On Being a “Law Abiding Citizen”

Dictionary definition of the word "Law"

Often us outdoor-folk stand on the “I’m a law abiding citizen” soapbox, but I am in a quandary now. How can I be a law-abiding citizen? A plethora of legalities plague my life, and yours, too. Do we blend in amongst a cast of millions so every move avoids scrutiny? No—there is no hiding anymore, not even amongst millions. Rules, regulations, laws, and unconstitutional scrutiny intrude on every waking moment. Try as we might, everything has become incredibly complicated. What happened to “keep it simple?” Seriously!

Have you ever pulled into a boat ramp and left the plug in to discover it is a hefty $800 ticket? Or inadvertently had the wrong-sized spacer in your duck hunting shotgun? Most of us outdoorsmen and women want to stand on the high ground. We want to own that law-abiding citizen soapbox, to be as clean as the man-in-white’s shiny bald dome in the soap commercial. We want to squeak as fresh as Wisconsin cheese curds on teeth.

We can’t even read all the laws that affect our everyday lives, let alone consciously follow them. Even the folks who passed the laws, our illustrious and well-informed legislators, quite often have not read them at all. They admit it. From municipalities to state governments, in wildlife conservation efforts and gun and knife rights and laws, there are issues all around us to watch and be careful of—or else.

For example, an Oregon homeowner named Gary Harrington collected rainwater on his property. Who knew that would be a crime? According to this article he may go to jail for it.

Can you trap and remove vermin from your property? Not if it is the rare jumping mouse, supposedly on the verge of extinction. Didn’t know you needed to be an expert on mouse identification, did you?

What if wolves are killing your horses or cattle on your property? What if you carry a knife in your pocket, or on your person, for your job? Do you have a permit to carry for a handgun, and is your reciprocity information 100 percent up-to-date? How do you stay on top of all the changing laws and regulations all the time?

How would you like to be Jennifer Brinkley in North Carolina last month, and find federal agents swooping in to confiscate your vehicle? Surprise to you, it didn’t pass EPA emission standards, though she didn’t know that. And she didn’t just receive a fine or a notice to bring it up to standards. According to several network news sources, her vehicle is gone and she has no idea where it is.

When will we say “enough?” When will one state in these United States say, “Our state will function with simplicity. We pledge to make following our laws crystal clear.”

This isn’t about political parties, either. All areas of government (and all parties) keep adding layer, after layer, after layer. Don’t you find it simply exhausting? Lawmakers don’t even read all the laws they expect us to follow. How can we?

Few organizations own their effort to simplify wildlife regulations, like Idaho’s Fish and Game. I applaud their effort. Why aren’t more states and conservation managers working to simplify? It’d be so refreshing to see an organizational goal to reduce regulations by five or 10 percent each year. Maybe just start with fishing regulations. I know life can be complicated and departments of natural resources are managing vast acres of woods, water, and wildlife, but does anyone else have simplification as a goal? It seems everyone just adds on more, and more, and more.

This overreaching by Uncle Sam touches every part of our lives. Can we possibly get it right? Or are we doomed by the numbers and probability. Is there a gotcha moment waiting in the wings for you or me?