Arrest involving key chain leads to legalizing brass knuckles

How an arrest involving key chain led to legalizing brass knuckles in Texas

The kitty key chains started a wave of action in the Texas Legislature, leading to the legalization of public carry of the key chains and related items like the brass knuckles at right. (Rick Kelly | Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — It took the arrest of one young woman to change the state law on brass knuckles.

Two years after easing what proponents called the state’s archaic knife laws, Texas legislators have unanimously agreed to erase legal restrictions on other defensive weapons including brass knuckles, clubs and saps, and kitty key chains.

These items have been legal to buy and possess in Texas, but not legal to carry on one’s person in public.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 466 on Saturday, and it will go into effect Sept. 1.

“We did it with switchblades. We did it with knives and now with knuckles,” the bill’s author, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said last month after the Texas Senate voted in favor of the bill’s final passage. “Hopefully now, with this on the way to the governor, we can ensure these types of laws aren’t being used inappropriately to go after folks who have legitimate tools of self-defense.”

KYLI’S CASE

The Texas Department of Public Safety reports 93 people were convicted for breaching the brass knuckles carry ban in 2017.

But it was the curious case of a young North Texas woman that prompted the Texas Legislature to change the state law.

The legislative push to decriminalize knuckles, clubs and more began following a story in the Dallas Morning News about Kyli Phillips of Carrollton, who was 21 last year when she had a minor accident while on her way to her job at a pizza joint.

According to press reports, she was at fault for the fender bender, but since it was a busy intersection, she walked over to a Taco Bell to wait for the arrival of Carrollton police.

When they arrived, an officer accused her of fleeing the scene of an accident, which she denied, but she was booked on a charge of failure to yield.

It was at the police station where a search of her purse revealed the pink, plastic key chain resembling the outline of a cat’s head. Possession of it in public is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas punishable by a year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines.

“The story reported out of North Texas certainly crystallized the problem with the law and put a face to the issue so that we could finally address it,” Moody told the Dallas paper.

WHAT’S THE MARKET

The sale of brass knuckles, telescoping weighted batons and kitty key chains is legal in Texas and they are available on the shelves of specialty retailers.

Bruce Manning, owner of Manning Survival Supply at 1617 E. Harrison Avenue, has been selling the items for years.

“I sell quite a few brass knuckles,” he said. “As far as I know, it’s been legal to have them in your house or in your car … As far as walking around with them, no dice.

“The ones I sell are 10 bucks,” he added. “There’s higher-end stuff that you can buy. You can buy a hundred-dollar set of brass knuckles that are overbuilt, crazy-looking, or have spikes on it or something.”

Manning also sells weighted, telescoping batons and wooden, lead-filled miniature baseball bats which look like a trucker’s tire-thumper. All of them will soon be street-legal to carry.

And, yes, he sells the now-notorious kitty key chain.

“Anybody who asks, I tell them, ‘You can get arrested for it,’” he said of the colorful key chains which operate in roughly similar fashion to brass knuckles. “A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t care … I’ll risk getting arrested but if some crazy dude’s coming at me and I want to defend myself, I have every right to do so.’”

Manning reaches out to grab one of the kitty key chains he sells, which unlike the plastic one Kyli Phillips had in her purse, are made of aluminum. For defense, a user would slip his or her first two fingers through the kitty’s eyes, leaving two sharp points (the ears) extending beyond the user’s clenched fist.

“Those are $7,” he said. “I’ve been selling those for probably the last four years. They go pretty quick.”

AN ISSUE OF LIBERTIES

Moody and other lawmakers say the weapons restrictions which they repealed were created decades ago to give authorities the ability to roust suspected ne’er-do-wells on Texas streets. Many civil libertarians say the laws have been used disproportionately against minorities.

“We aren’t living in ‘West Side Story,’” Moody was quoted in The Texas Standard. “Maybe at one point this was used to identify criminal elements, but it’s just not the case anymore.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Kyli Phillips has not been charged by prosecutors for the crime of carrying a pink kitty key chain, but as of last month, the traffic case against her was still active.

One backer of the change in Texas law is Kelly Broeker, Kyli Phillips’ mother.

“I’m so glad to see that people are still able to recognize when a law is outdated and no longer fitting within our state and that there is someone out there still willing to push to do the right thing,” Broeker told the Dallas paper. “It’s refreshing and needs to happen more often.”