But - I bought it!

March 5, 2011

It’s about that time again – the time when Sweetwater trebles in size, and we proudly hold forth with the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup. Newman Park will soon resemble a tent city, and in a few days, parking any where near the coliseum will be impossible (although downtown will be deserted!). As the vendors begin to set up for the flea market, there are a few things to remember – just to stay out of trouble!
Chief Kelley, Sheriff Warren, and their merry bands of men and women will police the vendors to the best of their abilities, but there are some items that are always offered for sale that are either illegal to own or to carry about. Invariably, persons will appear at the courthouse in about a month, charged with weapons offenses that stem from the item purchased at the round up that never quite got taken in to the house and put away – but was spotted by an officer during a traffic stop.
Texas divides weapons into basically two categories. There are some that are illegal to carry on or about your person. In other words, the weapon could be in the trunk (not glove box!) of your vehicle, in a locked container, or otherwise transported in a manner that no person could easily access it for use. These weapons are legal to possess, as long as they are kept in the home or are out of reach in the vehicle. The other class of weapons are those which are illegal, period. Except under very limited conditions, no person may have them, and, if found, they will be confiscated and not returned.
Knuckles, sometimes known as brass knuckles, have been around for many years. Designed for the dual purpose of protecting the knuckles and increasing the impact of a closed fist punch, they have been made from a wide variety of materials, from bone to wood to assorted metals. Some, as with the throwing stars, are quite artfully made, while others are more utilitarian. During various wars, trench knives and belt knives have been made that incorporate knuckles into the handle, with a short stabbing blade attached. Knuckles of whatever description are a prohibited weapon in Texas, that is, illegal to possess except, perhaps, by a museum.
Switchblade knives, short-barreled firearms, and spring blade knives also fall under the prohibited weapon section of Texas law. A switchblade is considered any knife that has a blade that retracts into the sheath, and then opens by means of a button, catch, spring, or centrifugal force. Short-barreled firearms include rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches, shotguns with shorter barrels than 18 inches, or either a rifle or shotgun altered in such a manner that its overall length is less than 26 inches. While the law basically prohibits possession of any of these, an exception is made for persons dealing with such as antiques or curios. When transporting one of these weapons for sale or display as an antique or curio, it would be wise to have it in a locked container, ideally within the trunk of a vehicle. It certainly should not be sitting on the seat, nor in the pocket of a driver or passenger.
Martial arts weapons are not as popular now as they have been in the past, but most flea markets will sport a couple of vendors with throwing stars or nunchucks. Any weapon designed to cut or stab by being thrown is an illegal weapon. Throwing stars fit well under this definition, as do the throwing knives that were popular a few years ago. Some of these are highly decorated and quite elaborate – and are apparently highly prized by persons interested in them. If it is your determination to purchase one, be sure to remember that, as long as it is “on or about your person” you run the risk of being arrested. Nunchucks are normally two sticks tied together by a length of chain. In the right hands, they are a dangerous weapon; for the inexperienced, they are more likely to be a weapon of self assault than of self defense. In either case, our law defines a club as being an instrument designed or adapted to cause bodily injury by striking. This definition fits nunchucks, making them an illegal weapon, also. As with the throwing star, they must not be on or about the person of the one possessing them.
There are several types of knives that are considered to be illegal under Texas law, and a surprising number of them show up at flea markets. Knives with blades over 5 ? inches, daggers, Bowie knives, spears and swords all fall into this category. Even those that appear to be intended for role play can be considered dangerous, illegal, and earn their possessor a quick trip to the jail.
Clubs are illegal weapons, as was discussed above with the nunchucks. However, the definition of a club is, of necessity somewhat broad, and requires some thought. Obviously, in the spring, many cars have a baseball bat in them. A bat, en route to a game, is a piece of sports equipment. A bat en route to a fight is a weapon. Normally there are changes that have been made to change the object from its intended purpose to one somewhat more lethal, and less legal. These changes may include the type of tape on the handle, the addition of metal to the hitting end, or the taping together of a bat that is obviously too worn to be of use hitting a hard ball.
Thankfully, we no longer live on the wild frontier, and do not need to carry weapons for our personal safety. Take the time to wander about Newman Park, enjoying the merchandise displayed there. However – be aware that our officers cannot be everywhere, and all things offered for sale there may not be legal. The fact that it was offered for sale is not a defense when the possessor is taken to jail!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com

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