So begins the Wikipedia article on brass knuckles, which is illustrated by this picture of the brass knuckles that were carried by Abraham Lincoln's bodyguards:
I got there because I was googling "who uses brass knuckles" after reading this news story about San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who "was arrested Friday after he allegedly struck a bicyclist, attempted to flee the scene and then threatened a witness with brass knuckles after he was cornered." What sort of person, out driving, finding himself suddenly confronted, would have brass knuckles immediately at hand?
It's bad to hit a bicyclist, but anyone who drives could easily find himself in that awful accident. Bicyclists often zip into your periphery, squeeze into narrow spaces in traffic, and are ill-lit and hard to notice before it's too late. You make it so much worse if you drive off, hoping to avoid responsibility, but if you successfully escape, though it's a much worse thing that you've done, you've gotten away with it. So some people with bad morals and bad judgment hit and run. Now, when you've come that far, and you find that some witness has chased you and is committed to stopping you — as opposed to getting a good look at you and your license plate — you're making it immensely worse if you threaten violence against the witness. It's less bad than committing an act of violence, but here you are displaying yourself as the kind of person who has brass knuckles.
What sort of person is that?
Last line of the linked article (in the L.A. Times): "Culliver previously made headlines for anti-gay remarks he made made during a Super Bowl media day interview two years ago." In case you missed that fascinating culture-war story, he said: "I don’t do the guys. I don’t do that. We don’t have any gays on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff." That's the sort of thing that — unlike brass knuckles — could have been ignored, but if quoted in the press, gets a man in a lot of trouble these days. But brass knuckles? Why did Culliver have brass knuckles right there in his car? What sort of person has brass knuckles?
Brass knuckles are one of those weapons that seem less dangerous than firearms but tend to be more restricted in the criminal law. This isn't an issue I've thought much about, but I take it these things are regarded as weapons used by criminals (and not by law-abiding people in self-defense, the realm of the individual right to bear arms). If that's how people think, then having brass knuckles is not only a crime (where it is defined as a crime in the statutes) but it's also evidence that makes you look like an all-around criminal character. If, as alleged, Culliver had those brass knuckles as part of the sequence of events, it will make it much harder, I think, to put the facts in a positive light.
Wikipedia runs through some of the law relating to brass knuckles. It's a crime just to possess them in Russia, Australia, and Canada (where they call them "brass monkeys"). In France, brass knuckles are called "poing américain" — "American fist" — and you can buy and possess them, but you can't carry them around. In Brazil, brass knuckles are legal and called "Soco Inglês" ("English Punch"). In Russia, what they call "кастет" — casse-tête ("breaking the head") — are illegal. In the U.S., you've got to look at all state and local law. Culliver was arrested in California, and this looks like the current statute.
I see there are products sold as belt buckles that are brass knuckles. And there are iPhone cases that are shaped like brass knuckles. These seem to be plastic, but with a metallic finish. Here's Rihanna holding one, back in 2012. Maybe plastic knuckles would be somewhat effective in a fight. Wikipedia says that in New York, the criminal statutes prohibit "metal knuckles" and "plastic knuckles." And Texas makes it a misdemeanor to possess "knuckles." Just knuckles, perhaps made of anything. Did you think Texans were more enthusiastic about weapons? I take it they like their guns, but are tough on the people they see as criminals.
Here's a blog called if it's hip, it's here, with a post displaying a lot of "designer items... inspired by brass knuckles." Some of these however really seem to be metal or plastic knuckles incorporated into another object — stiletto heels, purse/umbrella handles, corkscrews — which isn't going to somehow magically legalize them.
So... in short: Watch out for bicyclists, take responsibility for accidents, and lose the brass knuckles. And tone down your statements about how assiduously you avoid homosexuality. They're not even successful in making you look un-gay.