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House votes to end ban on nunchucks

Martial-arts star Bruce Lee holds nunchucks in a scene from one of his movies.

Martial-arts star Bruce Lee holds nunchucks in a scene from one of his movies.

Arizona could soon lose the distinction of being one of only three states in the nation where two sticks tied together with a piece of chain or leather could land someone in state prison.

On a 42-17 margin Wednesday the state House voted to repeal laws which put “nunchucks” in the same category of illegal weapons as automatic weapons, silencers and sawed-off shotguns. Anyone possessing what’s on that list can end up with a Class 4 felony and a presumptive prison term of 2.5 years.

That lands SB1291 on the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the repeal is long overdue.

“One of the great mysteries of the criminal justice system is how nunchucks, two sticks connected by a thong or small chain, ever got added to the list of deadly weapons,” he said.

The back story appears to be that several states, including Arizona, adopted the ban in the 1970s as martial-arts movies were popular, with Bruce Lee becoming a bit of an icon for the genre. But Kavanagh, who was a police officer back East in New York – one of the states that also passed a ban – said that never made any sense.

“Criminals don’t carry nunchucks,” he said.

“The average person can do far more damage with a baseball bat than with a nunchuck,” Kavanagh continued. “In fact, the average person using a nunchuck will do more damage to his knees or his head than somebody he’s attacking.”

The opposition to the repeal was less over the question of whether nunchucks are deadly weapons and more about what the Legislature was not doing: tightening up other gun laws.

“This body has failed to have any kind of debate over meaningful, common-sense gun reform,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. She said that so far this year there have been more than 17,000 incidents of gun-related violence in this country and about 4,500 have been killed.

“Instead of figuring out the ways where we can save lives, we’re wasting time on nunchucks,” she chided colleagues.

“How many of our constituents have said, ‘You know what I really want the state Legislature to be focusing on? Taking off nunchucks as a prohibited weapon,’ ” Salman said. “Arizonans are wondering why their representatives, why their senators are not doing anything about the gun violence that is plaguing our places of employment, our schools from preschools to universities, our places of worship.”

But other Democrats focused instead on the issue at hand.

“I don’t believe that we are going to see a sudden spike in the use of nunchucks in violent crime,” said Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix. “I think that, overall, this bill is very benign.”

And Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said those who oppose the measure are missing the larger point about weapons in general. He said nunchucks don’t kill people any more than guns or sticks or pens.

“People kill people,” Fillmore said. And he had his own take on what should be a crime.

“If we want to outlaw something that’s dangerous and detrimental to our society, we should outlaw socialism, liberalism, fanatical religious proliferation,” he said.

Aside from Arizona, the other states that have a ban are California and Massachusetts. A ban in New York was struck down last December after a federal judge ruled it ran afoul of the Second Amendment.

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