Weapons laws can overlap somewhat between federal, state and local levels, but no federal statutes specifically address brass knuckles – sometimes referred to as “knucks” or “knuckle dusters.” Most states have these weapons well covered under their laws, however, regulating whether a citizen can legally possess them and, if so, under what circumstances.
What Are Brass Knuckles?
Make no mistake – brass knuckles are indeed weapons, although they’re not harmful by themselves. In fact, they’re sometimes sold as jewelry, ornaments and accessories. They can become dangerous, however, when placed on a human hand.
Normally formed of metal if not necessarily brass, they fit over the knuckles of the hand to increase the impact of a fist making contact with its target. They’re harder than human knuckles, and they can concentrate the force of a blow on a smaller area than a large fist can. They’re not necessarily deadly, but they can cause some serious damage, from broken bones to concussions.
These weapons are nothing new. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Greek and Roman warriors made use of them, and the Romans are thought to be the first to do so. American soldiers were provided with a form of brass knuckles in World Wars I and II.
Brass Knuckle Laws by State
Many brass knuckle laws were implemented in the mid- to late-1900s as these weapons became more popular, and the laws can vary considerably from state to state. They can change periodically, too. Texas updated its law in 2019.
Some states make a distinction based on the exact substance of the knuckles, such as whether they’re made of plastic or something harder and more dangerous. Still other states base their laws on how and why brass knuckles are being carried or used, and some determine whether they’re legal or not based on whether the individual in possession of the weapon is a minor.
As of 2020, brass knuckles are legal in a number of states, subject to certain conditions. These states include:
- Alabama, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Connecticut, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Delaware, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Florida, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Georgia, where carrying them in is OK except for in schools and hospitals, and actually using the knuckles is a crime.
- Hawaii, except they are illegal in motor vehicles.
- Indiana, except it’s illegal to use them to commit a violent act.
- Maryland, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Mississippi, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Nebraska, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime and they can’t be carried on certain premises even with a permit including schools, churches and bars. Business owners can opt to prohibit all weapons on their properties.
- New Mexico, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- North Carolina, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- North Dakota, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime, and they can’t be carried in liquor stores or at public gatherings even with a permit.
- Oregon, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- South Carolina, except they're prohibited in hospitals and schools, or when they’re carried or used with criminal intent.
- South Dakota, except when they’re carried or used with the intent of causing harm. A concealed weapon permit isn’t required.
- Texas, legal since Sept. 1, 2019.
- Virginia, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- West Virginia, although carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
- Wisconsin, but only in an individual’s own home, and carrying them concealed without a permit is a crime.
Brass knuckles are illegal in certain states, including:
- Alaska, which prohibits manufacturing, possessing, transporting, selling or transferring them.
- Arkansas, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- California, which prohibits anything that even resembles brass knuckles.
- Colorado, which prohibits exhibiting them.
- District of Columbia, which does allow possession for law enforcement personnel, on-duty military personnel and some other isolated professions.
- Illinois, which prohibits carrying or owning them.
- Kansas, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- Massachusetts, which prohibits possessing, selling, and manufacturing them.
- Michigan, which prohibits possessing, selling, and manufacturing them.
- Minnesota, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- Missouri, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- Nevada, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- New Hampshire, which prohibits selling and carrying them.
- New York, which prohibits anything that even resembles brass knuckles.
- Oklahoma, except as provided for under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act.
- Pennsylvania, which prohibits selling, possessing, carrying, purchasing, manufacturing, repairing and transporting them.
- Rhode Island, which prohibits possessing and carrying them.
- Tennessee, which prohibits possessing, exhibiting, selling, manufacturing and repairing them.
- Vermont, which prohibits possessing, using, or selling them.
- Washington, which prohibits possessing, distributing, or manufacturing them.
States laws that fall into a gray area include:
- Arizona, where anyone over the age of 21 can carry any concealed weapon without a permit. Brass knuckles aren’t specifically addressed in the statutes.
- Idaho, which has no specific statutes regarding brass knuckles. Charges are assessed on a case-by-case basis, such as how they were used.
- Iowa, where the law doesn’t specifically mention brass knuckles, and charges can be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Kentucky, which requires permits to carry any concealed weapon, except on an individual’s own property.
- Louisiana, which allows concealed weapons with a permit, but no laws specifically address brass knuckles.
- Montana, which has no specific statutes regarding brass knuckles. Charges are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- New Jersey, which prohibits brass knuckles except for certain purposes such as for education or as a prop in theatrical productions. They’re also allowed in personal collections.
- Ohio, which allows concealed weapons with a concealed carry permit, but no laws specifically address brass knuckles.
- Utah, which has no specific statutes regarding brass knuckles. Charges are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Wyoming, where it’s illegal to carry any concealed weapon, but no laws specifically address brass knuckles.
Some Laws Can Overlap
The legality of brass knuckles is obviously a complicated issue that can depend on numerous factors, such as on which side of a state line someone is standing and what exactly the knuckles are being used for. There’s a legal divide in many states between simply possessing them and carrying them concealed on one’s person.
An individual who has a concealed carry permit would most likely be within the law to stroll about town with brass knuckles in their coat pocket, just as they would be with a firearm. Someone without a permit…not so much.
This issue can be further complicated by the definition of “concealed,” which can vary from state to state as well. Some states define a weapon as concealed if even a portion of it is hidden from sight – such as because only one end of the knuckles is tucked into a pocket. And an individual might be charged twice in still other jurisdictions: once for simply having the knuckles in their possession, plus concealing the weapon on their person.
Criminal Charges: Misdemeanors
Like the laws themselves, the penalties for violating brass knuckle state codes can vary a great deal, but possession and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit are frequently considered to be misdemeanors.
Carrying brass knuckles or any concealed weapon without a permit is a misdemeanor in Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. It’s “misconduct involving weapons in the fourth degree” in Alaska, and it’s a misdemeanor to carry brass knuckles in a vehicle in Hawaii.
It’s a misdemeanor to simply possess brass knuckles in Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Vermont whether they’re concealed or not, and to sell or carry them in New Hampshire.
Criminal Charges: Felonies
As for using the knuckles to inflict harm on someone or in the process of committing a crime, these acts are typically charged as felonies. In Arizona, actually using brass knuckles is a felony even though concealed weapon permits aren’t legally required there, and using them in Illinois and South Dakota is a felony as well.
Simply possessing brass knuckles is a felony in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Missouri, regardless of what an individual does with them – even if they're just wearing the knucks as a belt buckle ornament.
It’s a felony in Delaware to carry brass knuckles without a concealed weapon permit, even for a first-time offense. This law is specific to brass knuckles. And carrying knuckles concealed without a permit escalates to a felony in Virginia for second time offenders.
The Laws in “Wobbler” States
Then there are those gray-area states. Charges might be either a misdemeanor or a felony in these jurisdictions, depending on the nature of any crime in which the knuckles were used. It can go either way in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota and Tennessee.
Possible Fines and Prison Terms
In Colorado, penalties can involve fines of $1,000 and as long as a year in prison. Under brass knuckles laws in Florida, Maryland, Mississippi and New Mexico, fines can also be $1,000 but with as long as three years in prison. It’s just six months in prison in Massachusetts, Nevada and New Hampshire, but fines can go as high as $2,000. They ratchet up to $10,000 to $15,000 with up to five years in prison in New Jersey. Prison terms can extend to five years in Pennsylvania as well.
Play It Safe
Congress has been kicking around legislation since 2015 that would make it legal for residents of one state to carry concealed weapons in other states if they have permits in their home states, but the federal government hasn’t yet gotten officially involved in the issue. GovTrack reports that the likelihood of such legislation actually passing is 2%. A version of the bill that was introduced in January 2019 is still pending, and this one, at least, pertains strictly to firearms.
For the time being, it’s safe to say that anyone who’s considering purchasing brass knuckles should thoroughly investigate the laws in their state and not rely on short summaries. They should also look into the laws in any states they’re considering traveling to with their knuckles in tow. And it doesn’t necessarily stop at the state level, because some localities have brass knuckle laws all their own. This is the case, for example, in South D’Amato, Indiana.
Of course, anyone charged with any of these crimes won’t want to handle the charges without the representation of an attorney.
- World Population Review: Brass Knuckles Legality by State 2020
- Krudo Knives: The Law Around Brass Knuckles
- FindLaw: Are Brass Knuckles Illegal?
- Knockout Knucks: Are Brass Knuckles lllegal?
- All-Pro Bail Bonds: Are Brass Knuckles Legal?
- Weapons Universe: Brass Knuckles Information
- Lindsey & Ferry: Brass Knuckles Are Not Just Made of Metal
- GovTrack: H.R. 38: Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.