Federal court says New York state ban on nunchucks unconstitutional
Just blame Bruce Lee. Back in 1974, New York state decided to ban the possession of nunchucks as lawmakers feared they were becoming enticing tools of violence among hooligan children and street criminals who were exposed to the weapons on TV. They were so dangerous, lawmakers believed, that not even karate teachers could keep them in a locker at home. But while being dangerous might have been a good enough reason then, it doesn’t cut it anymore, as a federal judge ruled on December 18th, 2018. Our White Plains criminal defense lawyers who regularly handle possession of weapons cases throughout Westchester County and the Bronx believed that this law violated the Second Amendment.
In a 32-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen struck down New York’s nunchuck ban as unconstitutional, finding that nunchucks are protected under the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Chen concluded that nunchucks are commonly used by law-abiding citizens — for example, by karate enthusiasts or for self-defense — so therefore banning them outright runs afoul of the Second Amendment. The judge also applied a 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling that extended the Second Amendment to state laws.
The plaintiff, James Maloney, started his legal quest after being charged with possession of nunchucks in his home in 2000. He initially filed a complaint in 2003, and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court when the case went against him. The Supreme Court in 2010 remanded the case back down to be reconsidered in light of a Second Amendment decision it had made in another case, and Maloney filed an amended complaint later that year.
Maloney had been focused on getting the part of the law overturned that banned nunchucks, two rigid rods connected at one end by a chain or rope, even in private homes.
But while the nunchucks ruling may be an important affirmation of those principles for gun-rights advocates, after nearly 15 years of litigation, the ruling also represents a long-sought victory for one New York amateur martial artist. Back in 1974, when New York state lawmakers debated adding nunchucks to its list of banned weapons, joining machine guns and brass knuckles, kung fu was all the rage. Bruce Lee’s death in 1973 was still fresh and so was his last film, “Enter the Dragon,” which was released posthumously a month after he died and immortalized as one of the best kung fu films of all time. The TV series “Kung Fu” was in full swing, too. And “The Street Fighter," premiering in 1974, surely horrified lawmakers concerned about nunchucks, as it was the first American film to earn an X-rating purely for violence.
Hence, as a result of the recent popularity of ‘Kung Fu’ movies and shows, the New York District Attorney Association wrote in one 1974 letter, referring to the weapons by an alternate name of chuka sticks, “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.”
Until now, nearly all the state needed to do to uphold its nunchuck ban was prove that it was rationally related to a government interest, such as keeping citizens free from nunchuck attacks.
That’s why, at least initially, Maloney kept losing. He lost in 2009 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, when a panel that included future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled against him on the grounds that New York had demonstrated a rational basis for its nunchuck ban. At that point, the Second Amendment wasn’t being used in reference to state laws, thanks to an 1876 high court ruling.
This ruling opens the door for anyone who has been convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon for having nunchucks to move to vacate the conviction. This ruling also provides a viable defense to charges for other weapons such as brass knuckles, butterfly knives, aWith blades, gravity knives, stars and knives. Our Westchester criminal defense attorneys are available to defend weapons possession charges in the criminal courts of White Plains, Yonkers, Mt Vernon, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye, Scarsdale, Pelham, Armonk, Ossining and Peekskill.