Brass knuckles are also called knuckle dusters or knucks. They can be made of any metal, plastic or hardened material. Typically, they wrap around the four fingers that create a fist and leave the thumb free. There is also a portion to grip so that the fleshy part of the hand can absorb the force of impact.

They are often featured in novels, movies and TV fight scenes adding a glamorous glint to an item that can be devastating in actuality. Use of brass knuckles can cause lacerations, broken bones, concussions, damage to the eyes and nose and, in some cases, death.

Legality of Brass Knuckles

At the federal level, brass knuckles are not regulated in the United States. However, many cities and states have made owning brass knuckles illegal, including Colorado, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Other states may allow possession of brass knuckles for a collection but make it illegal to carry them on your person.

There is a patchwork quilt of laws on brass knuckles – and metal and plastic knuckles – across the nation. We recommend that you research your state and local laws before carrying brass knuckles or buying them for a collection.

Here’s a closer look at the laws on brass knuckles, which have been used by gladiators in ancient Rome and soldiers on the battlefield during world wars.

All this information comes from legal sites, media reports and self-defense weapons manufacturers – some of which are contradictory. We’ve sorted it out as best we can. But keep in mind that state and local laws change frequently. Check out what you can and cannot do with knucks in your area.

States Where Brass Knuckles are Illegal

Some states have outright outlawed brass knuckles. They include Colorado, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey. The District of Columbia also has made them illegal. In all these cases knuckles are classified as illegal weapons and punishment can include hefty fines and a year of jail time.

California, Michigan, Vermont and Illinois prohibit the possession, use or sale of knuckles or anything that even looks like knuckle dusters.

Other states have qualified knuckle dusters as dangerous weapons where you could face at least a misdemeanor for carrying them. They include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

States Where It’s Up to the Court

This is where things get fuzzy. Many states do not mention brass knuckles specifically and have left the interpretation of what is a dangerous weapon up the court. Much of what goes into that decision can revolve around how the knuckles are used or whether the user had criminal intent. They include Idaho, Ohio, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah and Montana.

Use of knuckles of any kind in a violent crime can lead to felony charges no matter the state.

States With Less Restrictive Laws

Some states allow the carrying of concealed weapons and this may extend to brass knuckles. They include Arizona. South Dakota, Louisiana and Indiana. Almost every source agrees that South Carolina seems to have the least restrictive laws on brass knuckles. In South Carolina it is illegal to possess brass knuckles only if “they are used with intent to commit a crime.

Foreign Countries

Some countries have banned brass knuckles at the federal level. They include Hungary, Spain, Germany, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Canada to name a few.

Canada, for example, has knucks on the list of prohibited weapons for ownership or use. In Canada, they are called knogjarn or knuckle iron. They are illegal and carry the same penalty as carrying a knife. However, Canadian law allows for plastic knuckles.

In France, they’re illegal to carry, but legal to buy them for a collection if you are over 18. Italy, Mexico and Sweden have similar laws.

Overall, it’s typically easier to buy brass knuckles for a collection than it is to leave the house with them and carry them on your person. That’s unless the Zombie Apocalypse happens, in which case all bets – and laws – are off.

Until then, check your local laws before making a purchasing decision. And if you already have knuckle dusters, research local laws to determine if you can carry them.