Had one north Texas woman not gotten into a fender bender last year, police might have never arrested her for carrying a cat-shaped self-defense keychain in her purse, and the law banning those same weapons might have gone unnoticed.
State Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, filed legislation lifting what he called an "antiquated" ban on brass knuckles last session, which the governor signed in May. The key chain — with pointy blades for ears — could have cost Kyli Phillips, who was 21 and living in Dallas at the time, $4,000 in fines and a year of jail time if she had been convicted of the misdemeanor. In late July, lawyers dismissed the case against her and canceled an upcoming court date.
Starting Sunday, when the law takes effect, brass knuckles will be legal in Texas for the first time since 1918.
In 2017, law enforcement convicted 93 people of possessing brass knuckles, according to The Dallas Morning News. Moody, a former prosecutor, said the law is often used to target young people of color.
The laws “are relics of the system that we need to turn away from,” he said. “We’re taking something out of the code that has a large potential for misuse."
The Texas Penal Code defines knuckles as "any instrument that consists of finger rings or guards made of a hard substance and that is designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by striking a person with a fist enclosed in the knuckles." They are included on a list of lethal weapons like explosives, machine guns and armor-piercing ammunition.
Supporters of House Bill 446 said that Texans carrying knuckles and other legitimate self-defense tools shouldn’t face jail time.
"If someone has a novelty item or a legitimate self-defense tool, we really shouldn't be prosecuting them for that," Moody said. "That’s not a good use of resources."
Lawmakers have been rolling back weapons bans for the past few legislative sessions.
In 2017, Moody sponsored a bill that eliminated a 145-year-old state ban on carrying knives in public, making it possible for people to carry anything from a dagger to a machete. And in 2013, legislators removed switchblades from the banned weapons list.