In 1974, possession of nunchaku (alternatively called nunchuks, chainsticks, or karate sticks), a Japanese martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks attached to a chain or rope, was deemed illegal. The act was a hysterical response to Bruce Lee kung fu flick Enter the Dragon’s immense popularity. Concerns that roving bands of hoodlums, street urchins, and martial arts enthusiasts would descend on innocent, defenseless pedestrians and civilians quickly took popular imagination by storm.
Last Friday, however, a federal judge ruled that this is no longer a law that requires enforcement. In a stunning ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen found that the ban on nunchaku to be a violation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. In her 32 page ruling, Chen reasoned that nunchaku are often kept for the purposes of self defense, martial arts instruction, or simply fun. She also invoked a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment should extend to state laws.
The result represents a particular victory for lawyer and longtime martial arts enthusiast James Maloney. In 2000, Maloney was arrested for possession of nunchaku in his home, which he had been hoping to use to teach his children karate using. For almost twenty years, he contested the law, arguing that he had a right to defense himself and his family, a core tenet of the Second Amendment.
On his personal blog, Maloney wrote ““The Court granted relief somewhat beyond what I had asked for, but I am not about to complain.” He added “Thanks to the many who have helped in many ways along the way. It has been a path with heart.”
Indeed, Maloney had only been looking to use the nunchaku un his home, but Chen’s ruling overturned the ban entirely. If the ruling holds, only the state of Massachusetts will continue a complete ban on the weapon, though many other states do have laws limiting their carry and usage.
Previously, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had opposed nunchaku in 2010, which led to opposition to her appointment to the Supreme Court from gun rights organization the NRA and a slough of comedy sketches.
Sotomayor had claimed “When the sticks are swung, which is what you do with them, if there’s anybody near you, you’re going to be seriously injured, because that swinging mechanism can break arms. It can bust someone’s skull.”
In her assessment, Chen concluded “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.”