Dumb laws

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Dumb laws, also called weird laws, strange laws, futile laws, or unnecessary laws, are laws that are perceived to be useless, humorous or obsolete, i.e. no longer applicable (in regard to current culture or modern law). A number of books and websites purport to list dumb laws. These are in many cases based on misunderstandings, exaggerations or outright fabrications.

Reports of "dumb laws"[edit]

Laws presented as "dumb laws" are laws that are perceived by the speaker to be useless, no longer applicable (in regard to current culture or modern law), or humorous. There are relatively few real "dumb laws" on the books,[citation needed] but a large number of hoax or exaggerated dumb laws are circulated on the internet and in the print media.[1]

Several books have been written and numerous websites exist on the internet purporting to list "dumb laws" in various jurisdictions. The "dumb laws" are also often circulated via e-mail chain letters.


That "sorority houses are illegal since more than a certain number of single females living together constitutes a brothel" has been debunked as fake.[2] A myth that it is illegal to hunt camels in Arizona is loosely inspired by the true story of the United States Camel Corps, which tested the use of camels in the Southwest United States.[3]

United Kingdom[edit]

In March 2013, the Law Commission (England and Wales), which is tasked with abolishing obsolete and unnecessary laws to reform the legal system, published an informal document answering some frequently asked questions about the veracity of some alleged "legal oddities" or "legal curiosities".[4]

  • The Law Commission wrote that there is no law making it "legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford; or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight; or a Scotsman within the city walls of York, other than on a Sunday."[4] These three related urban legends frequently show up in lists of strange laws,[5] but there is no historical basis for them other than an alleged 1403 ordinance of the city of Chester, which supposedly imposed a curfew on Welshmen in the city in response to the Glyndŵr Rising. The Law Commission stated: "It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish (or any other) person regardless of the day, location or choice of weaponry".[4] In 2016, BBC News claimed these three laws were "of course" and "obviously" not applicable in modern times (neither confirming nor denying whether such laws actually exist or have ever existed),[5] although a 2006 BBC News article mentioned the two alleged anti-Welsh laws amongst a number of "strange-but-true laws" without giving any hint as to their modern non-applicability.[6]
  • On the other hand, the Commission confirmed it is illegal to wear a suit of armour in the Houses of Parliament according to the 1313 Statute forbidding Bearing of Armour.[4]
  • Alfred the Great's law code really did contain the law, 'If a man unintentionally kills another man by letting a tree fall on him, the tree shall be given to the kinsmen of the slain' [7]

United States[edit]

  • Supposedly, a law in Iowa limits the length of a kiss to five minutes. The law does not appear in the Iowa Legislature, but circulates online.[8]


  1. ^ For example, Reynolds, Patrick; Susan Dach (1993). Donkeys Can't Sleep in Bathtubs and Other Crazy Laws. [Mahwah, N.J.]: Watermill Press. ISBN 0-89375-264-9. among others.
  2. ^ Barbara Mikkelson (23 June 2011). "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Brothel Laws Ban Sorority". Snopes.com. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  3. ^ Hendley, Matthew (11 September 2013). "10 Arizona "Dumb Laws" That Are Complete Horse S**t". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  4. ^ a b Bethan Bell (8 May 2016). "Buried diggers and knighted meat: Stubborn urban legends". BBC News. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Where mince pies break the law..." BBC News. 23 December 2006. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  6. ^ King Alfred the Great and Shaftesbury Abbey'-Simon Keynes. Dorset County Council. 1999
  7. ^ Dan Evon (12 April 2016). "FACT CHECK: Law Limits Kisses to Five Minutes in Iowa". Snopes.com. Retrieved 31 December 2018.