Just don't get caught carrying a trench knife in the Lone Star State, even if it does have a Confederate flag on it, or you'll be facing a serious charge.
It's a lesson local construction worker Christopher Sparks learned when he was arrested over the weekend for possession of prohibited weapon. A Royse City police officer told him that he was under arrest for having brass knuckles, a Class A misdemeanor, and took him to the Rockwall County Jail.
Now Sparks is facing a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail. He'll also have a permanent criminal record attached to his name, making it harder to find work and places to live, unless he pays an attorney to have his record expunged.
Sparks, an Arkansas native, travels daily from his girlfriend’s house in the Quinlan area to work commercial construction in the Plano area. He was driving five miles over the speed limit in a 2002 Dodge Neon with expired tags when the Royse City police pulled him over and detained him on the side of the road.
Sparks says he didn't realize the trench knife with the Confederate flag was in his trunk. It was on display at a secondhand store when his girlfriend bought it, and she had been carrying it in her purse, not for protection but for showing it off to some of their friends who are fans of the Confederate flag. "It seemed like a collectible," he says.
The trench knife was first introduced in World War I, and later designs included a 6.75-inch double-edged blade and a handle made of cast bronze with a finger guard known as the "knuckle duster." The butt of the knife also contained a nut that held the blade in place and acted as a "skull crusher."
Sparks' trench knife wasn’t a 1918 model but an Assisted Opening CSA Rebel Flag Knuckle Guard Folding Trench Knife. It doesn't have a skull crusher or a dagger-like blade but does feature a stainless steel blade with a black finish and a fast one-hand opening. Instead of brass knuckles, the knuckle guard is aluminum, wrapped in a rebel flag and "sure to get you noticed," according to budk.com, a website that sells the trench knife for $9.99. It's currently out of stock.
At Knife Depot, several customers posted five-star ratings for what many of them called "a bad-ass knife."
"I like this knuckle knife pretty well, but I do have a concealed carry permit," one customer posted. "Without such, I could be in trouble with the law if I was to be caught with it. It's pretty deadly. It's a bad-ass knife, fits into a jacket pocket well." (Actually, metal knuckles are illegal to possess in Texas in any event, which is why it's generally not a good idea to get your legal advice from online comments.)
Sparks points out that a samurai sword is pretty bad-ass but still legal to carry in Texas.
On Saturday evening, Sparks was driving through Royse City, about 44 minutes east of Plano, when he was pulled over shortly after 5 p.m. The officer called the K-9 unit to sniff Sparks’ car for drugs.
It took the dog several passes around the car before he finally alerted his handler to check the trunk of the car. Sparks says he didn't consent to the search and doesn't understand why the officer called the K-9 unit in the first place. He didn't have a criminal record and says he doesn't use drugs.
He says the police found bullets in his glove box and his gun holster and hassled him about them although they're legal. He says he left his gun locked up at home, which probably worked in his favor, until police found the rebel flag trench knife.
The Royse City police officer held up the knife and told Sparks to put his hands on the hood of the police car. He was handcuffed and booked into Rockwall County Jail at 6:24 p.m. for what the police officer called brass knuckles. He posted a $1,000 bail the next day.
“I told my girlfriend about it when I bailed out,” Sparks says. “She said she had put it in her bag in the trunk, so it must have fell out of her bag.”
He's not the only one who's been arrested and booked in Rockwall County Jail for a prohibited weapon charge involving brass knuckles. According to Rockwall Sheriff's Office records, more than 30 people have been arrested on the same charge since 2014. They range in ages from 19-52, and some have appeared more than once on the same charge.
Sparks' mother, Debra Kale, reached out to the Observer to share her son’s story. She had read our June 19, 2017, story "Five Key Takeaways From Texas' New Laws On Carrying Knives."
It's not that there aren't any illegal knives. Gravity knives, which have blades released from their handles or sheaths by the force of gravity, are still prohibited in Texas. The main change involves knives with blades longer than 5.5 inches. Instead of prohibiting them, the law now considers them as "location-restricted knives." They cannot be carried at amusement parks, airports, churches (or other places of worship), correctional facilities, courthouses, nursing homes, hospitals or mental hospitals, polling places, racetracks, schools or sporting events.
They also can't be carried in establishments that derive 51 percent or more of their income from alcohol sales or within 1,000 feet of the premises where an execution is being conducted. The penalty for doing so is a Class C misdemeanor, except at schools, where it’s considered a third-degree felony. You also must be at least 18 if you want to carry a really big knife in public.
"My thing is it's a knife," Kale says. "It's a trench knife. It's a knife. It's not brass knuckles. It's aluminum."
But knives with "knuckles" as part of the handle still remain illegal to possess in Texas, according to kniferights.org. (In case you're wondering, tomahawks are classified as a club and also illegal to carry in Texas.)
"My thing is it's a knife. It's a trench knife. It's a knife. It's not brass knuckles. It's aluminum." – Debra Kale
Knife Rights, a nonprofit advocacy organization, takes credit for getting Texas lawmakers to repeal the switchblade ban in 2013, remove all of the most restrictive local knife ordinances from Texas law in 2015 and allow Texans the right to carry location-restricted knives like the Bowie knife, an emblem of Texas heritage.
The Observer reached out to the organization but didn't receive a response by deadline.
According to its website, the nonprofit plans to head back to Austin in 2019 to gut the last remaining minor knife restrictions from lawbooks, and wielders of the Confederate flag knuckle knife can only hope their blade is one of them. "We won’t stop until Texas is as free as everyone thinks Texas is," the site says.