New York in the 1970s: Beyond the Okinawa Ban

New York first proposed criminally banning the possession or use of nunchaku in 1973, but the ban did not pass until 1974. Notwithstanding the weapon’s history and suitability for non-lethal defensive use, state legislators concluded that “chuka sticks” were “designed primarily as a weapon [that] has no purpose other than to maim, or in some instances, kill.” See, e.g., Letters of Richard C. Ross and others, 1974. There was an important minority view, however. Archibald Murray of the State of New York’s Executive Department's Division of Criminal Justice Services wrote a memo to the Governor's office that questioned the proposed legislation. Mr. Murray noted that nunchaku have peaceable and non-criminal uses in martial-arts training, writing: “In view of the current interest and participation in these activities by many members of the public, it appears unreasonable - and perhaps even unconstitutional - to prohibit those who have a legitimate reason for possessing chuka sticks from doing so.” Mr. Murray also suggested various less restrictive alternatives for regulating illegitimate nunchaku use. The New York County Lawyers’ Association also recommended that the Governor veto the anti-nunchaku bill, noting that the bill would make “mere possession (even absent criminal intent) a criminal offense” and that “a more narrowly drawn statute can be fashioned” to achieve the legislature’s desire “to prohibit the use of nunchakus in criminal conduct.”

But the memoranda from the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the New York County Lawyers’ Association did not stem the tide that favored a total ban on any and all possession of two sticks connected by a cord or chain. The total ban on nunchaku was signed into law on April 16, 1974, and became effective on September 1, 1974. It remains in full force and effect today and has thus far withstood the only constitutional challenge ever brought against it (currently called Maloney v. Rice). Anyone convicted of misdemeanor possession of nunchaku (even in his or her home) may be sentenced to up to a year in prison. [UPDATE:  On 12/14/2018 the State’s nunchaku ban was held unconstitutional.  See The Eighth Post, above.]