Are Safety Cat Keychains Legal in California? The Surprising Truth


Cat keychains are novelty items that feature a cartoon cat face with large reflective eyes. When a button is pressed, the cat’s eyes illuminate and change color. Cat keychains became immensely popular in the late 2010s and early 2020s due to social media trends. Videos and images showing the cat eyes lighting up went viral online, sparking interest in these novelty keychains. Major retailers began stocking cat keychains to meet demand. Their low cost and cute appearance made them a popular impulse purchase item.

Cat keychains are produced by manufacturers in China and can be purchased from sites like Amazon and AliExpress for just a few dollars. They experienced a surge in popularity around 2020 when the “Pop Cat” meme took off on platforms like TikTok. The meme features a cartoon cat that makes a popping noise when its paw is pressed. Cat keychains recreate this viral meme in physical form. While largely considered a harmless novelty item, cat keychains have faced some legal scrutiny in certain jurisdictions.

History of Cat Keychains

Cat keychains first emerged in the early 2010s as novelty items produced in China. According to Cat Self Defense Keychains | Kitty Knuckles Defense Tools, cat self defense keychains originated as “a practical and stylish way for women to defend themselves” instead of using more traditional self-defense weapons.

The keychains feature a cat shaped head and pointy metal “ears” that can be used for jabbing or scratching in self-defense situations. While originally created as more of a novelty gift or decoration, the keychains gained popularity among some women as an easy to carry and non-threatening self-defense tool.

The distinctive cat shape and “kitty knuckles” design helped popularize these keychains. They allowed the owner to have a cute yet functional keychain for potentially protecting themselves if needed. While cat keychains have their origins as more lighthearted novelties, debate emerged over whether they could be considered concealed or dangerous weapons.

California Laws on Novelty Items

California has several laws and regulations regarding novelty items like cat keychains. The main law is the California Mercury Reduction Act of 2001, also known as SB 633. This law prohibits the manufacture, sale, or distribution of mercury-added novelty items in California.

The legislation defines novelty items as “manufactured items intended mainly for personal or household enjoyment or adornment.” This includes items like figurines, toys, adornments, games, cards, ornaments, yard statues and figures, candles, jewelry, holiday decorations, and footwear and apparel accessories. Cat keychains would fall under novelty items.

According to SB 633, it’s illegal to intentionally add mercury into any of these novelty products. The law is intended to reduce mercury in the waste stream and protect public health and the environment. Violators may face civil penalties up to $2,500 per item sold.

There are some exemptions, like if the mercury is required for operation of the item and there are no safe alternatives. The law also doesn’t apply to resale of vintage items or items distributed prior to the law’s enactment. But in general, mercury-added novelty items like cat keychains cannot be legally manufactured, sold, or distributed in California.

Specific Regulations on Cat Keychains

In California, cat keychains fall under prohibited weapons laws. According to California Penal Code Section 22210, it is illegal to manufacture, import, sell, give, or possess any metal knuckles. This includes any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal that fits around the fingers1. Cat keychains have pointy metal ears and eyes that can be worn over the knuckles, qualifying them as metal knuckles under California law.

California courts have upheld convictions of possession of metal knuckles for cat keychains specifically. In a 2020 case, an appeals court affirmed the conviction of a man for possession of metal knuckles when he was found to have a cat keychain2. The court determined the cat keychain met the definition of metal knuckles despite also being a keychain.

There are no exceptions made for cat keychains in California prohibited weapons laws. Their intended purpose as novelty keychains does not exempt them from qualifying as illegal metal knuckles. Simply possessing a cat keychain on one’s keyring can be enough grounds for arrest and prosecution in California.

Enforcement of Cat Keychain Regulations

The enforcement of laws regulating cat keychains in California varies across different jurisdictions and situations. According to a spokesperson from the LAPD, cat keychains are not an enforcement priority and arrests or citations specifically for possessing them are rare (Source: However, some other law enforcement agencies may take a stricter approach. If an officer notices someone carrying a cat keychain during a traffic stop or other encounter, they may choose to confiscate it and potentially issue a citation. But proactively seeking out and targeting cat keychain owners does not seem to be standard practice.

Much depends on the discretion of individual officers. In areas with high rates of brass knuckle-related violence, police may be more inclined to view cat keychains as a public safety issue and enforce regulations more strictly. Whereas in areas with few incidents, officers likely have bigger priorities. Overall enforcement seems sporadic rather than systematic or widespread. But there is always a possibility of facing penalties if caught by an officer who decides to enforce the law. Owners should be aware that just because confiscation is rare does not make cat keychains definitively legal in California.

Legal Risks and Penalties

In California, it is illegal to possess certain cat-shaped self-defense keychains that can be considered dangerous weapons. According to state law, items like metal knuckle dusters and plastic knuckles fall under the category of prohibited weapons (Source 1).

If caught in possession of an illegal cat keychain, an individual may face legal consequences. They could potentially be charged with a misdemeanor offense and face fines up to $1,000 or even jail time (Source 2). The potential penalties depend on factors like whether the keychain was actually used to harm someone.

Law enforcement officials advise that certain cat keychains, even if marketed as novelty items, could be considered illegal weapons under California law. Simply having one in your possession could lead to criminal charges (Source 3).

It’s important for people to be aware of the legal risks before purchasing or carrying certain cat-shaped self-defense keychains in public in California.

Legal Alternatives

While there is some ambiguity around the legality of cat keychains in California, there are many similar novelty keychains that are clearly legal to purchase and own within the state. Some popular legal alternatives include:

Bear Keychains – Keychains with images of bears, the state animal of California, are very common and not restricted (Example).

Whimsical Animal Keychains – Keychains depicting non-wildlife animals like dogs, cats, pigs, etc. in fun outfits or situations are legal in California (Examples on Etsy).

California Flag Keychains – Keychains featuring images of the California state flag or other state symbols do not violate any laws (California souvenir keychains).

Generic Keychains – Keychains without depictions of specific animals or restricted items avoid any potential legal issues and provide a safe option.

Ultimately, there are many unique and creative novelty keychain designs that celebrate the state of California without running afoul of any laws. By opting for legal alternatives, you can obtain a fun keychain souvenir while avoiding potential penalties.

Activism Around Cat Keychains

In recent years, there has been growing activism around legalizing cat keychains in California. Many advocacy groups argue that cat keychains should be fully legal as a form of self-defense. For example, the nonprofit Californians for Self-Defense has been lobbying state legislators to remove restrictions, citing cat keychains as an important personal safety tool, especially for women and vulnerable groups (source). They argue the potential self-defense benefits outweigh any risks of misuse. On social media and internet forums like Reddit, supporters have rallied behind hashtags like #LegalizeCatKeychainsCA and shared personal stories of how cat keychains helped them (source). However, opposition groups believe wider legalization could increase public altercations and injuries. They advocate for more restrictions and enforcement of existing regulations. Overall, cat keychain legality remains a divisive issue with passionate voices on both sides of the debate.

In comparison to California, other states have different laws on cat keychains and other self defense tools. For example:

Other State Laws

While cat keychains are generally prohibited in California without a license, some other states have less restrictions. For instance, in Texas cat keychains are legal to own without a permit, as long as they are not taken into restricted areas like schools or airports. Similarly, cat keychains are fully legal in states like Florida and Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, some states have more stringent regulations. In New York, cat keychains are classified as illegal “metal knuckles” and are banned from sale or possession. Washington state also prohibits sale and ownership of cat keychains and other martial arts weapons like nunchucks without a valid license. Overall laws vary significantly by state.


In summary, cat keychains occupy a legal gray area in California. While they are not specifically prohibited under state law, certain municipalities such as San Francisco have banned their sale and possession. Enforcement tends to target retailers more than individual consumers, but penalties can still apply in some cases. Activists argue cat keychains promote cruelty and trivialize the role of animals in society. However, others view them as harmless novelties. Those wishing to avoid legal risks can purchase similar products like dog or dragon keychains instead. Laws vary widely in other states as well. Ultimately, the legality, ethics and social impacts of cat keychains remain debated. This article aimed to provide an overview of the key issues and regulations surrounding these controversial novelty items.

Scroll to Top