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Who Will Speak For The Rats?

Even though there are some monumental pressing problems facing American society at large, and Congress in particular, there is nothing wrong with any individual congressman proposing a law that addresses his personal peccadillo. After all, there is really never a good time to raise some truly petty issue, so now is as good as any. So who can blame California Rep. Ted Lieu for proposing the Glue Trap Prohibition Act of 2024 (“GTPA”) now, as wars are being fought, government is facing imminent shutdown and student debt is being shifted from borrowers to taxpayers?

But that doesn’t make it a good law. It doesn’t even make it a law within Congress’ ambit. It is one weird law, prohibiting both the sale and use of glue traps. If you somehow avoided your three felonies a day, this could swiftly up the ante.

The congressman justifies his glue trap ban on humanitarian and health grounds.

“Glue traps are ruthless, inhumane, and can be dangerous to the health of humans and their pets,” said Lieu in a statement. “There are numerous other ways to trap small animals that don’t prolong their suffering.”

Is it cruel to catch rodents? No doubt some will argue that rats and mice are living creatures with feelings just like kittens and puppies. What they feel and how they feel it is unclear, as most of us avoid special moments discussing feelings with disease laden vermin. But I digest.

The penalties for violating the specific subchapter that Lieu is inserting his glue trap ban into include fines of up to $5,000 per offense for commercial violators and $1,000 fines for individuals. That subchapter also allows criminal penalties—including up to a year’s imprisonment for commercial violators and 30 days imprisonment for private persons who violate the law.

Making videos of small animals being crushed by high heels may be protected First Amendment activity (really, see United States v. Stevens), but putting out a glue trap to catch the rats eating the food in your kitchen you plan to serve your children could land you in the federal pokey if Lieu gets his way. Oh, and snatch the money you would use to buy food for your children.

But that begs the question of how all of this affects interstate commerce, since Congress’ authority to criminalize conduct is not omnipotent (to the chagrin of both hard right and left) and derives from the Commerce Clause.

While it might be trite or archaic to raise this point, one does wonder where exactly Lieu thinks Congress gets the authority to regulate the use of glue traps in private homes. Not even a New Deal Supreme Court justice could honestly argue that placing a sticky piece of paper on your floor affects interstate commerce.

To be fair, rats often cross state lines. And the glue traps generally come from Asia, like pretty much everything else we use. But then, the breadth of federal reach under the Commerce Clause has largely managed to cover anything some representative with a modestly fertile imagination wants it to, thus making any discussion of the propriety of federal overreach somewhat pointless. If they want to cover it, they will come up with a story that will do the trick.

But why glue traps?

Obviously, some people are going to be more concerned than myself with the welfare of vermin. People also have pets or small children who might get stuck in a glue trap. In those cases, perhaps some other type of trap is more appropriate. It seems like that’s something that individuals can decide for themselves.

So long as people have the option of humanely dispatching mice with poison, electrocution, or neck-snapping metal bars, I’d also like to have the right to use traps that work without the risk of going to federal prison.

Have we reached that point in society where the humane treatment of rodents takes precdence over effectively dispatching them from our homes? In the words of the great philosopher, Phil Ochs:

Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor
The rats have joined the babies who are sleeping on the floor
Now wouldn’t it be a riot if they really blew their tops?
But they got too much already and besides we got the cops

Maybe Ted should ponder the welfare of the babies on the floor before worrying too much about how kindly we treat the rats.

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