March 30, 2014

"Brass knuckles, also sometimes called knuckles, knucks, brass knucks, knucklebusters, or knuckledusters, are weapons used in hand-to-hand combat."

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.

53 comments:

Mark said...

Well, the whole socks-and-shorts problem could be solved just by letting legislators know you can put bricks in socks.

Of course, the housing industry might suffer some unintended consequences....

Michael said...

Unfortunately, professor, the word for someone who carries brass knuckles is "thug". I say unfortunately because you have relegated this very old word into a racial slur which it is not and has never been.

madAsHell 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."

This guy is over-compensating for something.

The last sentence(?) concerning "sweet stuff" doesn't make any sense in the context of the first three sentences. Perhaps, he was misquoted......

Nah, who am I kidding!

Hagar said...

In the second eight of basic training, we had a company commander from Guam who carried what he called a trench knife. It was something like a bayonet with brass knuckles, and I think he said it was highly illegal for a soldier to carry such a thing, but in combat it was about survival, not international legalities.
I thought he was an idiot.

PB Reader said...

Some carry a roll of nickels. it's not effective at tearing the skin of your opponent, but it makes your fist feel like concrete to your opponent.

Bob Ellison said...

Michael said, 'Unfortunately, professor, the word for someone who carries brass knuckles is "thug".'

Are brass knuckles a thuggish weapon, more so than, say, pepper spray?

Brass knuckles are obviously made for use against humans, but I don't see how that makes them wrong. I wouldn't mind having them in my pocket when wandering through Chicago.

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

Like president Lincoln's bodyguards the person that would carry brass knuckles is a person that thought it would be better to have them if needed versus needing them and not having them.

About the same motivation as those folks with a CCW permit carrying a firearm.

Roughcoat said...

What sort of person is that?

The sort of person I grew up with. There but for the grace of God--as well as good parenting, and grand-parenting.

High school is where you will meet most of the violent sociopaths and psychopaths you will encounter in the course of your life. My HS had what seems a disproportianate number, although now I think, maybe, the number was about right given the time and place and circumstances, and types of students (e.g., socio-economic background, ethnicity, etc.). In any case there were plenty of real bad, crazy dudes and edgy tough guys. All carried weapons. Not so many guns back then, but: brass knuckles ("knuckle dusters"), switchblades (very popular), straight razors, saps (blackjacks), box cutters, etc. Many ended up in prison. At least one became a famous serial killer. Most are now dead. One is a wealthy, successful novelist and retired gangster.

Brass knuckles are terribly inefficient weapons. A fist-punch, even with brass knuckles, is for chumps. Your best weapons for self-defense against physical assault are the toe or edge of your shoe, and your forehead. The "Glasgow Kiss" is the best way to deal with an assailant who makes the mistake of getting in too close.

ironrailsironweights said...

Why would an NFL player even need brass knuckles? His "plain" fists would suffice.

Peter

Carol said...

Huh. Kind of like lock picks. When I was 18 a guy I knew had some and showed me how they worked...fascinating! But a cop later told me don't you dare try to own something like that.

But what if I lose my key and get locked out of my apartment??? was all that occurred to me.

Balfegor said...

Re: Michael:

Let's revive "ruffian" then.

As far as "thugs" go, the attempt to turn it into a specifically African-American racial thing is kind of absurd. Among other things, Russians and East European gangsters and ruffians are regularly called "thugs" in the media and casual conversation. In the Maidan protests in the Ukraine, for example, both pro-government activists and violent anti-government protesters could be and regularly were referred to as "thugs."

KenK said...

Kinda off topic but the local thugs around metro Detroit often wear belts with big sturdy brass buckles which they can remove and use as a flail or can remove from the belt altogether and use as knucks. Just knucks in your pocket can be a felony w/imprisonment of up to five years. Which is the same as a firearm.

Marine 83 said...

I regularly carried brass knuckles back when I was in college and went to bars frequently. Why? Because I refused to beat up by some drunken idiot because I "looked" at his girlfriend or accidentally knocked over his beer. If forced into a fight I had no intention of fighting fair and every intention of sending the drunken idiot to the hospital. Call me petty. I never came close to using them.

vicari valdez said...

this post had kind of inspired me to want to want to go out and get some brass knuckles to carry around with me everywhere i go. but they'd probably be too heavy for me, lol.

traditionalguy said...

Most boxer's fractures can be prevented by using brass knuckles, but the orthopedists lobby has won on this one.

NFL players don't seem to need them. Ray Rice did fine without using them.

But the NBA may have to issue knucks to LeBron James so he lasts the away games. Or should attacking James be called a Flagrant Foul #3 and get a player's immediate arrest by the police, if maybe the Referee sees it?


Fen 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."

When you said "anti-gay" remarks, I immediately assumed it was something bigoted. He just doesn't swing that way. Is that "hatred" now?

Rusty said...

" What sort of person, out driving, finding himself suddenly confronted, would have brass knuckles immediately at hand?"

A real cowardly asshole.

sane_voter said...

The term "thug" came from the prolific organized crime group of Muslim murderers in India, that killed up to 2 million people over a period of hundreds of years. They were finally destroyed by the English in the 1800's.

Thuggee

betamax3000 said...

Crazy Street Corner Guy Off His Meds Says:

The world is filled with bastards, bastards, and the bastards now are getting even younger, younger, f**king kids. I'm sleeping in the doorway of the Japanese take-out under my garbage bag and newspapers and this college kid comes up and just kicks me, he kicks me and laughs, I am just a lump on the sidewalk to him, I am a pile of garbage. I grab his ankle and I pull him down, I pull him down and hit him in his f**king college mouth. I sleep with my belt around my fist, it is good to be protected, and the belt buckle busted one of his teeth, maybe two, he was bleeding and I couldn't see for sure.

He went running off howling and had the nerve to go to the police, so the police come up on their bicycles and they are questioning me, they are asking me questions and they want to see my belt. I tell them I'm wearing my belt, I only have one belt and one pair of pants and the pants don't fit really right so I need my belt. I show them the bruise where the bastard kicked me and the kid says "I didn't do that" but everyone knows he did and the police ask me to move along. I want to punch the kid again and knock out more teeth but I move along, I move down the street to the yogurt place that went out of business. I need my belt.

EDH said...

"Well, Knuckles, did you do like I said with that nosey reporter from the Gazzette?"

KenK said...

Google "tactical pens" and look what comes up. And what's "cowardly" about
not wanting to break your finger bones on some a-hole's skull? The weenies that write these laws have never been in a head to head stand up fight in their pantywaisted lives.

Larry J said...

Hagar said...
In the second eight of basic training, we had a company commander from Guam who carried what he called a trench knife. It was something like a bayonet with brass knuckles, and I think he said it was highly illegal for a soldier to carry such a thing, but in combat it was about survival, not international legalities.
I thought he was an idiot.


When I was stationed at Fort Bragg in 1975, many of the shops off base sold trench knives. The design actually dates back to WWI but apparently they were a popular paratrooper weapon in WWII. You can see several types of trench knives on sale here. It's an interesting design that combines brass knuckles with a double-edged knife and a skull-cracker point all into one lightweight piece of equipment.

JohnJEnright said...

Last night at the movie theater we saw a poster, advertising an upcoming Cameron Diaz film, featuring brass knuckles with an engagement ring attached. The poster displayed the phrase: "He'll never know what hit him." I suppose this is a good example of where one can be funny about female-on-male violence, because it is male-on-female violence that is normally viewed as the bigger historical problem. You can see the poster here: http://teaser-trailer.com/the-other-woman-movie-trailer/

EDH said...

"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."

I suppose that makes him a real "knuckle dragger". Dragging without women's clothing, of course.

But is "knuckle dragger" itself racist, suggesting the proximity between ape and man?

richlb said...

@Fen

I'm un-PC, and feel that the liberal left too often go after people who are merely expressing a personal feeling. But in this case, yeah - I would call that anti-gay. He kinda steps over that line when he says "they gotta get up outta here if they do", with "do" being professing to be gay.

So yeah. It was an anti-gay remark. Just like it would be an anti-Broncos remark if he was talking about Denver fans that need to "get up outta here."

Megaera said...

Michael/Bob Ellison: Actually, "thug" has no truly racial origin -- in fact it is religious, deriving from the cult of Thuggee, the worship of Kali Durga, the murderous cult of India that preyed on travelers for hundreds of years and was exposed by William Sleeman and largely extirpated by the British colonial government of the time. The weapon of choice was a hand axe, IIRC, and butchering tools. The term has become attenuated over the years and washed clean of its association with mass murder; now it just seems to be synonymous with stupid, casual brutality.

John Cunningham said...

If you are facing a fight, a tactical pen is hard to beat. also, a big padlock in a sock has merit. a fist to the throat will slow down even a tough thug. you never want to punch a guy in the jaw.

Megaera said...

Michael/Bob Ellison: Actually, "thug" has no truly racial origin -- in fact it is religious, deriving from the cult of Thuggee, the worship of Kali Durga, the murderous cult of India that preyed on travelers for hundreds of years and was exposed by William Sleeman and largely extirpated by the British colonial government of the time. The weapon of choice was a hand axe, IIRC, and butchering tools. The term has become attenuated over the years and washed clean of its association with mass murder; now it just seems to be synonymous with stupid, casual brutality.

Gahrie said...

I say unfortunately because you have relegated this very old word into a racial slur which it is not and has never been.

Thugs were originally a hereditary band of thieves from India, somewhat akin to Gypsies or Tinkers, except they routinely committed murder. They would join a caravan, earn the caravan's trust, then murder and rob everyone. The word entered the English language after an account was published of the successful British effort to wipe them out.

KenK said...

I'm gonna guess that just brandishing the knucks would be deterring enough for most situations. Why does that make him a thug? No excuse for the driving issues though. That stuff makes him kinda of punk.

The Cracker Emcee said...

My son and I were talking about brass knuckles (and switchblades) the other day, and how their illegality is based almost entirely on movie-fueled perceptions of them as weapons of the criminal classes. A great example of the irrational uses of law-making. I'm good if I'm concealing a CZ-75 with a 16-rd. magazine but I'm magically a thug if I'm concealing brass knuckles? Objective evaluation of the lunacy of the law probably creates more Libertarians than self-interest ever does.

KenK said...

I'm gonna guess that just brandishing the knucks would be deterring enough for most situations. Why does that make him a thug? No excuse for the driving issues though. That stuff makes him kinda of punk.

Also: The Marine in that knife website ad bears an uncanny resemblance to Bill Clinton.

Hagar said...

I have wondered about the "laws of war" and bayonets. Later in the Army, the NCO's warned us against even thinking about sharpening our bayonets to make them useful for something besides tent pegs, because this would be against the Geneva Conventions and make us liable to very terrible retribution from the Russians, if war should break out, and we got caught with sharpened bayonets.
But then we see these pictures of the guards at Buckingham Palace with their really wicked-looking bayonets looking to be very sharp indeed and even with serrated edges.

Anyway, this captain not only was an idiot running around with this trench knife, but he also told us to rapid-fire our M-1's to imitate BAR's, which he said would scare the hell out of the enemy and make them afraid to attack us.
But M-1's were not made for this; the barrels overheated to the point of charring the stock, and of course, wore out the rifling in no time, making them useless for aming shots.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's not the same as carrying a gun. A gun implies that you're willing to defend your life if someone tries to kill you. Brass knuckles imply that you think you might end up in a fist fight.

Bob R said...

"What kind of person carries brass knuckles?"

1. Captain McClusky (Not highlighted in the movie, but in the book that's how he broke Michael Corleone's jaw.)

2. (Guessing, of course.) An NFL player who is in the habit of going out to bars and being by big, drunk, dangerous people who want to demonstrate how tough they are by fighting an NFL player. Brass knuckles are a really effective weapon in a fist fight, and are far easier to deny than a gun or a knife.

3. Small bouncers in bars, for the reasons stated above. I've seen bouncers who don't look that imposing calm down pretty violent people pretty quickly. I never saw them with knucks, but it's possible.

Big Mike said...

I'm not so certain Ward Lamon needed brass knuckles since he was pretty well known to be a hard-punching man.

According to this article, when a Confederate sympathizer assaulted President Lincoln under the guise of shaking his hand, Lamon knocked the fellow out with one punch.

The President is supposed to have admonished Lamon: "Hereafter when you have occasion to strike a man, don't hit him with your fist; strike him with a club or crowbar or something that won't kill him."

Beldar said...

Prof. Althouse, you're badly confusing two different things.

It's one thing to carry a personal protection weapon. Brass knuckles aren't my choice for one, and wouldn't be even if Texas law permitted them. But I do indeed carry a personal protection weapon — one that's quite legal under Texas and federal law but which is also both intimidating when displayed and effective when used — pretty much everywhere I go at all times (except airports and other venues where all weapon-carrying is prohibited).

He or she who carries a personal protection weapon is not being antisocial; he or she is preparing so that when and if attacked, he or she can engage in more effective self-defense.

It's entirely a different thing to threaten someone with whom one's just been involved in a traffic accident. That's not self-defense. Using a personal protection weapon to commit aggression says a great deal about the person wielding that weapon. But the fact that some people misuse objects -- including automobiles! and yes, a shocking number of motorists engaged in road rage against bicyclists do exactly that -- to commit aggression doesn't change the character of the object. Nor does it condemn everyone else who uses such objects for their intended purposes (including self-defense or driving).

How about modifying your advice thusly? "So... in short: Watch out for bicyclists, take responsibility for accidents, and don't misuse objects at hand — whether it's your car or your personal protection weapon — to commit aggressive acts when self-defense isn't involved.

KenK said...

It's a cultural social class thing. In a whitetopia of affluent where personal combat is largely unheard of pthe bon pesants just dont do such things cuz those kind of things just dont occur. Im guessing Mr NFL doesnt come from there. Big shots who have reasonable fear of assault just pay Blackwater types to carry or if they're politicos they have armef police. People are gonna do what they feel they must wether the law permits it or the clerisy condemns it. That's reality.

rcocean said...

For personal protection I carry a war-hammer. Haven't been bothered yet.

Paul said...

"What sort of person, out driving, finding himself suddenly confronted, would have brass knuckles immediately at hand? "

Ann, I have a CHL (concealed handgun license) here in Texas and yes I pack heat when 'out driving'.

Now in Florida they have a 'Concealed Weapons Permit' that allows one carry a gun, or knife or brass knuckles or club... while Texas with our CHL we can only pack a gun.

I do not find brass knuckles abhorrent or a 'bad' weapon.

Now some folk I know don't want to pack a gun, but.... they would be happy to just have a sap or brass knuckles cause they really don't want to kill someone (which a gun is apt to do.)

So to me brass knuckles are no big deal.

But.. don't bring a set of 'knuckles' to a gun fight.






Ben Calvin said...

Couple of details:

Culiver was driving on a suspended liscence, so he had some motivation in fleeing a minor injury accident.

Not sure if they overlapped, but Kwame Harris was on the 49ers not too long ago. Recently he was convicted for assault after getting in a fight with his boyfriend over some French fries while they were dining in a resturant. After his arrest he unreservedly affirmed he was gay, although this occurred just after he had retired from football.

lgv said...

I had one as a teen, along with a switchblade and a blackjack. The brass knuckles weren't particular useful as a defensive weapon. It takes time to get them out of the pocket and put it on your hand. They were more appropriate for offensive attacks, therefore not for what I needed. They are also either not enough or too much for any type of use. The switchblade was a quick and easy deterrent or defensive weapon. Of course, this was an long ago era when almost no one had hand guns.

Ann Althouse said...

"When you said "anti-gay" remarks, I immediately assumed it was something bigoted. He just doesn't swing that way. Is that "hatred" now?"

He said if anyone on the team is gay, that person should have to be ousted from his job. That's quite different from saying that he personally chooses not to engage in gay sexual activities himself. I think trying to get someone fired for his sexual orientation is definitely anti-gay.

How can you disagree with something so obvious?

Feel free to disagree with my opinion that Culliver's statement makes HIM sound gay. That's a bit more debatable, but that's how it hits me.

Rusty said...

" And what's "cowardly" about
not wanting to break your finger bones on some a-hole's skull?"


Then you're doing it wrong.

The Cracker Emcee said...

"It's not the same as carrying a gun. A gun implies that you're willing to defend your life if someone tries to kill you. Brass knuckles imply that you think you might end up in a fist fight."

That's my point. It's all about doorbell-barking perception.
Self defence is either justified or it isn't. The choice of weapon is irrelevant.

James Pawlak said...

The solution is for an armed and trained citizen to draw his/her legally carried handgun and follow the FBI protocol of "two to the chest and one to the head" OR the SAS/SEALs direction of "a double tap to the head".

Of course, California would likely persecute any such citizen into a life, without parole, sentence.

Unknown said...

I have wondered about the "laws of war" and bayonets. Later in the Army, the NCO's warned us against even thinking about sharpening our bayonets to make them useful for something besides tent pegs, because this would be against the Geneva Conventions and make us liable to very terrible retribution from the Russians, if war should break out, and we got caught with sharpened bayonets.

I think your NCOs lied to you.

Jupiter said...

"He said if anyone on the team is gay, that person should have to be ousted from his job"

Well, surely he should be fired for that. Right?

Kirk Parker said...

sane_voter,

Did you read all the way into the second paragraph?

"Although the thugs traced their origin to seven Muslim tribes, Hindus appear to have been associated with them at an early period; their creed and practices showed no influence of Islām".


KenK,

"And what's 'cowardly' about not wanting to break your finger bones on some a-hole's skull?"

Indeed. We're not talking about a sporting contest here, we're talking about defending against an actual criminal assault, right? In that case, the old military maxim applies: "if you find yourself in a fair fight, you have bad tactics".

That's not at all to defend what Culliver did! There really is not such thing as a purely defensive or purely offensive weapon, it's why you are using it. In his case, he (apparently) was using it to commit assault rather than engage in self-defense; if so, then Guilty!

Robert Cook said...

"But is "knuckle dragger" itself racist, suggesting the proximity between ape and man?"

Why would that be racist?
"Knuckledragger" can be applied to a person of any ethnic group.

John said...

The paper should have run a picture of the brass knuckles so we could see if the repeater, oops, reporter, got it right.

Newspapers commonly talk about people getting attacked with a "lead pipe" when, outside of a few specialized chemical processing apps, lead pipe is almost non-existent.

If they don't know the difference between lead pipe and something else, how can we trust them to know what brass knuckles are?

John Henry

John said...

Michael said...
Unfortunately, professor, the word for someone who carries brass knuckles is "thug".

Isn't "thug" just another name for pro football player? Either NFL or college.

John Henry

Kentucky Packrat said...

When pistols were still single-shot weapons prone to misfiring, brass knuckles were common as a crowd-repelling option. One of Abraham Lincoln's bodyguards offered Lincoln a set of brass knuckles for his use during the Baltimore plot, but it was Pinkerton's sensibilities that stopped the handover.

When pistols started being reliable and reloadable, brass knuckles picked up the unsavory reputation of being a thug's quiet weapon. A gentleman had no fear of attracting the law by shooting in self-defense; only someone of moral question would desire to attack another quietly.

The early 1900s bans on concealed carry generally come from this era too. Civilized areas didn't require concealed carry. When a gentleman did need it for good reason, he had nothing to fear from the law, law or no law.