10 Incredibly Unpopular Laws

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A Brief History

On August 5, 1861, the Federal Government of the United States instituted its first income tax to help pay for the Civil War.  With a tax rate of only 3% on all income over $800, it may seem like a bargain today, but at the time it was about as popular as emptying the chamber pot.  Governments have a way of irritating their people with unpopular laws, and here we list 10 such legislative actions.  Some have been rescinded, while others just will not go away.  

Digging Deeper

10. Income Tax.

Everyone seems to have their own idea of how the income tax should be administered.  Should it be graduated or a flat rate regardless of income?  Should we allow deductions at all, and if we do, which ones are good and which ones need to go?  The Revenue Act of 1861 cited above was rescinded in 1872, but it was not long before politicians were at it again and now we have an incredibly complex and indecipherable tax law that seems to benefit everyone else but you.  Does anyone like it?

9.  Gun Control.

Although the number of privately owned guns in the U.S. has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years, murders and shootings are dramatically down.  And this is in spite of the expiration of the Clinton era gun and magazine restrictions (assault weapon ban).  Again, no matter what is done or not done, there will be just as many intensely irate citizens bemoaning the state of the laws governing firearms.  The 2 opposing sides have about the same chance of compromise as #8 below.

8.  Abortion.

Not a whole lot of middle ground with these laws.  Restrictive laws are met with vehement opposition by “freedom of choice” or “women’s rights” groups, and laws allowing unrestricted access to abortion, especially if paid for by tax money or even insurance money, often meet with violent opposition from the “right to life” side.  No matter which way it goes, there are always going to be a lot of unhappy people.

7.  Capital Punishment.

Although a majority of countries have abolished the death penalty, the fact that some of the most populous ones still have it (such as the U.S., Russia and China) means about 60% of the world’s population still live in countries that execute people.  Recent polling in Russia indicates only 52% of Russians still favor capital punishment, and in the U.S. over 50% (numbers vary with poll, anywhere from 50% up to 60%) favor life in prison without the chance of parole over the death penalty.  Recent botched executions and revelations of condemned prisoners being found innocent by DNA or prosecutorial misconduct seem to be swaying the American public against executions.  Many people claim they support executions but that they cannot trust the government justice system or method of execution.

6.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The law governing the U.S. military policy on homosexuals in service was a compromise between those that wanted open tolerance of military gay people and those that demanded a prohibition on allowing gay Americans to serve in the armed forces.  From 1993 to 2011, the policy was that gay servicemen and servicewomen could serve as long as they did not overtly tell or communicate their sexual preference.  Likewise, commanders were not allowed to ask about sexual orientation.  The law did not make either side happy and was finally repealed in 2011, with openly gay now people allowed to serve.

5.  Military Draft.

The massive New York riots in 1863, immortalized in the 2002 movie Gangs of New York, amply demonstrate how unpopular a draft can be.  In the 1960s, the American public was scarred by the draft and its apparent unfairness (rich kids seemed to get deferments), and now we have an “all volunteer” military.

4.  Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Liberals are disappointed that the law did not create a single-payer national health insurance, and conservatives are disappointed that it got passed at all.  Incredibly, some of the people the law helps the most are among its most vocal critics (people with preexisting conditions, poor people, people that have reached their lifetime insurance limit and people with kids in college).  Note: Many health insurance plans used to have a lifetime max payout of $1 million.  If you do not think you will ever reach that, be advised the author ran up over a million and a half dollars in medical bills in 2012 and 2013!

3.  55 mph National Speed Limit.

This intensely irritating law forced people to plod along at 55 mph on roads that could handle speeds of 70 mph.  In response to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the ensuing oil crisis/embargo, the well-intentioned U.S. Congress gave us this idiotic law that they said would save 2.2% on gasoline consumption, but real savings were more like .5%.  In 1987 an awkward attempt to make things better resulted in the speed limit on some roads being raised to 65 mph, and in 1995 the Federal Government returned speed limit control back to the individual states.  Travelers were generally quite unhappy with this law, but of course, plenty of old people thought it was just fine.

2.  Marijuana.

Most polls today indicate that a majority of Americans (54+%) want marijuana to be legalized.  Colorado and Washington have moved in that direction, and other states are watching them rake in the tax revenue.  It seems that the tide has turned since 1969 when only 12% of Americans favored legalizing pot.

1.  Red Light and Radar Cameras.

Many jurisdictions allow private companies to post cameras at traffic lights to catch and fine people running red lights.  Some also permit camera and radar sets to catch speeders and issue speeding tickets.  Procedures for appealing such fines are so convoluted and ridiculous that fighting them is unrealistic.  To top it off, the yellow caution light is often intentionally shortened in order to catch more light blowers, something that increases revenue but makes intersections more dangerous.  The public gets lied to and told the cameras are for “safety,” but studies indicate they are for making money and do not make the roads safer.  Fines from cameras are generally higher than normal tickets from traffic cops because the private companies want to make money too. 

Question for students (and subscribers): Which laws would you include in this list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

To help protect yourself against number 1, please purchase…

Kayler, Susan.  Smile for the Speed Camera: Photo Radar Exposed! Roadrunner Publishing Partners, 2004.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.