In Soviet times, those lucky few citizens who owned cars were banned from making any visible modification of them. A J.C. Whitney catalog would have been to the Kremlin in those days what the Anarchist's Cookbook is to the Democratic Party.
I would say the very definition of totalitarianism is to tell a man he can't have curb feelers on his Zil or a Hollywood Wolf Whistle on his Lada. You couldn't paint your car a new color, couldn't install a nice set of rims, couldn't wiggle under it and put in a lift kit to deal with those Novosibirsk potholes. Fuzzy dice, I'm not sure about them.
New York City has become the national capital of telling people — in excruciating detail — how to live. Outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has earned infamy by regulating people's cigarettes, trans fats and soft drink cups. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo generously allows you a 10-round magazine, but you can't load it with more than seven.
Now the state legislature has voted to ban novelty cigarette lighters of the sort commonly sold at New York corner stores. You know the kind: shaped like animals or even guns. Now, I don't smoke, and never have. I have owned a gun-shaped novelty lighter or two thanks to an executive at Shotgun News advertiser Century Arms, the king of advertising specialties.
So I don't feel any great personal sense of loss on this subject, but I was very disturbed by the justification offered by the bill's sponsor. Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx, said his goal was to keep the lighters away from children who come across them at home and play with them, creating a fire hazard.
"These are the types of bills that don't make headlines, but they are the types of things that can prevent a terrible tragedy from happening," Dinowitz said. "Little kids are drawn to these novelty lighters not because they are lighters, but because they look like guns, or cars or even fishing poles ... there's no reason for them to exist."
Well. "No reason for them to exist." Sound familiar? We have been told over the years that there was no reason for "Saturday Night Specials" to exist, no reason for "cheap surplus weapons of war" to exist, no reason for caseless ammo firearms to exist, no reason for "pocket rockets" to exist, no reason for "military-style assault weapons" to exist, no reason for "high-capacity magazines" to exist, etc.
I'd say the fact that a fair amount of Chinese child labor is occupied making these gizmos means there's a reason for them to exist. Freedom, as I understand it, means politicians don't get to decide what or whom has a reason to exist, with a few exceptions like the Ebola virus or maybe Justin Bieber. Novelty lighters made a few bucks for bodega owners and gave a few chuckles to those who shelled out a couple greenbacks for one. That's plenty of reason in my book.
If we are to be allowed only those items with which a toddler can be trusted, our horizons as adults are going to be about the width of a playpen. I'd readily admit I don't need a lighter that looks like a toilet. But what I really don't need is some politician telling me I can't have one.