Editorial: Taking aim at outdated, obsolete laws

Published on Monday, 12 June 2017 13:43 - Written by

Here’s a trend worth emulating. In Canada, lawmakers may soon repeal a law that bans dueling there. Not that dueling is good - far from it, and duelists will still be subject to criminal penalties for assault and even murder - but Canada is taking steps to repeal outdated laws. That’s something American government - at the local, state and federal levels - should do more of.

For over a century’s it’s been illegal in Canada to ‘challenge or attempt by any means to provoke another person to fight a duel, attempt to provoke a person to challenge another person to fight a duel, or accept a challenge to fight a duel,’ according to Section 71 of the country’s Criminal Code,” reports the travel website Atlas Obscura. “The penalties for breaking this law are up to two years in prison - but that might be about to change. This week, a member of Parliament introduced legislation to update antiquated sections of that code. Under the proposal, Section 71 would be removed entirely. This would mean that, yes, it may once again legal to challenge someone to a duel in Canada, though any ensuing consequences (assault with a deadly weapon? murder, maybe?) would still be very much illegal.”

It’s not a pressing problem, of course. The last fatal duel fought in Canada, according to the Ottawa Citizen, was in 1833.

“On a rain soaked June 13 in 1833, Robert Lyon, 20, crumpled to the ground when 23-year-old John Wilson fired a bullet into his lungs,” that newspaper reported in 2015.

Wilson went to trial for the incident, but was acquitted. He later went on to open his own law practice. He didn’t get the young woman the men were fighting over.

The real point here is that anti-dueling laws have been obsolete for nearly two centuries. Obsolete, outdated and unenforceable laws do more harm than good.

Another example we should follow is Minnesota’s effort in 2014 to repeal outdated laws.

“It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container,” the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports. “The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral - if you can figure out how to do it. Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s ‘unsession’ initiative. His goal was to make state government work better, faster and smarter.”

For some reason, lawmakers seem to believe their function is to make laws. And they excel at it. But in these examples, they recognized that years of accumulated legal hurdles have slowed the economy and eroded freedom.

“In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, speeded up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language,” the Pioneer Press adds.

Keeping outdated, obsolete and unenforceable laws on the books undermines the rule of law, many scholars note. Ridiculous laws understandably damage respect for the law in general.