Opinion: What we can learn from lawn darts

Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo is a graduate assistant and PhD student in the Department of Political Science.  He can be reached at [email protected].

I was searching for something online the other day when I came across a video called “Why Lawn Darts (Jarts) Were Banned.”  Instantly intrigued, I had to watch the video.  I was pretty sure I already knew why lawn darts were banned, but nevertheless, this 13-minute video from 1988 was rather interesting.

For those of you who don’t know what lawn darts are, they are basically a larger version of regular darts, with blunted metal tips.  The idea is to lob them into the air aiming for them to land in a circle specified in the grass.  I suppose it was comparable to people playing cornhole; something leisurely to do outdoors.

Unfortunately, you could see the problem with lawn darts.  As a New York Times article from 1988 notes, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 670 emergency room injuries per year from lawn darts (fewer now, I presume), and three documented deaths of children.

The death of one child, Michelle Snow, prompted her father, David Snow, to crusade for a ban on lawn darts.  Michelle, 7, had been playing in her front yard when her brother and a friend tossed the darts around their fenced in backyard.  One rather strong toss cleared the fence and struck Michelle in the head.  The force of a lawn dart has been estimated at 23,000 pounds per square inch.  Michelle died three days later.

Snow worked hard to get lawn darts banned in the US, succeeding with an announcement of a ban effective December 19th, 1988.  The video and numerous articles document Snow’s plight, and he is an example of the actions citizens can take in shaping government policies –for better or for worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m against children dying from lawn darts impaling their skulls.  However, the lawn dart saga highlights a larger ongoing battle:  What exactly is the role of government in society?  If one of its roles is to keep people safe, we must ask “safe from what?”  Terrorists?  Criminals?  Mortgage fraud?  Not enough pepperonis on a frozen pizza?  Lawn darts?

Michelle Snow’s death is without a doubt a tragic one.  And sure, lawn darts aren’t exactly a product of great importance.  That’s why we don’t see people too much up in arms over the decision to ban lawn darts.  People aren’t protesting, writing their congressmen, or forming a National Lawn Dart Association to protect the right of citizens to play jarts.

But at the same time, when does government become too intrusive?  Three deaths over seventeen years aren’t exactly overwhelming.  And if kids aren’t goofing around with lawn darts, I’m sure they could find something just as dangerous to toss around (Real darts, perhaps?).

At any rate, lawn darts aren’t likely to come to mind when we think of government involvement in our lives.  More likely we think of second amendment rights, taxes or the Patriot Act.  But the authority and control our government has is likely further reaching that we realize.  The question is:  “When is enough, enough?”  We all have different answers.  The lawn dart saga is just food for thought.