Free Markets, Free People

The Garage Sale Police

What is more quintessentially American than the garage sale?

Americans have held them for decades and, in fact, attending them is a pleasant passtime for many each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

But Big Brother has decided that such Americana is a menace to our children.

Yes, friends, the “Garage Sale Police” are coming.

If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Now I don’t know about you, but when children outgrow toys, parents usually store them away, give them away or, eventually, sell them at a garage sale. What parents don’t do is keep up with which toys have been recalled by their manufacturers.

But that’s precisely what you must do now if you want to sell the kid’s old toys at your garage sale:

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army say they do that anyway. But Ma and Pa cleaning out the attic – yeah, not so much.

But in this brave new world, you must be aware that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.

“We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.”

Now you can take that any way you wish to take it, but denying on the one hand that they’ll be dispatching inspectors to garage sales and saying “but we’re still going to enforce” on the other sends a very mixed message. Their method of enforcement will be fairly easy – they’re hoping that garage sale buyers will turn in garage sale sellers breaking this odious law.

Well, I’ve got a fairly simple and straight forward message for the feds – butt out. We’ve been raising our children safely since the dawn of humanity without you and we don’t your garage sale police to keep them safe – thank you very much.

And politicians wonder why people are seemingly angrier and angrier about what they see coming out of Washington?


[HT: The Liberty Papers]


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21 Responses to The Garage Sale Police

  • There is a significant segment of our society that seems to not only want a risk-free life, they think that such a happy state of affairs is possible. It is to these… people… that politicians and bureaucrats like Tenenbaum cater. What the morons don’t get is that Dr. Franklin was right even when he wasn’t talking about George Bush: those who give up liberty for security will have neither.

    McQ – “… I’ve got a fairly simple and straight forward message for the feds – butt out.”

    Easier said than done. When a federal agent is on your lawn, badge in hand, what will you risk by telling him to “butt out”? What is the penalty for breaking this law? Or interfering with a federal officer? There’s an iron fist inside the velvet glove.

  • I seem to recall being told “Oh no… We’d never go after garage sales…”

  • Doubt they will stay out. Just need to put one mother in front of the camera whose child choked on a button off of some doll.

    This next remark is going to go over here like a balloon with lead paint, but this is a problem now because importers from China, Vietnam, etc. aren’t held to the same account as domestic makers or Japanese makers for that matter. Probably because you can’t really touch the manufacturer, there’s been a landmark case or two (at least imho) over the past year which indicate a shift in product liability cases to go after retailers. Since, I assume they can’t go after the manufacturer, they want to go after the retailers.

    Walmart, who helped facilitate a shift to goods from China & friends, will be getting the lawsuits that were partly responsible for making domestic, European or Japanese products non competitive.

    This garage sale stuff is just an extention of shifting accountability to retailers. Part of a much bigger picture.

    • Lawyers have to have SOMEBODY to sue.

    • jpm100,

      In fact, they can go after the manufacturers and importers and do so. Of course, in China, they just close down and go bankrupt. They are not very rich companies to sue in any case, so of course, suing the stores is a better plan. The higher up the retail supply chain the larger the amount.

      The reason the law has to apply to “everyone” and not just China, is that the law is supposed to be blind and cannot pick on just China – it would be against the WTO as well. This is why you see the law being applied to ANYONE selling the product, not just imports.

      This law is fast becoming a nightmare, with companies being forced to create tracking systems for every single item they sell to children, when the simplest way to solve the problem would be randomly inspect imported products at the point of shipment and NOT PAY FOR THOSE THAT DON’T PASS.

      This is what Mattel should have been doing. I hope their QC managers were fired. Probably Mattel had already switched from using expatriate staff (too expensive…LOL) to using local Chinese staff. The local staff can be great, but they can also be susceptible to bribes. Or maybe Mattel thought that simply having contracts and PO’s with warnings would be sufficient in China.

  • Is anyone a little concerned when a representative of the government characterizes his agency’s interactions with citizens as “rules of engagement”?

    • Diffus, that was going to be my comment verbatim. I know being in a war era, military language and metaphors are more common and acceptable, but this just sounded creepy.


  • You never know what issue is going to catch fire, but this one is a good candidate. There is a good sized segment of the citizenry that has tremendous frustration with government, and when you start meddling in people’s lives like this, sometimes the pushback can be startling.

    If we keep on seeing this string of things all on one side that motivate the less government crowd (government takeovers, large deficits, sneering, out-of-touch elites, attempting to ram through huge programs, etc.), 2010 might move from a problem for the Democrats to a catastrophe.

  • They can have my lead-based painted TONKA when they pry it from MY COLD DEAD HANDS.

  • They can have my old TONKA when THEY PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS.

  • Good to see that the government has solved all of the important issues in our life, so that they can spend resources for some thing as silly and trivial as this.

  • Should we expect the appointment of a Garage Sale Special Master or Czar? With all the problems the federal government has on their plate they want to regulate garage sales.

    What grant’s them the authority to regulate local personal sales? If it isn’t enumerated in the US Constitution, according to the Tenth Amendment, the authority belongs to the states or to the people.


  • Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said… “rules of engagement”


    There ya go, what more needs to be said.
    Its fast approaching the time when it will be open season on all gov’t employees. If you don’t kill that velvet glove it will kill you.
    Some places require a permit to have a garage sale. That permit application will require a signature stating you will not sell certain items – and the list will be long. Then as the garage sale proceeds the jack boots will show up and pull inventory and if any of the verboten items are found on the property the seller will be arrested for a federal violation and a dozen other charges. Then the real fun will start as the kids are kidnapped the house ransacked and the dogs shot. You know what I have written here is not off base. I just predicted the future.

  • Sorry, but you are WAY behind the curve on this issue.

    It is not just recalled products that are in harms way.

    The new CPSIA (passed with support from both sides of the aisle) now makes it illegal to sell any product whose primary use, or who which may be used by children under the age of 12 without testing on all parts to insure a lack of lead and phylates.

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission has taken this mandate and run with it. Libraries are being told that they should dispose of children’s book printed before 1985. Bicycle and motorcycles for children are being hit because there is no way to metalurgically insure that the frame of a motorcycle or bicycle can comply with the regulations as all metals used in the making of frames have some small amounts of lead in them. The lead itself is not evenly disbursed throughout the frame so one part tested may pass, but another part of the same frame may fail.

    After all, we all know that children like to eat the frames of bikes and motorcycles.

    The craft industry – people that make things out of their home – has been devastated by this law as no one can afford the testing costs. This is where the law is completely insidious.

    Assume for a moment that I make wooden rocking horses for children out of my garage. I sell the custom made and designed horses for roughly $100.

    The wood does not have to be tested. Originally, this was not the case, but the CPSC agreed that wood was not a threat and so it is exempt from testing.

    A sealer is added to the wood.

    Oops! The sealer has to be tested to see if it is safe by a third party lab.

    The eyes of the horse get painted blue and white.

    Ooops!! Two more colors need to be tested by a third party lab.

    Red handles would be nice.

    Oops! Another paint color that needs to be tested by a third party lab.

    Saddles on horses should be brown.

    Oops! Another paint that needs to be tested.

    Three coats of polyurethane as a finish. That needs to be tested as well.

    One horse, 6 third party tests.

    As the cost of the tests are roughly $100 a piece, the horse I am selling just went from $100 to $700 in order that I make the same amount of profit.

    Here’s where it gets worse. Because the horse is a “one off” piece, the next time I make a rocking horse, the law requires that I pay for the tests AGAIN. It is not even allowed to say that the manufacturer of the paints / finishes tested the paint (and they have to because it falls under the same law.) The test results are not transferable. When the paint is produced, it must be tested. When the paint is used, it must be tested.

    You are about to see major increases in car parts because cars are used by children and under the law, the parts must be tested. (When is the last time you saw a kid knawing on an alternator?)

    Since this law went into effect, it is estimated that a billion dollars in tax revenues has been lost because people in the craft industry can’t afford or won’t pay for the testing. Letters and comments to Congressmen are returned with a standard “we are proud that we have taken steps to protect children” mantra.

    Waxman and his committee have heard pleas from businesses, constituents, and other Congressmen to reopen hearings on the CPSIA, but he has refused.

    Walter Olsen and Ted Frank at have been doing a great job keeping people informed on the legal and practical ramifications of this monstrosity. You can find their resources here:

    • Your comment is mostly right on, but a bit overblown. Car parts are not covered under CPSIA because (a) they’re not primarily children’s products and (b) they’re not under CPSC jurisdiction (it’s NHTSA, I think, for car parts). Other than that, spot on.

  • I wonder how the federal legislature even has the power to do all of this. They almost surely shouldn’t, but, then again, there is the Congressional omnipotence clause. It’s more formally referred to as, “the commerce clause,” but that isn’t fooling anyone these days.

  • Wacky Hermit has also been doing a good job covering CPSIA for a long time now.

    • Aw shucks, I’m blushing! 🙂

      I’ve also been contributing to another site, , which explains the law in a FAQ format in plain English. I try to keep my posts there to 500 words or less and keep editorializing to a minimum, something I don’t do on Organic Baby Farm.