Garage Sales Could Land You In Jail

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created in 1972 when Republican President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the bureaucracy that has become in many respects the poster child for the Nanny State.  Last year, another Republican President, George W. Bush, signed legislation (the “Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act”) that significantly increased the power of the CPSC.  This federal regulatory and enforcement agency is now empowered to monitor even garage sales – just to make sure that some unknowing parent or enterprising school kid trying to make some extra money for a field trip, doesn’t try to sell a toy or household item that might have been previously subject to a federal recall. 

Selling an item that has been subject to a recall by the federal authorities at some point in the [perhaps distant] past, carries with it criminal penalties.  As the “CPSC Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers” warns readers, “[i]gnorance of the law is not an excuse.”    Not wishing to appear the Grinch that it is, the CPSC has has come up with a benign moniker for its latest enforcement effort  – the “Resale Roundup.”  Not only garage sales but internet sales are in the Commission’s gunsights.

The Commission, for example, maintains a separate unit to monitor internet sales to make sure no one tries — even inadvertently — to sell a previously recalled item on an internet auction or resale site.

For manufacturers and commercial retailers, the 2008 law imposes other, extremely costly mandates to test any items intended for children’s use, for even minute traces of lead on items clearly not intended to be or likely to be ingested, and for other previously lawful substances used in the manufacture of certain plastics and other products.  Hence, parents looking for toys and other items to purchase for their children will find fewer products, and those that are still able to be lawfully sold, will be more expensive.

But for resellers, the expanded power of the safety Commission is proving especially problematic; and ultimately so for consumers.  For example, organizations like Goodwill receive millions of items each year as charitable donations and then resell them in hundreds of retail outlets across the country.  These non-profits lack the costly equipment that would be necessary to test every item intended for children that they take in and then resell.  Thus, they are understandably taking the safe route and simply removing any and all items from their resale shelves that might possibly not have been fully tested according to the new legal requirements.  For lower-income families, who might rely on the cheaper items available through resale at stores like Goodwill, removing significant numbers of items from the stores will hit them hard. 

However, these shoppers should feel a sense of pride that they are participating in a patriotic mission to protect our nation’s young people from such horribly dangerous things as clothes with zippers or appliques (both included on the list of items best not to resale that is contained in the handy-dandy CPSC “Handbook”).

Don’t expect relief any time soon.  The Administration of President Barack Obama has asked Congress to significantly increase the budget next year for the CPSC, so it can hire even more Toy Police.

33 comments Add your comment


September 11th, 2009
6:49 am

I read somewhere where the “STARSTEAK HVM” high velocity missle (designed with 3 tungsten alloy remote laser sighted darts that are designed for fragmentation for maximum personnell damage)
has unsafe levels of lead contained in its paint.

Should I contact the CPSC about that?

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
7:33 am

Excellent points. I recently tried to donate a beautiful cherrywood crib to the Salvation Army. The original purchase cost was $499.00. It was 2 years since the date of purchase, used only on weekends for a grandson, and not on any recall list.

The Salvation Army refused to accept the donation on the grounds that it was too onerous a task for their employees to keep current with recalls and the risk of lawsuits too great. This was also their policy with respect to many baby items, including strollers, highchairs, and carseats.

Being unable to sell or even give away a gorgeous and expensive crib, my husband took a chainsaw to the item and we used it as firewood kindling last winter.

Mike Spinney

September 11th, 2009
7:43 am

The Brimfield Flea Market, a huge event here in New England, is this weekend. Acres and acres of antiques dealers from across the country, including purveyors of antique and collectible toys. I wonder if Washington will have G-men infiltrating the crowds and walking throughout the booths looking for contraband?


September 11th, 2009
9:19 am

I wonder if these could be given away as “collector items” instead of toys/furniture for children. It seems that the Antiques Roadshow will have a real shortage down the road if nobody keeps and hands down old toys.


September 11th, 2009
9:24 am

Deborah Fetkovich,
I am going to assume that your husband was wearing all the mandated safety gear pertaining to chainsaws when he sawed up the crib.

Chris Broe

September 11th, 2009
10:00 am

Grading Barr: A bureaucracy can’t be a poster child. You’re mixing metaphors. You’re dangling participles. You’re conjugating the wrong verbs. You’re a hopeless compositional mess. You’re a hopeful compositional mess. You’re a mess.

You included no data about how many tiny wittle babies get harmed by toys. You forgot to mention how many teeny-tiny wittle baby bunnies get harmed when they test the anthrax-based lead paint the chinese use to poison our children. (and then they laugh about it.)

You couldn’t throw out a succinct point if you were a ventriloquist.


Sunshine and Thunder

September 11th, 2009
10:00 am

Message to the CPSC:

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution there’s plenty of money to be made by prolonging the problem.


September 11th, 2009
10:39 am

Bottom line – you are saying that the Republican & Democratic presidents have all been liberal types.

Where you been all these years Bob?

FACT: if you look at just the legislation signed into law since the LBJ administration, the most conservative president has been Bill Clinton. The most liberal was G W Bush.


September 11th, 2009
10:50 am

Don’t worry, congress will fund ACORN to oversee child product safety and training.


September 11th, 2009
10:53 am

Chris Broe -

Turn yourself into the CPSC immediantly to have your brain checked for lead contamination,

if you believe this federal army will be one bit effective. Also, get rid of your venetian blinds because the CPSC has recently determined that strings contained therein are a danger to toddlers.

Also, considering accidental deaths, water is what you should fear.

Be afraid. Very afraid.


September 11th, 2009
11:01 am

The government, which can’t police the loan industry or manage to cut back on millions in Medicare fraud, and our local police who can’t respond to a home invasion in under a half an hour are going to enforce these regulations–that’s a laugh. But the regulations themselves are just another symptom of creeping “big brotherism”. Someday we will wake up to the President’s morning message on our wall to wall tv screen in the bedroom, telling us to be sure to brush our teeth.


September 11th, 2009
11:08 am

My wife make the cheese with milk from her teat.

If You Do This, The Terrorists Win

September 11th, 2009
11:22 am

Sell the stuff as an “antique” or “collectible” or put a label on it like on the plastic bags saying “this toy is not a toy”!

Jim's a Cherry Picker

September 11th, 2009
11:47 am

Hi Bob,

Another good job of stirring up the haters with no quantative info.

This is all well and good to poke fun at easy targets in government, until someone actually get hurt. Then where’s the redress?

I’d be interested to see how an anti-government conservative would handle a situation where a defective toy sent their kid to the hospital, and a doctor gave that kid the wrong drug by mistake and caused irreperable harm.

No lawsuits, I’m sure. That kind of stuff only happens to “other” people anyway.


September 11th, 2009
12:25 pm

The question, Bob, is: What is to prevent someone from dumping off hazardous waste (i.e., lead-based toys) at Goodwill or the Salvation Army without oversight?

I don’t like bureaucracy either, but I do know that the worst offenders will do as they will if left unfettered to their own devices. I know that many honest people with the best of intentions may unwittingly try to resell something without knowledge of the potential hazard. Now, I’m not saying everything should have a label on it, but there’s got to be something more than a caveat emptor if some know something that most don’t.


September 11th, 2009
1:51 pm

Yep let the kids get sick so we can have our freedom to have a garage sale. God this stuff is pathetic. Bob gets to tell his message to all because of the internet. The internet that wouldn’t exist without government funding.

Lead Paint Survivor

September 11th, 2009
2:12 pm

Thank heavens for the CPSC. I have no idea how any of us managed to live to adulthood surrounded by killer toys, paint of death, and all manner of dangerous items.

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
2:31 pm

Jim’s a cherry-picker wrote, “I’d be interested to see how an anti-government conservative would handle a situation where a defective toy sent their kid to the hospital, and a doctor gave that kid the wrong drug by mistake and caused irreperable harm.”

Wouldn’t a responsible parent look over a toy for defects before giving it to his child in the first place? I think the bottom line here is that no amount of government regulations can substitute for common sense and responsible parenting.

Hillbilly Deluxe

September 11th, 2009
2:55 pm

When I was a kid we used to choose up sides and have dirt clod fights. The best clod of course was one with a rock concealed inside it. We all managed to live through it. …..Hmm, wonder if anybody that ever hit me with a dirt clod has deep pockets now?


September 11th, 2009
3:08 pm

CPSC has fewer than 500 employees for the entire U.S. economy (yes five-hundred). They aren’t coming after garage sales even if they have the power.

Jim's a Cherry Picker

September 11th, 2009
3:26 pm

Lead, Deborah y Hilbilly…

Bob is playing on your collective tendency to use selective perception to form an opinion on this subject – and most others he writes about. It’s mainly along the lines of “[whatever] hasn’t happened to me, so therefore there is no problem”. The converse is, particularly in Atlanta, people are getting killed on the news every night, therefore our city is dangerous and I need a gun.

Neither example is grounded in relaity. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are injured by faulty products every year in this country and hundreds of people in Atlanta are victims of violent crime. Statistically, you’ll probably never meet someone involved in either. But that doesn’t negate the need for some amount oversight for both.

I’d agree that parental involvement is very important, but there’s no way for parents to know everything.

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
3:55 pm

It’s not all that often someone who lives in NY gets called a hillbilly, Jim.

I managed to grow up in the turbulent sixties without all these federal agencies protecting me from so-called “dangerous” products. I had parents that looked after me.

And as I grew old enough to venture out on my own, I learned that when I played Cowboys & Indians with the boys, I had to run fast, because the penalty for being caught as an “Indian” was getting tied to a tree. And I learned that it was great fun biking like the wind blew down a steep hill and turning into my driveway leaving rubber skid marks. I also learned it was REAL important not to let your foot slip off the brakes when I made that mistake and wound up crashing through a heavy wooden door. I learned there were consequences like painful splinters in my body, a family temporarily deprived of an entry door, and the loss of a beloved bike.

My point is that society as a whole, and children in particular, were better off before the government tried to become surrogates for real parents.

Sense of Humor

September 11th, 2009
4:01 pm

I am laughing my butt off at the joker who posted as Borat. Well played, Sir.

libs are shooting people dead

September 11th, 2009
4:06 pm

Libs are shooting people now, and Bookman keeps deleting this link:

gloom and doomer

September 11th, 2009
10:41 pm

OK, here’s a game plan. Move all of these crack agents who seem to be at the CPSC to the SEC, and move the SEC yahoos to the CPSC. If the CPSC can track down a child’s car seat at a yard sale and penalize the seller, imagine what they could have done if they had been put on Madoff’s trail and the rest of the Gecko’s on WS with the info that was available.


September 12th, 2009
12:06 am

And I was looking forward to getting rid of my pocket fisherman and bamboo steamer…


September 12th, 2009
10:45 am

Deborah: Unfortunately now if a child were to go thru that door the parent would sue the door’s maker for damages for not making the door childproof AND there’s a jury out there who will give them the money!

Mad mad mad mad world

September 12th, 2009
10:52 am

Have any of you yahoos actually read the law? Are you aware that it makes lead levels illegal that are less than what my child would ingest if he dropped his binky in the the sand at the park and popped it back into his mouth? Are you aware that it declares appliques and zippers on my 12 yr old’s jeans dangerous because, of course, like all 12 yr olds she might suck on them?!

Consider the consequences. If all toys manufactured before 2008 are declared illegal (they are labeled illegal automatically unless you spend the $500 PER COMPONENT of the toy to test and make sure they’re not) all of these toys, clothes, shoes, bedding, furniture and equipment “intended for use by children under the age of 13″ must be disposed of. Of course, because they are now hazardous material you cannot just throw them in the dumpster…oh no! You must call Hazmat to have the stuff correctly disposed of. Where will all these dangerous items go? Landfills double wrapped in those bright orange bags!

Those footie pj’s your toddler loves…GONE. That miniature grand piano made by grandpa in 1969…GONE. That mobile purchased at Walmart five years ago for your first child that you’re pulling out of a box to use for your new baby…GONE. If you choose you could have it tested. Let’s see…there’s the string that holds the toys $500 to test, the music box $500, the plastic arching body $500, the screw-on back $500…there you go! $2000 has proven that the $20 mobile IS safe for use with your baby. Way to go, Congressman Waxman!

This law also makes it illegal to even give away Great Aunt Ida’s handmade baby quilt…nay, it makes it illegal to USE Aunt Ida’s baby quilt. Small toy and child product manufacturers around the country are going belly up because they cannot afford to comply with the law. And as we all know, hand carved maple train sets do indeed pose a significant threat to our nation’s children.

This law makes toys manufactured before 2008 illegal…in other words, since the beginning of time. If it’s not tested, it’s hazardous. Give it away, or God forbid try to sell it, and you’re facing a $100k fine and 5 yrs in prison.

Clothing banks, as in FREE giving away clothing charities, will have to SHUT DOWN or face those stiff penalties. Children’s resale stores across the nation have already started shutting down or shifting their product mix to adult items. There are people who depend on those stores to get by. It’s like the gov’t said, “Hey, we’re in a recession! Let’s kick ‘em while they’re down!”

Selling an antique or “collectible” does not get you off the hook according to the text of this law. If the item was INTENDED for use by a child under the age of 13 the law applies to the item.

If such an effort could be put into eliminating lead paint from HOMES across the nation (the leading cause BY FAR of lead poisoning in children) we’d be much better off and spending far less taxpayer money.

norman ravitch

September 13th, 2009
7:38 am

Garage sales should not be allowed in residential neighborhoods. It smack of the ghetto.


September 13th, 2009
9:10 am

HOUSTON – Special teams of Texas Rangers will be deployed to the Texas-Mexico border to deal with increasing violence because the federal government has failed to address growing problems there, Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday.

“It is an expansive effort with the Rangers playing a more high-profile role than they’ve ever played before,” Perry said of the Department of Public Safety’s elite investigative unit.

The forces, dubbed “Ranger recon” teams, are the latest effort “to fill the gap that’s been left by the federal government’s ongoing failure to adequately secure our international border with Mexico,” he said.”

And yet, our benevolent federal government has the money for 500 toy police.
I wonder how many toddlers have been murdered by DUI illegal immigrants.

party's over

September 13th, 2009
11:57 am

[...] Garage sales are great to clear out some old junk and make some money on the side, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission have the power to monitor garage and other sales of that type to ensure any toys that have been recalled aren’t being sold. Anyone caught selling any toys that were recalled in the past could go to jail reports Bob Barr from the Barr Code. [...]


September 28th, 2009
6:17 pm

I was interested to learn that Mattel (the world’s largest toy importer) lobbied for this bill. They were the main source of the recalls in ‘07. They (and their subsidiary Fisher-Price) can afford the testing, certification, etc. They’re killing all of the competition and making themselves look like they suddenly give a damn. But it’s for the children.

Also, you guys know books are covered in the law too right? Those big bad dangerous books published before, what is it…1985 I believe? My kids are really bad about eating books. None of us dumb southerners can read.