Pop quiz: Name five things that are illegal for sale in the United States
Got your answers? Let me guess: Does your list contain drugs like marijuana, cocaine, acid, ecstasy or heroin?
Maybe you thought weaponry and came up with items like flamethrowers, Tec-9s, AK-47s and Bangalore torpedoes.
The dieters among you may have thought of Ephedra, while smoking enthusiasts might have, with a heavy heart, listed Cuban cigars.
Whatever five items your list contains, I'm willing to bet dollars to pennies that the following product wasn't one of them: Jarts.
That's right; it has been 19 years since the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the popular summer lawn game after a child was accidentally killed by being hit by an errantly thrown Jart. It's time for America to unite and bring back this thrilling game to lawns all across this great nation of ours.
Jarts, or lawn darts, is to horseshoes what Jumble is to crossword puzzles: close cousins cut from the same cloth. In Jarts, players use an underhand motion to toss their footlong lawn dart at a yellow ring some 35 feet away. Players score three points for a Jart in the circle and one point for the closest Jart to the circle. The first player to score exactly 21 points wins the game.
Although it has been some 20 years since I last tossed a Jart, I can still clearly recall the sensation of letting the big dart fly and knowing instantly that the shot leaving your hand is heading directly to the center of the yellow circle. The trajectory and looping arc of a lawn dart is almost poetic in nature. When you're in the zone, sinking ringer after ringer (to borrow from the horseshoes terminology), you feel a bit like Keats rhyming couplets or Rembrandt laying oils to canvas.
Dammit, it's a sensation I want to feel again, but must I become a criminal to do so?
Jarts, after all, are part of my heritage. Growing up in the city's North End during the 1970s, we always had a box of Jarts in the house. I can still remember the thrill of opening up a new set -- the stark white box with the cartoon-like logo and the two sets of darts, one red, one blue, each set of plastic wings resplendent in bold colors.
Many a summer day was spent playing hours and hours of Jarts. The game was a multi-generational affair in my family, as often my father, grandfather and I would all participate. We usually played in teams of two players to a side and had an additional pair of players waiting to take on the winner. The sport had a sense of congeniality about it. Players routinely oohed and ahed each other's shots and might even offer a symbolic tip of the hat for an exceptional two-ringer round.
One thing we never felt while playing a game of Jarts was danger. The game, when properly supervised, is about as benign as a nap in a summer hammock. The only danger can come from letting small children run underfoot while a game is in progress. You can plug the phrase "letting small children run underfoot" into almost any activity and the bridge to "danger" will be drawn immediately.
Three kids were killed by being hit by a Jart. Three. While the hearts of all decent folks go out to parents who have lost a child, it seems highly unfair that Americans should lose a right because of three isolated incidents.
Consider these facts from the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine Injury Prevention:
- Injuries kill more than 142,000 Americans each year.
- Injuries of individuals ages 1-44 cost the nation approximately $133 billion each year.
- Accidental injury remains the leading cause of death in youth, and sports injuries constitute an important number of these.
- The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reported that as many as 5 million medically treated injuries occur in the 15 most popular sports each year.
- Between 1983 and 1989, the CPSC documented 2.66 million injuries treated at emergency rooms due to baseball and softball. This does not include non-hospitalization physician visits and thus underestimates the number of children injured.
- A 1981 CPSC study of sports injuries to children ages 5 to 14 found more deaths in this age group due to baseball than any other sport. From 1973 to 1983, the CPSC reported 51 baseball-related deaths in children, including 12 children hit in the head with the ball and 21 children hit in the chest.
Those facts would seem to support the argument that American kids are injury-prone in general and that a kid is six times more likely to be killed by a baseball than by a Jart.
Should we ban baseball? Of course not.
Then why do we still have a ban on lawn darts?
The ban on Jarts is so ridiculous that one cannot even sell a set on eBay. Even listings for Jart T-shirts include such phrases as "Caution: Lawn darts are highly dangerous and are illegal in the United States."
To paraphrase an old NRA chestnut: Jarts don't kill people, people kill people.
Fortunately, one group has had enough of ridiculous government over-policing. A group of renegades in Piqua, Ohio, celebrates the Fourth of July by claiming their independence of inane federal laws. The group holds a Jart tournament every Fourth at which participants party like it's 1987. In the 16 years the tournament has been held, there have been plenty of whoops and hollers, thousands of laughs and smiles and -- can you believe it -- not one death.
Take a moment and drop your congressman a line demanding the return of Jarts to the great national landscape. It's as American as apple pie.