New Yorkers Have a Right to Nunchucks

A federal judge recently struck down a 1974 New York law against nunchucks.

Nunchucks are two rods, made out of wood or other material, connected by a short chain or rope. The name is derived from the Japanese name, “nunchaku.” They’re used in martial arts, as a weapon.

Bruce Lee

Many people in the US first became aware of nunchucks through the 1970s movies of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee.

As the New York Times reported,

In the ’70s, martial arts movies were a huge cultural phenomenon that brought centuries-old nunchucks closer to the center of modern popular culture. Impressed and inspired, droves of young people were twirling the weapons in their backyards and trying to avoid whacking themselves in the face.

But New York legislators were concerned about the fad:

Officials were especially worried about “muggers and street gangs” who might use nunchucks to cause serious harm…. Out of concern for public safety, they passed a law to keep nunchucks off the streets.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Nunchucks have remained popular, appearing in video games like “Mortal Combat.” Michelangelo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, also uses a pair.

As the Times noted, James M. Maloney, who is now 60, became interested in nunchucks in the 1970s.

Maloney’s father was fatally stabbed when he was six, so he was aware of the dangers of knives. He felt that nunchucks, which have no sharp edges and can be used at a short distance from an attacker, would be useful for self-defense.

In 1981, Maloney was arrested in New York City after doing a public demonstration of nunchucks.  He developed his own martial arts technique, called “Shafan Ha Lavan” (Hebrew for “white rabbit”) using nunchucks. In 2000, he was charged with possessing them in his home.

Maloney, who graduated from law school in 1995, decided to challenge the nunchuck ban.

In 2003, Maloney filed a complaint alleging that he had a constitutional right to possess nunchucks in his home. In December, the judge finally ruled in his favor.

Second Amendment

The judge gave Maloney even more than he asked for — not only giving him the right to keep the weapons in his home but striking down the New York law against them, under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

The Second Amendment reads:

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.

The Second Amendment is often cited by advocates of gun ownership, and there’s been a long and heated debate about its meaning and about whether the “right to bear arms” only refers to a state’s right to self-defense, and not an individual’s right to carry a gun.

The judge in the nunchuck case wrote:

The centuries-old history of nunchaku being used as defensive weapons strongly suggests their possession, like the possession of firearms, is at the core of the Second Amendment,

She also struck down a law prohibiting nunchucks from being made or transported in the state.

Maloney noted, “If you’re going to commit a crime your weapon of choice wouldn’t be these two sticks.”

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