Silly Laws That Are Actually Still Laws in 2019

Amber Garrett - Author

Jun. 24 2019, Updated 5:41 p.m. ET

silly string thumbnail
Source: iStock

What seems important to us now — so important that "there oughtta be a law" — may be moot or completely ridiculous in a few decades. Just ask whoever thought it was necessary to ban the consumption of frogs who die in frog-jumping competitions. That's a real thing that's illegal in California, so don't even try it.

Most legislative bodies have the power to repeal or amend laws that are no longer of use, yet a lot of ordinances that have been rendered either obsolete or ridiculous remain technically legal though rarely, if ever, enforced. While a lot of these "strange laws" on other sites are urban legends or have long since been repealed, these 15 laws are still technically on the books in their jurisdictions as of the time of this writing.

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1. Want to pawn your artificial limb? Stay out of Delaware.

Personally, I think you should be allowed to do whatever you want with your prosthetics, but in Delaware, it's illegal to pawn or sell to a scrap metal collector any artificial limb or wheelchair. Scrap metal collectors also face some restrictions around purchasing cemetery urns and grave markers, you'll be happy to know. However, if the seller provides "appropriate authorization from a relevant business or unit of federal, state, or local government specifically authorizing the individual to conduct the transaction," then it's OK. 

2. Mobile, Ala. made silly string and "snap pops" illegal.

silly string
Source: iStock

Next you'll tell me Mobile made fun illegal! But it's true, there is a specific statute banning the sale, use, or manufacture of "spray string" aka silly string. I'm guessing one very lit party led to the legislative city council pushing this one through. They also outlawed "snap pops," by which I assume they mean the tiny firecrackers you throw on the ground that make a popping noise, but they could also mean two of the three Rice Krispies mascots. There is no city ordinance against "Crackle," however.

3. Californians can't eat jumping frogs.

The Gold Rush town of Angels Camp has been hosting the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee for years, and I'm sure that's probably the setting of the origin story behind this line in the state's Fish and Game Code:

"Any person may possess any number of live frogs to use in frog-jumping contests, but if such a frog dies or is killed, it must be destroyed as soon as possible, and may not be eaten or otherwise used for any purpose."

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4. It's illegal to eat fried chicken with a fork in Gainesville, La.

Personally I agree it's wrong to eat fried chicken with anything but your hands, but I don't think anyone needs to go to jail over it. The town made it officially verboten in 1961 in an effort to establish their cred as the poultry capital of the world. In 2009, a 91-year-old woman, who was visiting for her birthday, was "arrested" as a practical joke for breaking the law. Local law enforcement sentenced her "to come back to Gainesville often and ... eat lots of Gainesville chicken." 

...With her fingers, of course.

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5. You can't use an X-ray to fit someone for shoes in Nevada.

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Source: iStock

It seems pretty excessive to use an X-ray just to find out if someone needs a 9 or a 9 1/2, but X-ray fluoroscopes were all the rage for finding the perfect fit in the early 20th century. However, they exposed the customer to a dangerous amount of radiation, not to mention they weren't actually all that effective. Nevada took the step to ban them outright. The law remains on the books, even if the danger of someone at Foot Locker offering to X-ray you is pretty narrow.

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6. Don't mess with the Star-Spangled Banner in Massachusetts.

It is fully illegal to butcher the National Anthem in the Bay State. The statute prohibits remixing it and you have to play it in its entirety or you could incur a $100 fine. It can only be played "as a whole and separate composition or number, without embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies." So no patriotic medleys in Massachusetts I guess!

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7. You can't buy a car on Sunday in Iowa.

car sales sunday
Source: iStock

There was a push last year to lift the ban on Sunday sales of motor homes, but the bill was sent back to the committee without recommendation and it remains illegal as of this writing. Weirdly, you can buy a trailer camper but if your recreational vehicle can propel itself, you'll have to wait til Monday to sell it or, in fact, any motor vehicle.

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8. Spitting on the sidewalk is illegal in Lawrence, Kan.

Chapter 9, Article 1 of the city code bars expectorating on the floor, any public conveyance, or sidewalk. I'm sure laws like this make the sidewalks in towns like Lawrence quite lovely, but quick question — how is this enforced? I suppose if a police officer were to catch you in the act, which takes place in the span of a second or two — they might be able to cite you for it. I'm just trying to picture anyone trying to enforce this law in a city like, say, New York, where spit on the sidewalk doesn't even crack the top 10 of "gross things on the sidewalk."

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9. You can't dance in a Maine bar unless they have a "special amusement" license.

dancing in bars maine
Source: iStock

There was a time Mainers didn't want you doing anything but drinking in a bar, but they've since amended this statute to allow dancing and singing if it's in the form of karaoke. Weirdly, that still leaves "dancing to music playing on the jukebox" in the prohibited category. My initial guess is that this law was intended to prevent strip clubs from opening in the Ocean State, but apparently there are several, so I guess they got themselves "special amusement" licenses.

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10. No sex out of wedlock in Virginia!

The old tourism slogan for the state is "Virginia is for lovers," but I guess they should've been more specific. I doubt it's ever enforced and it's only a Class 4 Misdemeanor, but "fornication," i.e., sex out of wedlock, is still technically a punishable crime in the Code of Virginia. 

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11. No getting drunk on trains in Michigan.

drinking on train michigan
Source: iStock

Wow, don't tell Michigan lawmakers about Amtrak on Friday evenings in the NY-DC corridor. Anyone who has ridden the Acela or really any commuter rail route in the Northeast after work hours can attest this would possibly lead to a general strike across New England and the Mid-Atlantic. But in the state of Michigan, it's illegal to tie one on while riding the rails.

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12. You can't barter away minors in Pennsylvania, but the punishment is minor.

Let's be clear: selling or otherwise trafficking a child is super illegal in every state on the federal level. It's also an international human rights violation. But it's also punishable by law in the state of Pennsylvania... but it's only a first-degree misdemeanor. Basically, it's a slap on the wrist, so my question is... why bother with this law at all? Pennsylvania is about as against human trafficking as Lawrence, Kan. is against spitting on sidewalks.

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13. Duel participants can't hold office in Kentucky or Tennessee.

hamilton burr duel
Source: Getty Images

Dueling was a much bigger problem a couple hundred years ago than it is today, so at least two states have it codified that no one who has participated in such a dispute can hold public office. At least in the state of Kentucky, there was real cause for such a law. Two Kentucky Senators, Henry Clay and Humphrey Marshall, dueled each other during an 1809 legislative session, each suffering minor injuries. And you thought the vibe in the current Senate was acrimonious.

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14. In Texas, you don't have to be present at your own wedding.

Texas has something called a proxy marriage, which allows one or both parties to be absent from the ceremony. This is only legal in four states — Texas, Montana, Kansas, and Colorado, and is most often used in the case of military deployment or when one party is imprisoned. Basically, someone stands in for the party or parties who cannot attend, provided there is a notarized and signed affidavit that the absent party cannot be there and that the person in their stead is authorized to act on their behalf.

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15. Astrology is illegal in Yamhill, Ore.

tarot yamhill or
Source: iStock

A city statute prohibits the practice of the "occult arts" in the town just southwest of Portland. That means no palm reading, astrology, and no fortune telling, unless it's being done for fundraising purposes at a church bazaar or other charity function. 

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