Courts

Your Right to Bear Nunchucks Is Safe

A federal court has struck down a New York ban inspired by kung fu movies.

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TYRONE SIU/REUTERS/Newscom

A federal court ruled Friday that the state of New York's 44-year-old ban on nunchucks infringes on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The ruling is a victory for Jim Maloney, a maritime attorney and adjunct professor at the State University of New York's Maritime College. He's also a martial arts enthusiast, having created his own style of fighting called "Shafan Ha Lavan." Maloney wanted to pass along Shafan Ha Lavan to his twin sons, but was legally prohibited from doing so.

Why? It's all thanks to the state's 1974 ban on nunchucks, which are "integral" to Shafan Ha Lavan, wrote Judge Pamela K. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Nunchucks, for those who don't know, usually consist of two sticks of wood or other material connected by a chain or rope. They were widely used in Kung Fu movies back in the '70s, particularly by martial arts film star Bruce Lee:

Concerned that young people would try to copy what they saw in the movies, New York lawmakers decided to completely ban nunchucks, or chuka sticks. "As a result of the recent popularity of 'Kung Fu' movies and shows," the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York wrote in a 1974 letter, according to The Washington Post, "various circles of the state's youth are using such weapons. The chuka stick can kill, and is rightly added to the list of weapons prohibited by section 265.00 of the Penal Law." For decades, the possession, manufacture, and transport of nunchucks was banned in the state.

That's where Maloney comes back into the story. In August 2000, police were called to his home because a telephone company worker believed Maloney had pointed a rifle at him. (Maloney claimed in a 2009 blog post that it was really a telescope). Nonetheless, police found Maloney's nunchucks in his home, and he was charged with a misdemeanor. The charges were dismissed in January 2003 after he pleaded guilty to a violation—"not a crime," as his blog post clarifies.

But the fact that nunchucks were banned in the first place irked Maloney. "How could a state simply ban any and all possession of a weapon that had a long and proud history as a martial-arts weapon, with recreational, therapeutic and self-defense utility?" he told Reason in an email. "Not only that, but it can be used in self-defense in a more merciful manner, respectful of human life, far more effectively than any penetrating weapon, like a gun or sword or knife."

In February 2003, motivated by "outrage," Maloney filed a legal complaint against the ban. For years, he had very little luck. Then in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment applies to state laws restricting the possession and use of weapons. Chen wrote that the Supreme Court remanded Maloney's case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who remanded it back to the District Court.

Maloney did not seek for the court to rule on the constitutionality of nunchucks in general. Rather, he simply wanted them to agree that New York cannot ban people from using nunchucks in their own homes. Chen pointed out that she could not do this. "To achieve the remedy Plaintiff argues that he is seeking would require the court to write in an exception to the complete ban on nunchaku," she wrote. "This the Court cannot do here," she added, explaining that it's not the court's job to rewrite the law.

Instead, Chen ruled that the ban as a whole is unconstitutional. She applied a two-part standard that asks whether a weapon is "in common use" and whether it's "typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." Chen dealt with the latter part first. The defendant in the case, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, "has not met her burden to exclude nunchaku from the ambit of Second Amendment protection,' Chen wrote. "Simply put, Defendant does not contradict the contention that the nunchaku's primary use, which Defendant concedes is as 'a tool from the sphere of martial arts'…is a lawful one." Chen also cited testimony from Maloney and other witnesses in concluding that "the typical possession of nunchaku in this country is for recreational and other lawful purposes."

Not only are they used by law-abiding citizens, but Chen noted "there is virtually no evidence that nunchakus are associated with, or have been used to engage in, criminal conduct since" the ban was implemented. For the most part, nunchucks can't be modified to give them a "special propensity for criminal use."

"In fact," Chen wrote, "its intended use as a weapon for recreational martial arts practice and training appears to greatly outstrip its use in crime."

Chen also concluded that nunchucks are "in common use," citing the fact that nearly 65,000 of them have been sold in the U.S. between 1995 and 2018. She explained:

The Court finds that based on this magnitude of sales—especially given the outright bans on nunchaku (in New York and Massachusetts), the other restrictions placed on nunchaku ownership and use in the states where they may be lawfully possessed, and the apparent incompleteness of Defendant's nunchaku sales data—and the relevant, albeit limited, case comparators, Defendant has failed to establish that nunchaku are not in common use.

Ultimately, Chen said the Constitution protects Maloney's right to possess nunchucks. "The centuries-old history of nunchaku being used as defensive weapons," she wrote, "strongly suggests their possession, like the possession of firearms, is at the core of the Second Amendment." Also protected by the Second Amendment is the right to transport, manufacture, or dispose of nunchucks, she ruled.

In light of Chen's ruling, Maloney says he plans to get back to training "at home for the first time in nearly 20 years." Maloney says he's "had half a dozen pairs of sticks sitting around unstrung for all that time," so his first step will be to restring them.

Regarding the ruling as a whole, Maloney says Chen "displayed true wisdom," which he greatly appreciates.

"I can see from the findings of fact and conclusions of law, and from all that led up to the production of that document," he says, referring to the ruling, "that a huge amount of thought and effort went into refining and rendering the final decision, and it makes me happy to see that our federal courts can and do (albeit not always) 'deliver the goods' in applying the law to protect individual rights."

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58 responses to “Your Right to Bear Nunchucks Is Safe

  1. Amazing how the great Ninja scare of the 80s stuck with us so long… legislatively speaking that is.

    1. Switchblades were restricted in the 50s for similar reasons and are still heavily restricted by federal law and in many states.

      1. But that was well-founded. The last thing America needs is gangs snapping their fingers in unison as they prepare for a rumble.

  2. Bruce Lee is so overrated. Jackie Chan’s entire pre-Hollywood career makes Bruce Lee’s movies look like a joke

    1. He’s Chinese and nunchucks are Japanese. So confusing.

      1. Actually, nunchucks like many weapons are a weaponized version of a farm implement that existed in almost every agrarian society everywhere, a grain flail. In point of fact, while they likely called it something else, it would be fairly surprising if ancient china didn’t have a weapon very similar to nunchucks.

    2. Bruce Lee was a martial artist. Jackie Chan was an acrobatic clown, owing more to Harold Lloyd. than anything else.

    3. See, you kids. You start out in the post-Seinfeld era and because Seinfeld was so original it was heavily copied (and improved upon) in other works, you finally see Seinfeld and go ‘gee, that’s overrated. Other people have done it better’.

      Same shit here. If Bruce Lee didn’t exist there would have been no Jackie Chan to do it better.

  3. Bruce Lee is so overrated. Jackie Chan’s entire pre-Hollywood career makes Bruce Lee’s movies look like a joke

    1. That’s like saying the Wright Brothers are overrated because supersonic jets are faster than the plane they flew at Kittyhawk. You’re missing the point.

      1. Something about the shoulders of giants…

  4. Just shows to go ya …. the hoplophobes like to lie about guns being more dangerous to the good guy users than bad guy victims, but here is a weapon which probably has harmed more users than bad guys, and mum’s the word.

  5. If you want to see Bruce Lee with the nunchaku, go to about 9:25

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MigKXB_zSyo

  6. >>>Maloney wanted to pass along Shafan Ha Lavan to his twin sons, but was legally prohibited from doing so.

    Jeebus what of Christianity and America and Jack Daniels if people didn’t do what they were legally prohibited from doing? Teach your kids in the basement, dummy.

    1. What makes you think he wasn’t?

      See that word “legally”?

      1. “wanted to” says he didn’t.

        1. What, you expect him to admit to doing something illegal?

          1. “Am I being detained?”

        2. “wanted to” refers to passing them along to his twin sons. You brought up “teaching in the basement” which is an entirely different illegal matter. For that matter, he can easily pass them along to his sons, but it is still illegal.

  7. Of course, it should be legal to repeatedly hit yourself in the back of the head learning to use nunchucks. I don’t get why anyone would want to, but then I like Brussel sprouts.

    1. Brussels Sprouts are a damn fine vegetable.

      1. As with most vegetables it’s all about preparation.

        1. I have eaten and even enjoyed Brussel sprouts when they were sufficiently disguised.

      2. Vegetables aren’t food, they are what food eats. 🙂

        1. Look at the cannibal here…

          1. Carnivore, not cannibal. People taste terrible.

        2. And if God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.

      3. They are – when prepared with a sufficient amount of pork to disguise their taste.

  8. And the punishment for prosecuting unconstitutional laws for 44 years is…?

    1. A commendation from Bill de Blasio?

      1. Close, you get to BE Bill de Blasio.

    2. I don’t think the prosecutors should be punished. It’s the lawmakers who deserve to be punished for passing illegal legislation. I’m thinking removal from office and banning public “service” forever, plus they should be subject to civil action from those harmed by the illegal legislation.

      1. And lose their pension, of course.

  9. Now that New York is no longer safe from the mortal threat of nunchuck wielding Kung fu masters, maybe they should give their citizens a fighting chance by going shall issue on concealed carry.

  10. I just know there is a “Ow….my nuts” joke here somewhere.

  11. Wasn’t Feinstein trying to put forth the notion that 10 million+ rifles, and hundreds of millions of magazines does not demonstrate ‘common use’ during the Kavanaugh farce?

    1. I noticed that too. Some judge did rule recently that ARs are not in common use.

      1. It’s amazing how they can be flooding our streets, yet simultaneously not be in common use.

  12. He’s also a martial arts enthusiast, having created his own style of fighting called “Shafan Ha Lavan.”

    Shafan Ha Lavan is Korean for “fends off attackers by hitting own nuts with nunchucks”.

    1. Lol no, it means ‘white rabbit’ in Hebrew.

  13. They were in his house. He should be able to have weapons more deadlier than a pair of chucks. At a very minimum, if the 2nd amendment doesn’t apply inside your home, you don’t have a right at all.

    1. At a very minimum, if the 2nd amendment doesn’t apply inside your home, you don’t have a right at all.

      No doubt, there are certain groups of people whose right to exist the city and state governments of NY would like to ban. For example, gun owners, smokers/vapers, non-Democrats, and anyone who works and pays taxes.

    2. He should be able to have weapons more deadlier than a pair of chucks.

      There’s only one Chuck, and he is deadliest of all.

    3. In several states, nunchucks, brass knuckles, and butterfly knives are completely banned. Having one is considered on the same level as having an active pipe bomb. It’s a bit ridiculous, as all of these weapons were banned primarily due to usage in cinema and not by actual criminals (gangsters can’t afford a butterfly knife, and would probably hurt themselves if they tried to use nunchucks).

  14. Ah, the special genius of Big Government: trying to ban sticks tied together with a piece of string. Gee, no way anybody could manufacture those, is there?

  15. Michelangelo can finally emerge from the sewers.

  16. Chen was the first Asian lesbian in the federal judiciary. Diversity hires FTW?

    1. I don’t know. Aren’t Asians now honorary white people (for the purposes of education and career, at least)?

      1. No, they’re POCs which is why they shouldn’t play whitey’s game by doing anything to break solidarity – like questioning affirmative action. If they question affirmative action, they’re bananas – yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

    2. That’s a relief, I was wondering why I encountered a federal judge while doing an internet search for Asian lesbians.

  17. 2nd Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    This includes nunchucks.

  18. To bad NY doesnt ban cucks.

  19. Nunchucks are counterintuitive as a weapon since it will likely harm the user. The back swing will eventually get you. But I suppose you master it use.

    Meanwhile the dual light saber is completely nonsensical. Imagine holding that in your hand. Can you swing that at your opponent without having the second blade sling off part of your body?.

    1. Their super Jedi skills – or in the latest Star Wars movie, their female intuition – should avoid any light-saber-related accidents.

      Also, you can use the beam from the light-sabre to block blows aimed at you by another light-sabre. Sounds like really heavy light.

      1. Given it’s finite length, a light-saber is probably a plasma based weapon, with some form of containment field. Opposing containment fields would explain being able to block one light saber with another.

  20. Next should be the decriminalization of mace, pepper spray, stun guns, tasers, knives, swords, canes, guns, and every other defensive object on the same Second Amendment defense.

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