor. The bad news is that it’s a misdemeanor and a criminal offense that carries potential jail time, probation, fines and will be on your record indefinitely if you’re convicted.
Even if something is widely available (i.e. on the internet or at the swap meet) doesn’t change the definition under the law. “Widely available” doesn’t always equate to legal.
Most companies that sell things that are banned in California (such as knives that are illegal here) will put a disclaimer on their website that they can’t be sold in California, etc., but not all do.
Be careful. Keep in mind that an arrest or charges filed isn’t necessarily the end of the story. There can be search issues, Miranda violations or other legal and factual defenses available to you that can only be discovered after a thorough review of the facts.