How to find out if something is illegal
“Is it legal to own a decorative weapon in my state?” is a question we have been asked many times. Unfortunately there’s an enormous mess of laws limiting our freedoms in the United States, and there’s no practical way to know for sure if ANYTHING is fully legal. Your freedoms are limited by federal statutory, administrative, and judicial laws, state statutory, administrative, and judicial laws, city statutory, administrative, and judicial laws, and county statutory, administrative, and judicial laws, just to name a few. These twelve types of laws plus various other types of laws are all written down in different places, with no single resource listing all of them. Some of the laws at different levels may be in direct conflict with each other, redundant, or so vague that a law you never would have suspected might be used to limit your freedom to do something completely unrelated to the original intent and wording of the law.
When the United States was started (specifically, in the 10th amendment), the intention was to create a unification of independent states and allow the states to self-govern, hence the term “United States”. This would have been fine and was a great and necessary idea at the time, but unfortunately two things have happened since then. The states were short-sightedly given the ability to create separate jurisdictions (commonly counties and cities) with their own sets of laws. These jurisdictions, and consequentially the laws that govern a particular parcel of land, may overlap in completely nonsensical ways. The second thing that happened is that the federal government began introducing a large number of their own laws, limiting the freedom of the people directly. The federal government has also gained more influence over the states through state funding activities, most notably highway dollars.
Another cornerstone of the United States is the system of common law (specifically the 7th amendment) which means that once a legal precedent is created, it must be followed in other civil trials. Essentially this creates a second category of laws at all levels called judicial, or common law. The third category of law, administrative law, is typically created by government agencies that regulate certain things, such as the EPA, which have completely separate sets of regulations limiting what individuals and companies can do. The result is that there are almost always at least four tiers of laws (federal, state, county, city) with at least three types of laws each (statutory, administrative, judicial) that limit your freedoms. Consider two hundred years of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges trying to further their careers by passing as many laws as possible in all 12 of these categories, and the mess that we now have begins to come into focus.
Because of this system, simple questions like “Can I leave my porch light on after midnight?” “Do I need to keep my dog on a leash?” “Is it OK to own a decorative sword?” are simply impossible to answer conclusively. This is why lawyers make so much money. The system creates opportunities to classify almost anything as illegal, but also the ability to get out of almost anything, depending on how much lawyer you can afford. Aside from giving great power and invincibility to those who can afford it, another consequence is that any time you find yourself being treated unfairly or unjustly by any hand of the government, it will cost you a fortune to preserve your rights and simple liberties. The fact is that if a rogue city, county or state, or even the federal government wants to pass statutory, judicial, or administrative laws that are in direct conflict with the constitution, they can. If an individual wants to bring the law to justice, it will cost millions of dollars and thousands of hours to take it to the Supreme Court, and the penalty to the sanctioning body will be practically nothing. In fact, the Supreme Court has approximately 8000 cases and petitions each year, but only issues a formal written opinion in 80 of them.
The very best thing you can do is to relax your opinion of the law. Trying to follow them all is a pointless and impossible endeavor. In fact, in this writer’s estimation, the average American breaks at least five laws per day, and there is no American citizen over 30 who has never broken any law. Typically, obviously, people do not get caught for the minor laws that they violate, and when they do get caught for their first offense, the penalty is minor or none.
Think you adhere to every law? Let’s look at some of the things that may be illegal in your country, state, county, or city, that are illegal in some places in the United States.
Speeding, use of mobile phone while driving, hanging anything from your rearview mirror, listening to headphones while riding a bicycle, running red lights (even at 3 AM after coming to a complete stop), not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign (and this means complete), jaywalking, gambling (even among friends in a casual poker game), littering, spitting on the sidewalk, throwing used razor blades in the garbage, downloading MP3’s, movies or video games, swearing in public, selling or renting a house built before 1978 without providing a lead poisoning pamphlet to the buyer, allowing weeds to grow in your back yard, purchasing alcohol under 21, possession of any amount of marijuana, possessing cigarettes under the age of 18, oral sex, anal sex, sex with a 17 year old when you are 19 years old, failure to file a timely tax return, failure to report income from tips, side “cash” income, EBay sales, garage sales, or gambling winnings, failure to pay sales tax on EBay sales, selling your car, or garage sales, having a garage sale without a permit, hiring illegal immigrants even if you didn’t know it, government workers accepting any gifts for any reason, possession of unauthorized software (even if you didn’t know it was unauthorized), stealing a disposable pen from your place of work, having a pet in public without a leash, leaving your porch light on after midnight, no front license plate on your car, tinting your windows, failure to purchase auto insurance, carrying a pocketknife in a school, airport, or park, firing a BB gun, modifying an automotive exhaust, modifying an automotive suspension system (lowering or lifting your car or SUV), failure to signal when changing lanes, driving in the left lane of the freeway when there is nobody in the right lane, honking your horn excessively and not wearing a seatbelt (back seat passengers too!) These are just a few of the things that may be illegal in your area.