9 Stupid Crimes in Dallas, or Why Not to Give Your Wife a Massage
Dumb laws are everywhere. This is from Los Angeles.
By flickr user steveisaacs
At its most elemental level, government — at least the democratic kind set out in America's founding documents — exists to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens; the pursuit of happiness is more of a rhetorical flourish.
Governments perform this function by passing and enforcing laws, most for obvious reasons. Outlawing murder, theft and rape, for example, is a grand idea because no one wants to live through a real-life sequel to that Purge movie. (Watching it was painful enough, thanks.) But sometimes, government being government, laws are created that don't seem to have any rational basis at all, or, if they do, the text is so thoroughly divorced from the intent as to forfeit any claim to good sense.
Dallas, unsurprisingly, is home to many such laws. Even after the repeal of its infamous ban on bicycle wheelies, its municipal code — which the public is free to browse here — is pockmarked with legislative curiosities. The Observer has sifted through that tome and compiled a list of some — though undoubtedly not all — of Dallas' best bad laws.
The guns are OK, but could the city outlaw the playing of "Turkey in the Straw?"
1. Guns Are Cool, As Long As They're Not Fake and on an Ice Cream Cart
Texans, with a few very limited exceptions, can carry guns wherever they damn well please. With Texas' passage last year of an open carry law, they don't even have to hide it anymore but can swagger around with pistols on their hips.
The Second Amendment, however, offers no protection for fake firearms like airsoft, BB and paintball guns, which are subject to extensive regulation in Dallas. Some of the rules (e.g., no waving them around and making threats like they are real gun) make a certain amount of sense. Others? Not so much.
For example — given the new open carry law and the fact that it's long been legal to walk around Texas with long guns, as the irascible guns-for-everyone-all-the-time lobbyist Kory Watkins reminded everyone a couple of years ago — the following provision:
SEC. 31-16(d) A person commits an offense if he displays or brandishes a replica firearm in any public place within the city.
That's pretty dumb, but it's still not the dumbest part of the "Replica Firearms" portion of Dallas code. That comes a few lines later:
SEC. 31-16(h) The owner, operator, or person in control of an ice cream vending truck or pushcart commits an offense if a replica firearm is present in or on the truck or pushcart while it is in the city.
These rules were passed a decade ago, sparked by concerns that cops would mistake the fake guns for the real thing and respond by shooting children. Those fears weren't totally unfounded; such incidents happened and were covered aggressively by the media. But it's hard to get past the irony that while it's cool for a paletero to wander the streets or into City Hall with an actual, fully functioning firearm, carrying a similarly shaped hunk of inert plastic is a crime.
An outright ban on spousal massage is pretty dumb. Jailing any spouse of more than 10 years who demands a foot massage, however, sounds just.
2. Hands Off Your Wife, Pal
In another case of legislative overreaction, the Dallas City Council made it illegal for husbands to give massages to their wives.
That doesn't seem to have been the law's intent. The head of the Dallas' vice squad would later testify that the council passed the ordinance at his request as a way to help police crackdown on "lewd acts" by "so-called" masseuses at the city's bath houses and massage parlors. But it doesn't take a lawyer to realize that the legislation is absurdly overbroad, with no exceptions for consenting couples or if no money is changing hands:
SEC. 25A-15. ADMINISTERING MASSAGE TO PERSON OF OPPOSITE SEX.
It shall be unlawful for any person to administer a massage as defined in Section 25A-1 to any person of the opposite sex; provided, however, that this section shall not apply to any person licensed or registered by the State of Texas as a physician, chiropractor, physical therapist, nurse, massage therapist, cosmetologist, or athletic trainer, or as a member of a similar profession subject to state licensing or registration, while performing duties authorized by the state license or registration.
Attorneys for the massage parlors who sued the city over the law in 1961 pointed out as much. The Dallas Morning News had a delightful recap of the trial before Judge Sarah T. Hughes:
Al Ruebel, representing the massage parlors, noted that the act doesn't specify that the massages must be done for pay, or in a parlor.
"Have you ever given your wife a massage, Capt. Gannaway?" he asked the square-jawed detective on cross-examination. Judge Hughes sustained MacMaster's objection to an answer.
She also refused to allow Gannaway to answer questions on whether he had information of Dallas husbands giving their wives massages, or if he has ever arrested any for doing so.
Hughes ruled in the city's favor, concluding that the ban on opposite-sex massage "is not an unreasonable regulation."
A decade later, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Hill disagreed. He, too, steered clear of considering the implications on husband-wife massages but ruled that the ban was nevertheless unconstitutional."Any ordinance which infringes on [Tokyo House massage parlor owner Samuel] Corey's right to do business through a classification based on sex which restricts who Corey may employ in his business contravenes the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States."
And yet the ordinance remains on the books. So while police probably won't kick down your door for giving a massage to your significant other, it's safer to just keep your hands to yourself.
Go ahead, laugh, but thanks to the law no one need fear this guy on a Dallas street.
3. When Playing Catch Turns Criminal
SEC. 43-17. PLAYING BALL, THROWING STONES, ETC., IN STREETS.
No person shall play at a game of ball, practice at passing a ball, throw stones, use a slingshot or sling, or discharge gravel, marbles, shot or any other object or anything, out of a gravel shooter, blow gun or other device of like kind or character along, across or upon any highway, street or alley in the city.
Damn straight. Get off my lawn while you're at it.Next Page
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.