Dumb laws

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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strange laws, futile laws, or unnecessary laws, are laws that are perceived to be useless, humorous or obsolete, i.e. no longer applicable (in regard to current culture or modern law).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Laws presented as "dumb laws" are laws that are perceived by the speaker to be useless, no longer applicable (in regard to current culture or modern law), or humorous.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 (see "External links" section). The "dumb laws" are also often circulated via e-mail chain letters. However, two books, You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws and The Book of Strange Laws and Curious Legal Oddities, appear to have been vetted for accuracy.[citation needed]


Common characteristics of these laws are prohibitions against seemingly benign behaviors (for example it is claimed that in California "bathhouses are against the law" [2]) or prohibitions against acts that one is realistically unlikely to carry out (such as an Arizona law prohibiting hunting camels, while camels are not native to North America[3]). However, a closer examination may reveal a sensible reason for such laws: California only bans bathhouses that encourage sex, in order to prevent the spread of AIDS;[4] and the Arizona law was designed to deal with aftereffects of the United States Camel Corps, an army experiment to use camels as a military animal in the desert southwest of the United States.[5]

Reasons for the existence of lists of "dumb laws"[edit]

There are two main reasons that references to false or inaccurate laws may persist:

1) exaggeration or misinterpretation of real provisions of law, and 2) common law cases

(1) Some of the purported "dumb laws" have no basis in reality, or are an exaggeration of real laws. For example, a reasonable law about the preservation of rare cactus species [6] may be presented as humorous statement that "There is a possible 25 years in prison for cutting down a cactus.".[7] The minor phenomenon's popularity is attested to by existing websites that generate the "dumb laws" at random.[8]

(2) Reports about 'dumb' laws often originate from case rulings issued in common law countries. The reason is that the court decision on a particular case may, for example, state that a dog-owner has to pay damages to his neighbors because his dog keeps barking at night and repeatedly disrupts their sleep. When taken out of the context, the 'dumb law' appears: "Dogs may not bark after 6 PM". Since in common law systems decisions of certain courts become precedents, such ruling is formally also included in the legal system and is considered a source of law.[citation needed]


  • That "sorority houses are illegal since more than a certain number of single females living together constitutes a brothel" has been debunked as fake.[9]
  • The state of Vermont has passed an act regulating how the state pie, apple pie should be served.[10]
  • The state of Arkansas dictates the pronunciation of the state name, as recorded by the French from native Americans.[11]

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".[12]

  • 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."[12] These three related urban legends frequently show up in lists of strange laws,[13] 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".[12] 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),[13] 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.[14]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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' [15]


  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. ^ "Dumb Laws in California. Crazy California Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  3. ^ "Dumb Laws in Arizona. Crazy Arizona Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  4. ^ "WAIS Document Retrieval". Leginfo.ca.gov. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  5. ^ Motor Transport Corps Archived 14 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "3-906 - Collection and salvage of protected plants; procedures, permits, tags and seals; duration; exception". Azleg.state.az.us. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  7. ^ "Dumb Laws in Arizona. Crazy Arizona Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  8. ^ "Program generating random "dumb laws"". Nonsense.sourceforge.net. 2001-02-25. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  9. ^ Barbara Mikkelson (23 June 2011). "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Brothel Laws Ban Sorority". Snopes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  10. ^ "No. 15. An Act Relating to Designating the State Pie and the State Fruit". Acts of the 1999-2000 Vermont Legislature. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  11. ^ "2010 Arkansas Code :: Title 1 - General Provisions :: Chapter 4 - State Symbols, Motto, Etc :: § 1-4-105 - Pronunciation of state name". Justia Law. Retrieved 2018-06-13. 
  12. ^ a b Bethan Bell (8 May 2016). "Buried diggers and knighted meat: Stubborn urban legends". BBC News. Retrieved 13 June 2018. 
  13. ^ "Where mince pies break the law..." BBC News. 23 December 2006. Retrieved 13 June 2018. 
  14. ^ King Alfred the Great and Shaftesbury Abbey'-Simon Keynes. Dorset County Council. 1999