5 Things You Wrongly Thought Were Illegal
If you get your information from furious YouTubers, men yelling at gas stations and disgraced news organizations, you might think that there’s no freedom left in America anymore. But that’s simply not true: We’ve got access to a whole spread of base freedoms that plenty of people in other countries would (and do) kill for. If you disagree, feel free to join up with your local Libertarians and enjoy their many mind-expanding discussions about how drivers’ licenses should be illegal and we need to change the age of consent.
In fact, bundled in with all those freedoms are plenty of things that common sense would seem to dictate would be illegal, but you’re actually free to perform in front of a billowing American flag if you so desire. That’s right, even under the iron-clad, draconian, varicose-vein-riddled fist of Let’s Go Brandon! I swear, it’s like you can’t even shatter a Capitol window anymore.
Here are five unexpectedly legal things in the United States, but first a quick disclaimer: I am, quite obviously to anyone that’s ever met me, not a lawyer. Don’t call me from jail if you decide to put these into use.
I wonder how many of those pick-up trucks with Punisher stickers also rock a radar detector. You’d think they’d want to proudly pick up speeding tickets while saluting, so that they can further fund our sterling police force. But I digress. Radar detectors in cars sure seem like something that would be illegal, given that cops don’t generally take kindly to evading them. In almost every state in the U.S., though, radar detectors are legal. The only exceptions are Virginia (where you can have them in a car, as long as they’re off and out of reach of occupants) and Washington, D.C., which makes sense, given that security generally steps up within spitting distance of the president.
The key word here, though, is detector. It’s legal to have a friendly, speed-loving robot that lets you know when to slow down, but it has to be passive. Any device that actually emits radar signals of its own, or jams them, is super-duper illegal. Driving in your own little makeshift faraday cage is fine, but you’re not allowed to rip down the freeway, EMPing cops willy-nilly. They can even interfere with airplane communication, and nobody wants a false mayday because some guy in a Wrangler wants to hear that kitty purr. Getting caught isn’t a slap on the wrist either — it’s a federal offense that can cost you 50k in fines or prison time.
Is Rainman a criminal? Absolutely not. Card counting, the official hobby of nerds gone bad, is completely legal, in Vegas or out of Vegas. If you’re blessed with a brain that didn’t get curb-stomped by your first calculus class like mine did, there’s no law preventing you from putting your wet upstairs number-cruncher to casino use. Technically, you’re not cheating in any way, you’re just playing the odds incredibly intelligently.
The reason so many people think it’s illegal, though, is because of a few caveats: First, it has to be completely internal. As soon as you use a single non-brain tool to help, well, you’re cheatin’, and perhaps in for a beatin’. The other reason people generally think it’s illegal is their mental image of a card-counter’s kneecaps being shattered in a back room, and while that’s unlikely nowadays, successful card counters can and will be asked to leave the casino. Casinos are private businesses, and they’re completely within their rights to ask you to leave for any reason.
If you refuse, don’t be surprised if they move straight to charging you with trespassing or disorderly conduct and frogwalk you straight out onto the pavement.
Not as much a media representation as a general knee-jerk thought of, “that can’t be allowed” is the ownership of a flamethrower. A weapon that’s imagined as being wielded by a cackling maniac striding through rubble in a traumatic flashback just seems like something that would be tightly controlled. Not the case! There’s some murky, complicated regulations about flame length and the like, but for the most part, flamethrowers are widely legal across the U.S.
It’s not just because of some very fun loophole, either. The fact is, even if in my head they’re most often attached to a combat mech, flamethrowers have a spread of genuine uses. Mostly clearing pesky underbrush, though I’m absolutely sure it still feels fucking awesome to fire one off. Pretending said weeds are actually a tiny, conquered city, falling beneath your feet? Also legal! Thoughts aren’t a crime… YET.
Schools Spanking Your Kid
Attitudes toward spanking, or other forms of corporal punishment, waver a bit depending on your culture and old-fashionedness. Still, at this point, in the year of our lord 2023, you’d think that at the very least, anyone smacking a kid that’s not theirs is solidly in trouble. So you might be surprised that there’s plenty of schools in the United States where it’s perfectly legal for the staff to physically abuse your sweet child without your permission!
These schools, which are, not shockingly, heavily clustered in the South, have mostly at least implemented forms in which parents can opt in or out of the practice. Still, whether or not an English teacher can whoop the shit out of your kid feels like something that shouldn’t be left to a glorified permission slip. Without a clear paper trail, even lawsuits aren’t likely to hold up, since Uncle Sam gives the thumbs up on in-school spankings.
Mailing Literal Poop
Yes, you can legally mail someone a box of shit. This seems like something that would cross over from just laws stopping bad behavior into a public health or CDC issue, but it’s not explicitly forbidden. I’m not twisting some law built around shipping manure, either: You can send someone a single, stinky turd in a box. The only catch: You have to prove it was all in good fun. Otherwise, it very unsurprisingly falls under the realm of harassment.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts.