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What Are Some Things That Are Legal, But People Think Are Illegal?


By: Thorin Klosowski

At a glance, the laws of the United States seem pretty straightforward. After all, you probably can’t keep a flamethrower around or have a pet tiger, right? Actually, in some states, you can. With that in mind, let’s make a list of some of the things you’ve always thought were illegal but are actually totally okay to do.

Radar Detectors

Only illegal in DC and Virgina. Everywhere else just fine to use them. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked me “aren’t those illegal?”.

Driving Barefoot

Though some police officers will attempt to illegally ticket you for driving barefoot, it is actually legal in all 50 states, Canada, and the UK. I worked at a traffic school one summer and literally every class, somebody asked if it was legal to drive barefoot. Google has about half a million results on the topic, so it’s obviously a widespread misconception that you can get a ticket for it. You may get a ticket if your choice of shoeware, or lack thereof, caused an accident and a police officer may scold you, but it’s definitely legal.


Surprisingly, there is no outright law against eating flesh. Most of the charges of course are for murder, etc. Yet, if someone willingly gave you permission to hack off a piece of flesh and eat it, there is no law that I have found preventing that. I found this out a few years ago, so unless things have changed I believe this is correct information.

Defacing U.S. Currency

This is not illegal. Neither is this:

What is illegal is defacing a bill to make it appear to be one of a larger denomination. You can do all the douchy things you want to money, including setting them on fire to light cigars, drilling holes in pennies to use as washers (cheaper than a trip to the hardware store), etc., as long as you are not committing some kind of fraud in doing so.

Although, they did pass a law (a regulation, actually) against melting down pennies and nickels for the metals they contain, since the metal is worth more than the coin. If everybody did this, the Mint couldn’t possibly keep enough of these coins in circulation.

Owning a tiger

Its a state-by-state thing but, generally, you need to – at most – register it. And a lot of places you can just have it.


As an attorney, I think all Americans need to understand this simple fact: The U.S. Constitution DOES NOT prohibit any private entity from engaging in “unconstitutional” acts, with two very narrow exceptions.

The first exception, no private entity can enslave a person. That is a violation of the 13th Amendment.

The second exception, where a private entity fills the roles that are traditionally left to government (i.e. private prisons, etc…), these entities may be held liable for constitutional violations.

That is it.

Gun Silencers are legal in 39 states

Lock Picks.

Very few states have laws against owning or using lock picks. In the few that do it normally a case of it being illegal to sell your services as a locksmith without a license.

In most places, the police would have to prove criminal intent to arrest or fine your for their possession.

So, don’t leave home without them.

Owning a Tank (or other military vehicles)

Yes, I’m serious – owning a tank is perfectly legal in most areas. However, there are restrictions. For starters, the cannon is generally required to be deactivated, rendered inoperable. However, you can get certain permissions to have a functional cannon, but in practice that’s unlikely for a private citizen. The machine gun that most tanks are issued with is also a legal hassle, although it is actually legal to own a machine gun as well (some states have state-level prohibitions, but only a minority of states) so it’s possible to purchase a machine gun and then install it yourself.

With the right permits and rubber tracks instead of steel tracks, they are even legal on certain roads. Ex-soviet T-72s generally start at $50,000 (no, I’m not missing a zero there) plus importation and restoration costs. There are cheaper tank-like vehicles in the $15,000 to $30,000 range such as the ex-Soviet BMP series of infantry fighting vehicles, which aren’t technically tanks but I doubt you’ll notice the distinction when you’re driving around in your armored, tracked, turreted fighting vehicle. These are often imported from former Warsaw Pact states that sold their military equipment off as surplus; East German, Polish, and Czech vehicles are very common on the market.

Refusing questions at traffic checkpoints.

Okay, so this doesn’t apply to the actual border, where you’d have to show passport, to gain entry to the US. But in states like Arizona, there’s checkpoints that are maybe 25, or 50 miles away from the border. These checkpoints are in breach of the ‘Freedom of Movement’ law. This law states that US citizens should be able to travel through these types of traffic stops (and other stops such as DUI checkpoints), without having to answer any questions.

 Corporeal Punishment

You’d really think that in 2014, corporeal punishment in school would be banned completely, but it’s legal in 19 states in the U.S. That said, most school systems have banned the practice even in states that allow it. Still, in those 19 states, teachers can spank or paddle students with everything ranging from taped-together rulers to shaved-down baseball bats.

Corporeal punishment? Are they going to take my soul, or make my live in this body for eternity? Tell me more about corporeal punishment.

lol WHOOPS Long day and can’t edit now, we’re just gonna stick to it
Removing the Tag From a Mattress 

Ever since I was a kid, I always heard that it was illegal to remove a mattress tag. Turns out that’s totally not true. I’m not sure where or why this myth got started, but it seems like it’s mostly based on poor wording. Mental Floss explains:

The government countered with a new regulation. Tags now had to have the do-not-remove warning, and federal regulations made it unlawful to “remove or mutilate, or cause or participate in the removal or mutilation of, prior to the time any textile fiber product is sold and delivered to the ultimate consumer, any stamp, tag, label, or other identification required” on them. “Any person violating this section,” the regulation continues, “shall be guilty of an unfair method of competition, and an unfair or deceptive act or practice, under the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

The tag on a mattress is meant to protect the consumer from buying a used (or just gross) mattress and is meant solely for the mattress seller, not the person buying it. So, after you’ve purchased that mattress, tear away.

Counting Cards

Card counting is a strategy in blackjack where the player counts off cards to get a probably advantage of what the next card will be. It’s not exactly clear why people think this is illegal, but most casinos frown upon the practice. In Las Vegas, they can ban you from a casino for card counting, but Atlantic City can’t do anything about it. That said, most casinos have countermeasures to thwart would-be card counters, including harassment, changing the percentage of cars, and finding high-speed dealers. Still, while you might get kicked out of some casinos for doing it, the actual act of card counting is totally legal.

Riding in the Back of a Pickup Truck

I’ve always heard that it’s illegal to ride in the back of a pickup truck because of seatbelt laws, but it turns out that’s only the case in certain states. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, several states, including, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming have no laws about riding in the back of a pickup truck at all.

Others, like Colorado, Georgia, and countless others, have light restrictions like requiring that everyone in the car is over a certain age, the vehicle is totally enclosed, or if it’s work related. So, check in on your state’s specific laws at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, you might just be able to ride happily in the back after all.

A Police Officer Has to Identify Themselves

Movies and TVs have taught us that an undercover police officer has to identify themselves when asked. That’s simply not true. A police officer is allowed to lie about their status when they’re undercover and they can tell lies when needed to get information. That said, police officers do have to identify themselves when they’re taking a legal action against you or if they’re in uniform. Slate explains:

Yes. Massachusetts law requires police officers to carry identification cards and present them upon request. Officers are also required to wear a “badge, tag, or label” with their name and/or identifying number. The law is aimed at precisely the situation in question—suspects who feel their rights are being violated. Few other states impose this requirement on their officers as a matter of law, but many individual police departments, such as the New York Police Department, have adopted it (PDF) as a matter of policy.

So, next time you’re in the seedy underbelly of your city, don’t expect a police officer to identify themselves just because you ask politely.

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