Do we really need this much protection?

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By Janny Wilcke

On the prairies of eastern Kansas, the early spring is when ranchers do their annual burning to allow the new spring grass to emerge with full vigor. I used to love to watch the flickering horizon on the prairie from my front porch. But every once in awhile, the Kansas winds would pick up or shift direction so that those “controlled” fires became a potential menace.


I don’t like to write about politics – too controversial, especially since I tend to see government like a Kansas grassfire. To me, a current example is a new federal law, “the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act,” that went into effect this month. It prohibits sale of all children’s books, toys, clothes and equipment manufactured before 1985, immediately affecting the Goodwill stores, the Salvation Army, flea markets, and even local yard and garage sales; i.e., all my favorite places to shop.


This kind of a ‘feel-good law,’ as one Congressman termed it, is intended to ‘protect’ our children from the remotest possibility of eating miniscule traces of lead, the use of which wasn’t prohibited in children’s products until 1985. The trouble is, there has never been one documented case of harm to any child in the U.S. from eating illustrations from picture books. And don’t try to convince me of the health hazard posed by snaps, zippers, clasps or buttons on clothing and backpacks! I think for government to protect us this much is like a grassfire out of control.


At my stage of life, I no longer need clothes or toys for my own children, but I do so enjoy canvassing yard sales and thrift stores for our grandchildren. I keep baskets of old toys for the kids to play with when they visit, and their mother is always grateful for the lightly used clothing I find and pass on. Does such innocent activity really have to end?


Many families have always depended on economical thrift stores for their children’s needs, and with tough times, more folks are turning to cheaper sources for clothes and toys. Now, instead of being recycled through thrift stores, flea markets or yard sales, discarded children’s apparel and toys must go into landfills. Not only do potential buyers lose out, but the non-profit organizations will find it harder to give services and jobs to the disadvantaged if they can no longer sell these popular, and, to me, perfectly usable, goods.


Beware! Your yard or garage sale may get you into trouble. You can sell discarded toys and clothing but only if you can prove that you’ve had them professionally tested to be sure of no traces of lead. The Goodwill Stores in our area have already removed all their toys, books and clothing that pre-date 1985 because testing is prohibitively expensive. And how is the federal government to enforce this law? Presumably, federal agents will have to make an example of some poor woman with a yard sale by publicly hauling her away in handcuffs, thereby to warn others not to try re-selling old Fisher-Price toys or Little Golden books.


I enjoy collecting vintage toys and kids’ books; in fact, I love ‘junk. The connection to the past is exciting, and I’m sorely disappointed that the source of my inexpensive treasures will now be limited. Antique stores will be allowed to sell some collectible items – but I don’t frequent antique shops. My thrill is from finding a “treasure” for next to nothing.


I apologize if I have offended anyone. If you really want Washington to assist you in your parenting, you now have it, at least on this issue. But taking that route, to use a “cooler” analogy than a fire, is like rolling a snowball down a hill. As it grows larger, it collects more and more of our freedoms. For someone who likes the past and other folks’ junk as much as I do, this latest case of overkill is unacceptable – and a little too close to home.