BY CHUCK EDWARDS, CO-FOUNDER OF MORE THAN CONQUERORS MARTIAL ARTS
Let’s face it: A self-defense keychain is a good everyday carry tool to own. I think everyone should carry one. And judging by their popularity, I’d say many other folks would agree. Just Google the subject and you’ll find almost any type of keychain you’d like to use to protect your… assets.
Perhaps you have a self-defense keychain, or maybe you’re giving it serious consideration. Let’s imagine your purchase went like this: You went online and purchased a self-defense keychain. Which one did you choose? A Kitty Cat or Cute Cat? That’s pretty novel. Was it an alarm keychain, or one with pepper spray? Those are pretty popular. What about the venerable kubaton? It’s been around for quite a while. There’s pointy ones and yes, even brass knuckle keychains.
You’ve made your purchase and you begin to imagine yourself vanquishing all kinds of foes and dirty doers like Bruce Lee in the dungeon scene of, “Enter the Dragon”. Then it may occur to you, “Is this thing even legal to carry?”
If staying on the good guy side of the law matters to you while at the same time being equipped and ready to protect yourself, read on.
Legally Protecting Yourself with an EDC Tool
Nothing can be more confusing than sifting through the many laws and statutes that exist concerning the right to carry firearms and other weapons, and of course, the use of force in employing them.
As a county detective, I worked for the District Attorney. We were there to assist police and citizens alike when they had questions exactly like the one we’re asking today. While we weren’t permitted to give legal advice, we were able to tell inquiring minds what the law said and where to find what they were looking for. For us, the law came from Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, or as it’s commonly called, The Crimes Code. Every state has something similar.
In addition, your county or local municipality may have additional laws to consider. We always recommended contacting an attorney for a thorough interpretation of any law since they have knowledge and access to case law that is up-to-date. But even so, I’ve had people call me who were given misleading advice by a professional. It can happen.
You may even find a police officer that isn’t certain about what the Court's latest ruling may be on specific “uncommon” devices, as I’ll call them. The laws simply weren’t written to consider every variation that the human mind can conjure up.
Allow me to offer a disclaimer at this point. This article cannot possibly address all the laws pertaining to every type of self-defense keychain in every state, city, town, or hamlet. However, it can provide you with a small amount of wisdom and jurisprudence in defending yourself both legally and effectively.
Now I have to admit something. The question of whether or not my self-defense keychain is legal no longer concerns me because I know the devices I carry are legal without question. Coupled with my proficiency in martial arts, I’m about as safe as I’m going to get short of hanging out with Chuck Norris. Could someone still overpower me with greater skill and weaponry? Of course. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. As an old friend once said, “I’m a heck of a guy for five minutes, after that, no guarantees.”
Laws on Self-Defense Keychains
Although the laws vary greatly by jurisdiction, here are a few things to consider. As already mentioned, you should speak to local law enforcement if you have any doubts about the legality of your self-defense keychain. Unless you’re asking to carry a grenade or poison gas keychain, you should get a solid answer or at least guided to a reliable source. Speaking to a lawyer is always the most advisable thing to do. But as Abraham Lincoln said, “A Lawyer's Time and Advice is His Stock and Trade.” They don’t give it away nor should they.
Section 908(a)(c) of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code says this about offensive weapons…
Offensive weapons." Any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise, any stun gun, stun baton, taser or other electronic or electric weapon or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.
Simple, isn’t it? If there’s one thing I’ve learned about law, it’s that nothing is simple. It must be interpreted. And it can be interpreted differently in different areas by different lawmakers, police officers, Judges and District Attorneys. Oh brother.
At Justia Law you can find any state’s criminal laws as well as research aids and attorneys. For local laws you could research online or simply call.
Places to look are the sections that address the following: Possessing Instruments of Crime, Prohibited Offensive Weapons and even the Use of Force. Research case law and remember that what is legal today may not be tomorrow. Be knowledgeable. Here’s an example. A screwdriver is perfectly legal and very useful. I’ve even used one once or twice to fix stuff. But if you are caught at night behind a warehouse trying to jimmy a door with one, guess what? It’s now considered an instrument of crime. Circumstances do matter.
Is My Self-Defense Keychain Legal?
In regard to the legality of your self-defense keychain, I have found that simpler is better. Ask yourself this: “What am I hoping to accomplish?” After all, we’re talking keychains here. Ones that have been designed or adapted for effective self-defense.
My criteria is basically this:
- Does it look like a keychain, or more like a weapon? Think about it.
- Is it something that will draw attention, or is it for the most part innocuous and blends right in? Why attract attention to yourself?
- Is it easy to access and easy to use effectively? Even for those with little or minimal training, especially in a stressful situation?
- Is it a really good keychain? After all, that’s pretty important too.
If your answer is “yes” to each of the above questions, you’re off to a good start.
Then ask yourself these questions:
- Would a law enforcement officer be likely to question it? This is not something you want to happen. At the least it could cause you an unwanted delay and at most you could have it confiscated or even be arrested.
- Would it be likely to be confiscated if you forgot you had it at a show, concert, sporting event or other public venue where bags and belongings are checked or scanned?
- Is there a specific law or statute addressing whatever may be the “defense” aspect of your self-defense keychain?
If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, I’d err on the side of caution and pass.
Remember, if you want to be sure; talk with a lawyer or law enforcement officer.
One thing to note. If a private business says that they don’t want you carrying a self-defense object, they can post it and enforce it. In that case, it’s good advice to carry it in your pocket and especially avoid carrying anything that looks like a weapon from the movie, Men In Black.
Choosing a Legal Self-Defense Keychain
I checked a few sites listing the best self-defense keychains to carry. Some were clearly off base by a mile and will get you in trouble. Several more listed the MUNIO Self-Defense Keychain as number one. Smart guys. Let’s be smart. You’ve finally covered all the bases and you’ve chosen your self-defense keychain wisely. The question arises, “When and how can I use it legally?” That’s a topic for another time.
Be prepared. Prevent a bad situation if you can. Prevail if you can’t. Think About It.
The Self-defense Guy
Master Chuck Edwards is the co-owner of More Than Conquerors Martial Arts and a certified instructor for MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. He is a 4th Dan in Chon Sul Kwon Hapkido and has been a police officer for the past 40 years serving as both municipal police chief (retired) and Chief County Detective (retired). During his career he’s observed too many incidents where the victim could have prevailed had they known basic self-defense skills. He now teaches self defense to the average person to empower them with the confidence and skills needed to protect themselves and prevent them from becoming a statistic.