Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You have no right to own a Chuka Stick

A chuka stick (also known as a nunchakus) is a crude weapon that "consist[s] of two or more lengths of a rigid material joined together by a thong, rope or chain in such a manner as to allow free movement of a portion of the device while held in the hand and capable of being rotated in such a manner as to inflict serious injury upon a person by striking or choking." At least that's how the New York Penal Law defines it.

Now that you know what a chuka stick is, you should know that it's illegal to own one in New York. And that prohibition does not violate the U.S. Constitution, the Second Circuit says. The case is Maloney v. Cuomo, decided on January 28.

After Maloney plead guilty to owning a chuka stick and agreed to destroy it, he sued the Attorney General and Nassau County District Attorney on the basis that the chuka stick law violates the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008). The Second Circuit's not buying this one. That's because Maloney's case hits a major snag, something which is probably unknown to the Second Amendment movement: the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, only to the federal government. The Supreme Court has applied much of the Bill of Rights to state action, but it never got around to applying the Second Amendment to the states. Since the Heller case involved the District of Columbia, that landmark case does not change this loophole.

The only argument left is that the ban against chuka sticks violates the Fourteenth Amendment because the prohibition is irrational. But we all know that "rational basis" arguments usually fail in federal court, and this case is no different. The Court of Appeals upholds the ban because the State Legislature had reason to believe that these weapons are extremely dangerous. While Maloney argues that he wants to use the chuka stick for martial arts, that does not prevent the Legislature from making the policy choice that the bad outweighs the good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For further details about my constitutional challenge to the in-home application of New York's total ban on nunchaku, see my website,, where briefs and the transcript of oral argument can be found in pdf. Note that I argued, in my alternative non-Second-Amendment approach, that the ban on in-home possession was not rationally related to the state's legitimate interests. The Second Circuit did not address that argument, framing it instead as the question of whether the state has a legitimate interest in regulating nunchaku overall. Of course, if you frame it that way, the rational basis is indisputable, but my challenge was only to in-home possession, so the analysis was flawed.