Civil Liberties

Free the Nunchucks! Arizona May Loosen Its Sillier Weapons Restrictions.

Sticks are fine, but sticks tied together can get you in a world of trouble


Lars Plougmann / Foter / CC BY-SA

When my son started taking weapons class at his Tae Kwon Do dojang, one of the other parents warned me to be careful with his nunchucks. "I know it's weird, but they're basically illegal to transport," she told me. I often, perfectly legally, carry a pistol with me, so I had to look that up. Arizona just didn't strike me as the kind of state that wants to pry tethered sticks from my son's cold, dead fingers while giving me thumbs-up for my .45 and my switchblade knife.

Chalk one up for martial arts mom; she was right! Nunchucks are strictly regulated in Arizona. But that may be about to change, for sound suppressors and sawed-off shotguns, as well as nunchucks.

Boys raised in the 1970s weren't the only ones impressed by Bruce Lee and Kung Fu movies. Lots of lawmakers sucked up images of cinematic combat, too. But politicians being generally less able to distinguish fantasy from reality than your typical teenager, this has sometimes resulted in strict laws regulating the whirling sticks of death.

In Arizona, among the definitions of "Prohibited weapon" is "An instrument, including a nunchaku, that consists of two or more sticks, clubs, bars or rods to be used as handles, connected by a rope, cord, wire or chain, in the design of a weapon used in connection with the practice of a system of self-defense." It's not an actual prohibition, since the law includes an exception for "lawful exhibitions, demonstrations, contests or athletic events involving the use of such weapon," but you still have to watch your step. Sticks are fine, but sticks tied together can get you in a world of trouble.

That's a pretty damned stupid distinction, especially in a state that's otherwise rather tolerant of weapons "used in connection with the practice of a system of self-defense."

Enter Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City) and her amendment to SB 1460. The original law is already a good one, expanding the restoration of civil rights to include gun ownership for people convicted of many crimes who have satisfied the terms of their sentences. Her amendment makes the bill even better, stripping nunchucks, sound suppressors, and shortened rifles and shotguns from the category of "prohibited weapons." Given that using sound suppressors to reduce the noisiness of your shooting is good manners, and that sawed-off shotguns (and rifles) are just weapons that fall in size between perfectly legal handguns and equally legal long guns, that also makes excellent sense.

As amended, SB 1460 passed muster with the Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee and won preliminary approval from the whole Senate. This will probably be just fine with the state's voters, who show very little enthusiasm for weapons restrictions in recent polling.

It's not that I mind my kid skating close the law or outright defying it. But clearing away the risk of arrest for violating stupid and intrusive laws is a better option.

Below, a typical scene in downtown Flagstaff just months from now.