John Stossel Says Give Me a Break to Dumb Laws

June 21, 2002 -- Going on a vacation this summer? Well, you might want to do some legal research before you go, because what you don't know could hurt you — at least from a lawmaker's standpoint.

Better not throw snowballs in Belton, Mo. It's illegal there. Flying a kite is illegal in Schaumburg, Ill. In Oregon and New Jersey it's illegal to pump our own gas.

Think government must run your life because you have no common sense? Apparently many of our legislators think that.

But life has risks, and politicians can't protect us from them all. If we don't want any risk in our lives, we'll become a nation of shut-ins.

Bingo & Booze Don't Mix

Legislators everywhere are busy trying to make life better … and safer, and they think passing laws will do that. So, in Kern County, Calif., they've made it illegal to play Bingo while drunk.

In Illinois you may not hunt bullfrogs with a firearm. And if you go to El Paso, Texas, you better not sell any ice from out of town. That's illegal.

I know about these laws because Andy Powell and Jeffrey Koon, recent high school graduates in Columbus, Ga., spent four years compiling a list of dumb laws for their Web site. Now, they've published their collection of stupid statutes in a book, You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws.

The laws are always well intended, but the result is that legislators create a spider web of little rules that stifle freedom.

Powell said he thinks legislators "think they're protecting us, but they're really just … regulating common sense."

In Tuscaloosa, Fla., Powell and Koon note, you can't give animals any alcoholic drink. In Honolulu it's illegal to annoy a bird.

Arkansas actually has a law against pronouncing their state name as "Ar-Kansas." That law is written in particularly arcane, pompous language. Powell said, "I'm convinced that these laws are written with this language to keep lawyers employed; they're written so that only lawyers can understand them."

You can't use a pogo stick on a city bus in Fairfax County, Va. I find it hard to believe that many people actually were eager to do that.

It's illegal to deface a milk carton in Massachusetts. Koon said, "They value their milk" there. A man with a moustache may not kiss a woman in Eureka, Ill.

Koon and Powell have asked legislators why they had passed these laws. But, Koon said, "We never get any response at all. They never answer to the laws that they make."

Powell said no legislator has ever replied to one of their e-mails. "They're too busy writing laws," he said.

Legislating Life's Littlest Details

The real outrage here is that the politicians waste their time and our money legislating the smallest details of our lives.

Politicians defend their nonstop lawmaking, saying they're just worried about our safety. The busybodies in Oregon and New Jersey say pumping your own gas is just too dangerous, it must be forbidden. It's a fire hazard. Yet somehow we manage, in 48 other states, to pump our own gas without blowing ourselves up.

Why can't they just govern the way the founders intended — guaranteeing, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but otherwise leaving us alone?

So, to all these politicians, over-involving themselves in our lives, I join these boys in saying, "Give me a break."