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Do the Write Thing

Seeking the definition of a deadly weapon

I believe in self-defense, and I believe in the right to defend oneself if faced with peril. When it’s a decision between self-defense and serious injury, I’m always going to go with self-defense. As a young female with an inclination for hard news stories, I sometimes get myself in dangerous situations. It’s a part of the job, I suppose, to go places where you may be uncomfortable and often not welcomed.

Before my college days were through, I was hired as a reporter in Rochester. I was assigned to cover the case of a police officer accused of official misconduct, which resulted in an anonymous tipster being beaten and robbed when his anonymity was compromised. The police officer’s father, who was a police chief in another Rochester town, was sentenced to prison for official misconduct just days before the son’s indictment.

The case was heated. All eyes were on it, and it took many different turns and twists, with what seemed like hundreds of court appearances. I always parked in the parking garage and took the parking garage stairwell in and out of the Hall of Justice. It was dank, dark and creepy, but better than getting stuck in the even creepier elevators into the building. It always made me uneasy, and with good reason. One day, I was cornered, spat upon and obscenities were yelled, strictly because I was a member of the media.

I told my dad about it, and he looked into self-defense items. About a week later, he sent me a keychain in the mail. It resembled a dog, was built of pink plastic and had a hole where the eyes would be. It basically was like having a key between your fingers, but this didn’t slip.

Everything we found said it was legal and I felt much more comfortable on that back stairwell knowing that if I were faced with trouble, I could defend myself a little easier.

But last week, as I entered into the Syracuse City Courthouse, I was told it was illegal and I would need to allow the court officers to take it off my keyring, and they would not be returning it. The officer pulled open her personal iPhone and showed me the law on the unofficial penal code app. The keychain was made of brass knuckles, she said.

Let me recap the last two years: hundreds of trips through security in Rochester’s Hall of Justice. Dozens of trips through very thorough security at a federal building. Occasional trips through public safety buildings and airport security across the country. I’ve consulted with at least three police chiefs, with more than 100 years combined law enforcement experience, and numerous high-ranking officers in eight police departments across central and western New York. The closest scrutiny I saw was a federal court officer look at the keychain and ask to keep it at the desk while I was there for the presser. He also confiscated my binder clip for the same reason — nothing dangerous in the building. As I left the courts, I made one more attempt to get my keychain back. A different officer explained it was absolutely illegal. I told her about who has said otherwise.

“Well they’re all wrong,” she said. “You’re not getting it back. It’s illegal.”

Penal code says brass knuckles are deadly weapons, and I agree. This keychain was certainly not deadly, nor could it cause serious injury — if there were someone attacking me, it would certainly get them to back off, but it would likely just tickle. Maybe cause a bruise. Not deadly. The penal code includes plastic, brass and metal knuckles in the same list of switchblade knives, daggers and billy clubs. That certainly sounds like the same thing as a pink, dog keychain, right? All of my sources say it’s also legal because I’m not carrying it with the intent to harm, and it does not mimic or appear to look like traditional brass knuckles.

By my count, things that should be outlawed through the same precedent include costume jewelry rings, keychains with screwdrivers on them, any form of flashlight — small or large, writing instruments, and practically anything a woman carries in her purse at any given time. If you’re going to take away my pepper spray, my dog keychain and anything sharper than a marshmallow, please let me know what I can carry. Unless, of course, we’re supposed to just hope for the best.

There needs to be a serious overhaul of this law and its prefaced definitions. Are we going to outlaw anything that may cause injury? I have a flashlight in the shape of a large diamond, with sharp edges and it has a little heft to it. Is that also illegal? Is it illegal to walk with your keys between your fingers? The case of Trayvon Martin certainly brings about the legalities of self-defense in the lethal realm, but some attention should also be drawn toward self-defense to escape or avoid the potentially dangerous situation.

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