[By Kevin Underhill:] Hunting squirrels with dynamite

July 9

It’s Day 3 of my weird-law guest-bloggery. (If you’re just joining us, on Day 1 we covered Pointless Declarations, and on Day 2 it was Old Laws Still on the Books.) Today, it’s not so much the laws themselves that are weird as the race of beings that created them in an effort to govern itself.

Here’s a good example: Delaware has a law that regulates tongue-splitting. What might tongue-splitting be, you might ask, assuming that it can’t possibly be what it sounds like? Oh, but it is exactly what it sounds like:

For the purposes of this section “tongue-splitting” means the surgical procedure of cutting a human tongue into 2 or more parts giving it a forked or multi-tipped appearance.

Okay then.

Context makes clear that the legislature is referring to a voluntary procedure, not (for example) an assault with intent to fork. And what that means, I would assume, is that at least one person in Delaware has actually asked to have his or her tongue split into two or more parts, giving it a forked or multi-tipped appearance. This was news to me, at least.

Now, it’s understandable that a legislature would want to regulate something like this, especially when young people are involved. After all, this kind of procedure is probably going to make most future job interviews a little awkward. To Delaware’s credit, in my view, it has not simply tried to ban the practice. If two consenting and unimpaired adults want to split tongues, I consider that none of my business. Instead, Delaware has simply tried to ensure that any tongue-splitting is carried out by a qualified professional, and that the splittee is neither under the influence nor a minor. To that end, only a licensed doctor or dentist may split; anyone else doing so is guilty of “tongue-splitting in the first degree.” If the splittee is under the influence or is a minor, that is second-degree tongue-splitting. (Parental consent is a defense to the latter charge, which I guess is good news for circus families.)

My point is, I would classify that (and have) as a “weird law,” but technically the law itself is not weird at all. It is a fairly rational approach to a thing that is weird. You could argue this is (hopefully) too rare for a legislature to bother with, but it’s hard to fault what this one came up with.

I would put in this same category Connecticut’s law that forbids hunting squirrels with dynamite:

No person shall take or attempt to take any gray squirrel, rabbit or other fur-bearing animal protected by law by the use of … dynamite or other explosive compound, or by fire, smoke, brimstone, sulphur, gas or chemical ….

Again, I infer from the existence of this law that someone in Connecticut has actually done this. With tongue-splitting, at least, it’s possible that Delaware was acting preemptively to prevent something that no one in Delaware had yet done. You might hear a rumor of tongue-splitting and immediately start writing a bill to regulate it because of its sheer creepiness. But the Connecticut law seems much more likely to be based on at least one actual incident in which someone blew up a squirrel. (And probably something or someone else in the process.)

One could take the position that dead is dead, whether the squirrel was shot (which is specifically permitted), blown up, set on fire, or subjected to chemical warfare. But Connecticut has decided that the rules of civilized warfare should extend at least in part to squirrels, rabbits, and other protected fur-bearing animals. And that is fine with me.

North Carolina taxes the proceeds of rattlesnake-milking exhibitions. Apparently, then, some people milk rattlesnakes, and other people pay to see it. Those seem like reasonable inferences. New Orleans has fairly extensive rules about what cannot be thrown at a parade. Beads are okay. Spears, cardboard boxes, doubloons, marine life, rodents, and “sexually-oriented devices” are not. They are specifically listed as not okay. Same inferences. Where do you even get a doubloon these days, and if you got one, why would you throw it?

In California you can not only make a citizen’s arrest, if you are after a felon a law authorizes you to break into a house in order to make the arrest (you have to ask first). Does that sound like a good idea? I don’t think so. And as evidence that it isn’t, I would cite the very next section of the Penal Code, which authorizes one who has broken into a house for that purpose to “break open the door or window thereof if detained therein, when necessary for the purpose of liberating himself.” (Emphasis added.) The only conclusion I can reach here is that in at least one case, a private citizen broke into someone else’s house to pursue an alleged felon, not too surprisingly then had the tables turned on him, then had the opportunity to break back out again but either (1) didn’t for fear of prosecution or (2) was actually prosecuted for doing so. I just don’t see a legislator making this one up.

You get the idea. My point is that for some weird laws, we may not be able to blame the legislators too much. Some weird laws may be weird only because of the underlying weirdness of humanity itself.

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Will Baude | July 9