EDITORIAL: From yard sales to jail yards

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When federal agents can swoop down on your personal garage sale and arrest you for selling the wrong old doll, this is no longer the land of the free. Yet just such a scenario is possible because of a campaign called Resale Roundup, which stems from last year’s jobs-destroying Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

We wonder what’s next: handcuffing 10-year-olds for improperly mixing roadside lemonade?

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act already has proved to be an incredibly destructive law. It sets absurdly low new limits on lead content in items sold for children’s use, even if the product’s lead is virtually impossible to ingest. It sets new testing and labeling requirements for lead and for a common chemical in plastics, even if the testing and labeling process is likely to destroy the item being tested. It makes criminals out of unsuspecting mom-and-pop businesses — or puts them out of business — and has forced bookstores and libraries to pull treasured children’s classics off their shelves.

Now comes the Resale Roundup, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has ruled can be applied even without any “evidence of bad intentions or ill will.”

In addition to the lead and plastic restrictions, the law makes it a crime to resell any item that has been recalled by its manufacturer. Manufacturers have recalled literally thousands of items in the past decade alone. Tracking all those recalls is a near-impossible requirement for full-time secondhand-sales businesses; there’s no way it can be done by the neighbor selling stuff on the lawn on Saturday morning.

Internet aficionados also should beware: The CPSC is cracking down particularly hard on resales of recalled items on sites such as eBay and Craigslist.

Among the dreaded items specifically targeted by the CPSC on its top-10 lists of recalled children’s products are “Polly Pocket dolls with magnets.” The CPSC press release explains that “small magnets inside the dolls and accessories can come loose…. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract to each other and cause … blockage, which can be fatal. CPSC is aware of 3 serious injuries.”

Among examples of the nanny state run amok, this is about as nannyish as you can get. It’s not very likely that a child will swallow not one, but two magnets. Three accidents are three too many, but out of umpteen thousand dolls sold, this is not an epidemic worthy of federal mobilization.

Nancy Lothrop of Monroe, Wash., mother of 8-year-old Laura, told reporter James Rosen of McClatchy Newspapers that the concerns were absurd. “My son played with army men, Lego blocks, all kinds of things with little parts. A toddler can put anything in his mouth. Parents need to have common sense…. We as consumers have to be careful. It really comes back to us.” Unfortunately, Congress seems impervious to such common sense.

Worse, if the Lothrops are unaware of the problem with the magnets and sell the dolls at a church fundraiser when their daughter grows up, they could be subject to criminal penalties. This is crazy, but the Obama administration is asking for an 11.4 percent funding increase for the CPSC for next year so it can hire more inspectors. That prospect turns “crazy” into “frightening.” That’s why the law, more than the products at issue, ought to be recalled and scrapped.

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