El Paso lawmaker wants to legalize knuckles, kitty keychains used for self-defense by some women

Katie Balevic

Self-defense “kitty” keychains may look non-threatening but are illegal in Texas because they are considered knuckles, a hand-held weapon. In a state that allows open carry for guns and knives, one legislator is trying to legalize knuckles. 

According to the Texas Penal Code, carrying knuckles is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. House Bill 446, filed by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would legalize knuckles and self-defense keychains. 

“(There are) young women who have these keychains, which are technically knuckles under the code, but these aren’t people who are in gangs, and they’re not out menacing people,” said Ellic Sahualla, Moody’s chief of staff.

Texas has historically prohibited some weapons largely due to imaginary threats, Sahualla said.

“There are weapons defenses in our penal code that have little to do with actual safety and are more to do with hyped up dangers that really are nonexistent,” Sahualla said. “We saw switchblades being outlawed after people saw gangster movies in decades past. It’s not really much of a real-world threat.” 

Sahualla said while the statute against knuckles is not frequently used, there have been a few cases of people being prosecuted for having kitty keychains, which is likely not what the legislators intended when writing the law and not what police officers are concerned about. 

“Our police officers are not out there saying, ‘Oh, I had to brawl with a guy who had a kitty keychain,’” Sahualla said. “We’re in an environment where people are openly carrying guns, so these other things are the least of their concerns.” 

Mitch Landry, deputy executive director of governmental affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, said law enforcement is remaining neutral on HB 446.

“I have friends that have (kitty keychains) and talk about them, but I’ve never heard of any of our officers having any issues with them,” Landry said. “The bottom line is we want good people to be able to protect themselves.” 

Landry said the Legislature has been reforming laws on weapons. Last session, the lawmakers legalized carrying knives over 5.5 inches long, including swords. 

“I can walk down the street with a sword, but you want to tell me that you can’t walk around with your (keychain)?” Landry said. “It kind of makes me laugh.”  

Lt. Laura Davis said UTPD discusses defensive weapons like kitty keychains at the Rape Aggression Defense classes they host, but the RAD program does not teach people how to use self-defense weapons. Davis said the program focuses on teaching participants what to do if you do not have a weapon. 

Davis said people who want to use kitty keychains should know where to strike their attacker, be prepared to see blood and be ready for the impact the blow will have on your fist. 

“If somebody does attack you, it’s when you’re not expecting it,” Davis said. “The keychain sounds great … but if in the struggle, you lost your keychain, what would you do?”


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