In a landmark ruling almost 20 years in the making, US District Judge Pamela K. Chen has decided that New York’s 44-year-old nunchaku ban violates Second Amendment protections for the right to bear arms.
The deciding case, Maloney v. Singas, has been bouncing around the federal court system since 2003, when James M. Maloney decided to sue the Nassau County District Attorney specifically to challenge the 1974 law.
“[Maloney] has developed his own martial arts style called ‘Shafan Ha Lavan,’ of which the Plaintiff is the only practitioner,” Chen’s ruling reads. “Maloney wishes to teach Shafan Ha Lavan to his twin sons, but is unable to do so due to New York’s nunchaku ban.”
The case was nearly lost several times, after being dismissed by federal courts in 2007 and again when Maloney appealed in 2010. After he appealed again, this time to the US Supreme Court, Maloney’s case was sent back down for reconsideration after that court ruled that state legislators were bound to respect the Second Amendment in local laws.
Judge Chen found the Nassau District Attorney’s case lacking, in part because New York state was unable to provide any suitable research linking nunchaku, or nunchuck, possession with criminality. Between 2014 and 2017, there were only five “nunchaku prosecutions,” of which more than half were only for possession.
“While concerns about unlawful violence by ‘street gangs’ involving the use of nunchaku evidently motivated the state assembly to pass the nunchaku ban into law,” Chen writes, “there are no specific examples or crime statistics regarding these alleged ‘street gang’ nunchaku crimes cited in the legislative materials.”
And while Maloney’s lawsuit was only to legalize possession of the weapon, Judge Chen also invalidated aspects of New York’s nunchaku ban that Maloney did not even mention. Not only is owning nunchaku in the state of New York now legal but so is transporting, disposing and even manufacturing them. The effects of this newly legal nunchuck industry on New York’s economy remains to be seen.
Though the nunchaku ban is unconstitutional for now, it is still possible for New York to tighten regulations on the weapons in the future.
“This ruling merely reflects [the Nassau District Attorney’s] failure to present sufficient evidence and argument to support [the law’s] constitutionality as applied to nunchaku,” Chen writes, “and does not foreclose the possibility that the government could in the future present evidence to support such a prohibition.”
If the state sees a sudden upswing in martial-arts crimes, a case could be made for nunchaku’s recriminalization.