Judge rules New Yorkers have constitutional right to own nunchucks

In 1973 Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon kicked off a worldwide fascination with martial arts in general and for many, the nunchaku in particular. In 1974 the weapon was criminalized in New York state. 

Shortly thereafter James M. Maloney began to learn their use. In time, he developed his own martial art, “Shafan Ha Lavan” (Hebrew for “white rabbit”) and nunchakus were an integral part of it. In 1981 Maloney did a public demonstration of nunchucks and was arrested. In 1995 Maloney graduated from law school, and determined to contest the ban. In 2000, Maloney was arrested for possession of nunchakus in his own home. In 2003 he filed a complaint, arguing that possession in one’s own home is legitimate; the case began to move through the court system.

Maloney is now 60, and on Friday, he won. Federal Judge Pamela K. Chen, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, ruled that nunchucks were protected under the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.

“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,” Judge Chen wrote, as reported by Michael Gold for the New York Times. Judge Chen went further than possession in the home, striking down the ban on nunchucks, as well as their manufacture and transportation.

“The court gave me a great deal more relief than I asked for,” said Maloney. “I guess I could carry them on the street tomorrow. Not really my plan, but you know, that’s the result of the decision.”

Maloney was unconcerned about abuse on the streets.

“If some criminal is going to use nunchaku to terrorize people today, they’d have to worry a lot more about getting shot,” he reasoned. “If you’re going to commit a crime, your weapon of choice wouldn’t be these two sticks.”