Sunday, November 16, 2008

Regulating Ninjas

When ninja socks are criminalized, only criminals will have ninja socks.

Apropos of the political season, I've been studying the restrictions on various items in various states around the country. I was inspired by this page on saying New York and California ban anything vaguely associated with the famous but actually-pretty-marginal Japanese martial art of Ninjutsu. (For a comparison, read up on Daitō-ryū_Aiki-jūjutsu, a non-marginal Japanese school).

Many people may be aware that New York and California ban possession of nunchuku*. Nunchuku, for those unfamiliar, are two short sticks connected at their ends with a piece of string or rope. The story linked above describes a case in California where the police came into the home of a martial arts instructor and demanded he surrender all his connected sticks. Subsequently he pled no contest to a single count of possession of nunchuku and was sentenced to jail.

(* In California, martial arts schools, but not individuals, may possess two small sticks connected by string.)

Remind me not to even visit California. Like my partner John, I practiced martial arts for many years and somewhere around the Adios Airways HQ I have several pairs of practice nunchuku - lightweight plastic, covered with foam rubber, couldn't hurt anyone if they tried. Those could get me 1 year in jail for each pair in California (or New York, where Eliot Spitzer demanded the manufacturers in Florida and Georgia turn over the names and addresses of all their customers who had purchased the linked-sticks in New York).

Reading the California penal code (section 12020), I discovered that not only nunchuku, but also:
any metal knuckles, any belt buckle knife, any
leaded cane, any zip gun, any shuriken, any unconventional pistol,
any lipstick case knife, any cane sword, any shobi-zue, any air gauge
knife, any writing pen knife, any metal military practice
handgrenade or metal replica handgrenade, or any instrument or weapon
of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, billy,
sandclub, sap, or sandbag.
The good news is that I cannot find any actual language in the California penal code that bans socks, whether or not they are Ninja Socks.

I don't even know what a "slungshot" is, but it would seem that California intends to ban slingshots (although that would be an interesting legal case: Little Billy v. the Government of the State of California over possession of a slingshot, not a "slungshot".)

I didn't know what they meant by a "shobi-zue", but research indicates it is a stick with a blade attached, AKA a spear. (John maybe you can help - as far as I can tell, the term is jibberish in Japanese or Chinese). I'm not sure where they get their definitions of these things, so a traditional spear (with a sharpened wooden point) might still be OK, but my guess is they'd put you away for possession of an indian-style spear with a flint arrowhead. The same source indicates that a "slungshot" is not a slingshot, but a different type of weapon no one has ever heard of.

Additionally, California's section 12020 bans sandbags (?!? - I guess they don't have hurricanes out there. No wonder they have such problems with mudslides.), saps (a broad category meaning "anything heavy with which you might hit someone"), and "billys", which apparently can mean any stick. No visiting California with the cut-off broom handle I use to close my hurricane shutters!

Cross-checking New York law reveals a very dangerous place to possess a stick, two sticks connected with string, or a sandbag as well:

A person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree when:

1) He possesses any firearm, electronic dart gun, electronic stun gun, gravity knife, switchblade knife, pilum ballistic knife, metal knuckle knife, cane sword, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, metal knuckles, chuka stick, sand bag, sandclub, wrist-brace type slingshot or slungshot, shirken or "Kung Fu star"; or

(2) He possesses any dagger, dangerous knife, dirk, razor, stiletto, imitation pistol, or any other dangerous or deadly instrument or weapon with intent to use the same unlawfully against another;
If Little Billy visited New York with his toy cap pistol he'd be in deep doo-doo. Also New York is much more specific - his slingshot is definitely illegal, as would be a "slungshot", if anyone knew what it was.

What's the point of all of this? It's that some very bad laws sometimes get made, and subsequently otherwise non-criminals get punished for breaking said bad laws. Those laws are almost never un-made - usually quite the contrary: every time prosecutors are able to get a plea out of aforementioned non-criminals, more bad precedents are set.

Compounding this problem is the "shadowing", where various things that aren't actually prohibited (like Ninja socks) are lumped together with things that are, including by law enforcement:

Attend a PTA meeting or a high school football game with a small buck folding knife in your pocket or handbag, or even a tiny pocket knife on your key chain, and you are subject to the same legal disqualifications meted out to murderers and rapists. If there is even a small pocket knife in your pocket or car when you drive your child to school, or perhaps exercise your right to vote (many jurisdictions' plots are located in school buildings), various rights which you may have thought to be "inalienable" may be in jeopardy...

Ejusdim generis - Latin for "the same kind." It is common technique in writing laws to specifically list various prohibited items followed by a general inclusive term. For instance, you may find a statute which prohibits "any dagger, dirk, switch-blade, gravity knife, buton knife, cutting instrument the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or other such implement". Under the rule of ejusdem generis, "other such implement" could not legitimately be read to include for instance a drop point fixed blade hunting knife. In other words, the drop point fixed blade hunting knife is not of the same kind or class as the specifically listed items such as the dagger, dirk, switch-blade, military knife or fighting knife, etc. However, you must be careful. In construing a New York statute prohibiting the possession of a dagger, dirk, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto, automatic knife, butterfly knife or any other dangerous weapon, an ice pick was found to be a "dangerous weapon" under the principle of ejusdem generis.
My concern is that the incoming government, both congress and the executive branch, overtly state that they wish to broadly expand the power and role of the federal government in our lives. That means more laws, which inevitably means more bad laws that will never get un-made.

Wouldn't it be great if they could occupy themselves with the Ninja Rights Agenda instead?


Nathan said...

For better or worse, most of the laws you're citing seem to be on the books for selective enforcement. I certainly don't see the cops running around NY specifically looking for violations but when someone is arrested for some other infraction, it's a way to pile on, or in some cases, where the original issue may not have risen to actual law-breaking, (i.e. being an annoying obnoxious asshole in public), it might provide the excuse needed for an arrest.

The unfortunate thing about these laws is that they presuppose a police force that is always reasonable, rational and discerning. Yeah, that's always the case. [/sarcasm]

Nathan said...

And my captcha was "rasest". I resent that!

Konstantin said...

With all the "mafia" running around it is strange that no one has ever outlawed Louisville Sluggers.

John the Scientist said...

Well, I don't know what martial arts you studied, CW, but those of us on the Korean side have walays preferred the short stick (I even studied Escrima for a bit), and moderately good guy with a jo can make a good guy with the chuks hit himself in the head 4 times out of 5. I, of course, use 2 jo Philippines style. :D

Nunchucks are actually a great weapon to have legal. Unless you train with them extensively, they are more a menace to the one wielding them than to the attackee. But because of Bruce Lee et al., they are also flypaper for the stupid. Everyone wins when chucks are ubiquitous! Attackers knock themselves in the head :p

This stuff crawls up my backside, too. Let's take all the handy weapons out of everyone's hands so that self-defense comes down to firearms, shall we? And in the spirit of my crusade against Trojan Numbers, just how many of these crimes are we talking about? I'd be surprised if they even amounted to 10 per year.

And CW, I don't know what the hell a shobi-zue is, and apparently, neither do police officers. By some closer reading of the statute, it seems to refer to sword canes and the like. A quick search of Japanese Google revealed nothing. I suspect that some martial artist consulted in the making of this law saw it for the piece of crap it is and fed the lawmakers a line of shit. OR the only martial artist "adviser" they could get was one of those guys who made it up to blue belt, then "promoted" himself to black and opened his own school, telling tales about how deadly he is.

CW said...

Further research suggests the dreaded "shobi-zue" is a corruption of "shinobi-zue", which is, I suspect, a made-up term. It seems to refer to a staff with a hidden blade used in Ninjutsu.

John I studied both Korean and Japanse... started out in Moo Duk Kwan, which was (at the time) an excellent hybrid of taekwondo and aikido.

Certainly I agree about the nunchuku - they are mostly silly as weapons, useful mainly to improve coordination and learn kata. Practically anything is more effective as a weapon.

The law also bans shuriken, which I believe is intended to mean those silly throwing stars, which, unless you have one the size of a frisbee, are pretty stupid as well. Of course that is ignorant too, as "shuriken" could also be legitimately defined as things like tent pegs. No more tent pegs in California!

Meanwhile I can find no evidence of anyone using nunchuku, shuriken, or the terrifying "shobi-zue" (much less a "slungshot") in any real crimes. The closest I can find is cases of the police hassling kids for dressing up as ninjas and skulking around the mall.

John the Scientist said...

Ah, that would be shinobi tsue (つえ) not tzue (づえ) or zue (ずえ).

In Japanese, this:


Shinobi means sneaky or stealthy. The more common Japanese term for the thing is actually shikomi tsue:


shikomi being "preparation" or "being prepared" in this context.

I stand by my guesses of how they even got the name of the thing into the statute. It's not like Ninjutsu is even a widely popular style in this country.

My black belt is in Tae Kwon Do, but I've also studied Gojyu Ryu and Judo. And I don't speak Korean, other than dojo Korean taught to me by former Marines, which is probably horrible.

It's kinda scary how similar our backgrounds are, seeing as we've never met and our lives traveled such different paths...

John the Scientist said...

Nathan - you discriminate against NASCAR fans?

CW said...

Hahahaha... it took my very limited intellect a while to catch that one :)

Also shikomi tsue makes a whole lot more sense. I figured "shinobi zue" came from shinobi no mono, aka ninja.

Carol Elaine said...

California's section 12020 may ban sandbags, but it's definitely not enforced, because those who live on the coast in SoCal use sandbags at whenever we have mudslides, which was every damned year for a while.

Anonymous said...

I'm in court right now for felony possesion of Shuriken, slungshot, and metal knuckles.
Fuck California.