Nunchucks Ruled Legal In New York

After a 15-year court battle, a court cited the Second Amendment in a ruling that the martial-arts weapon cannot be banned.

Buckethead with nunchucks
Ethan Miller / Getty Images

After a 15-year court battle, a court cited the Second Amendment in a ruling that the martial-arts weapon cannot be banned.

The same week that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced steps to decriminalize recreational marijuana in New York State, there’s been another reversal on an item that’s long been illegal in the Empire State.

A judge in Brooklyn on Friday struck down the state’s ban on nunchucks, the Washington Post reported. U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen cited the Second Amendment in ruling that the state cannot ban the martial arts weapon.

New York banned nunchucks, also known as chuka sticks, in 1974, at the height of the popularity of kung fu movies and not long after the release of the classic Bruce Lee movie Enter The Dragon. The case decided last week dates back to 2000, when James Maloney, an attorney and martial arts enthusiast, was arrested for possessing nunchucks in his home. Maloney personally developed a martial arts discipline called “Shafan Ha Lavan” and argued that the nunchuck ban prevented him from teaching it to his children, while also precluding him from defending himself.

“The Court grants judgment in favor of Plaintiff, declaring that New York Penal Laws 265.01(1) and 265.10(1), (2), & (4), as applied to nunchaku, are an unconstitutional restriction on the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and are, therefore, void,” the judge wrote at the end of the 32-page ruling.

Elsewhere in the ruling, the story was told of the state’s decision to ban the items in the 1970s.

“The ban on nunchaku arose out of a concern that, as a result of the rising popularity ‘of ‘Kung Fu’ movies and shows,’ various circles of the state’s youth’—including ‘muggers and street gangs’—were ‘widely’ using nunchaku to cause ‘many serious injuries,'” Judge Chen wrote.

Maloney had been pursuing the case since 2003, with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office as the defendant. In those years, he was dealt various legal losses, including a ruling that went against him in 2009 by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is now on the U.S. Supreme Court; the case was even mentioned during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing to explore how Sotomayor might rule in future Second Amendment cases. But, as the Post story explained, Second Amendment jurisprudence has changed in the years since, including much greater application to state laws than before, following the McDonald decision in 2010.

If the ruling from last week survives future court challenges, Massachusetts will become the only remaining state in which nunchucks are completely illegal, although other states have partial restrictions on the weapons.