By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Metal knuckles, sand clubs and bludgeons may soon be legal to sell and own in Michigan.
A bill proposed in the House would legalize several types of weapons that have been banned since the 1930s.
The bill would get rid of a law that Reps. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, and Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township, say is outdated. It would legalize manufacturing, selling or possessing of a blackjack, slungshot, billy, metal knuckles, sand club, sandbag and bludgeon.
Johnson said it is a “gotcha” law that criminalizes those who have done nothing wrong. And Miller said it’s selectively used.
“Even some Michigan police officers no longer enforce this law,” Miller said.
The law still affects some people. In Bay City, a man was sentenced to 120 days in jail for having brass knuckles in his pocket in 2015, according to news reports.
Johnson said it can be “used as a tack-on in courts to give someone who committed a crime a longer sentence. The person should be sentenced for the crime they commited, not for owning an item.”
According to Johnson, legalizing the manufacture, sale and possession of these rare weapons is part of a criminal justice overhaul in which a key element is eliminating laws that penalize individuals for victimless crimes.
“Looking at the bill, some of the items are so old that most people couldn’t tell you exactly what they are,” Johnson said.
For example, a slungshot is defined as a strap or chain attached to a rock or piece of metal used to shift the location of where a fishing line is cast.
According to lead sponsor Miller, the list of items is so dated that what qualifies as some of the weapons is unclear – for example, what would and wouldn’t be considered a “bludgeon” is hard to tell.
Many people are unaware of the law and own such weapons anyway, Johnson said, adding that assault with such weapons would still be illegal under the bill.
“The conversation that should be had is about gun control. The items in the bill do not do damage in the way that guns do,” Miller said.
With its potential to make more weapons available to the public, some law enforcement officials are wary of the bill.
Capt. Shawn Bride of the Muskegon Police Department said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.
“I am a strong believer of a person’s constitutional right to bear arms and defend themselves. I do have a problem with somebody trying to hurt one of my officers with brass knuckles though,” Bride said.
Bride described the weapons as offensive tools, not defensive.
Legalization might make some collectors happy, he said, but such items shouldn’t be carried around regularly.
“My main concern is about the safety of my officers and the general public,” said Bride.
Police Chief Mark Barnett of the Ludington Police Department worries about public safety and how the weapons might be used.
“I have encountered brass knuckles on the job,” Barnett said. “If the aim of legalization is protection, there are far better ways to go about defending yourself.”
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
By BAILEY LASKE