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Silly Law? Town Tries to Ban Toy String From a Can

January 28, 1996

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) _ By most accounts, the aftermath resembled an explosion in a Play-Doh factory _ hardened goo in hues of orange, pink and blue stuck fast to everything that makes Southington’s town square a perfect New England snapshot.

Kids of many ages wreaked havoc at the Apple Harvest Festival one weekend four months ago with Silly String, a non-toxic, chemical toy twine launched from aerosol cans.

Now Southington figures that if you can’t beat ‘em, enjoin ’em. It’s ready to outlaw the stuff under most circumstances and smack a $99 fine on anyone, kid or adult, caught with it.

``This product has no legitimate use,″ Police Chief William Perry, who requested the ban, said sternly. ``It’s being manufactured and sold with one purpose in mind _ to annoy other people.″

Last week, after a town meeting ended with citizens arguing Silly String’s virtues, the council kicked back the original ``Objectionable Products Ordinance″ for revision to avoid making petty criminals of people who use it in their homes.

It wasn’t just the sprayed shop windows and the shellacked sidewalks that rankled anti-stringers. Classic cars left the festival’s parade with corroded paint. Marching band members _ and their uniforms and instruments _ got spritzed. Two motorcycle cops, bombarded by a neon-colored fusillade, nearly ran off the road.

Some residents say they fear that some of the festival’s hundreds of visitors might not come back.

``This isn’t like firearms, which have certain constitutional protections,″ said David Kelley, the town attorney. ``There is absolutely no constitutional right for something like this.″

The no-string contingent claims broad support and says it’s natural to ban what amounts to training-wheels for spray-painting vandals.

But it’s difficult to find anyone on Southington’s streets who doesn’t think the law _ and the taxpayer time spent prattling about it _ is sillier than the string.

``If they were walking around dumping cups of water on people, would they ban water? It’s ridiculous,″ said Kevin Brunetti, who owns a comic book store just off the square. ``If they can’t handle this, how are they supposed to deal with real crimes?″

``We’re paying for town services and these guys are arguing about Silly String?″ said Doug Charamut, shopping at a toy store with his wife and four young children.

The original ordinance would have made Silly String a controlled substance anywhere in town. That posed certain problems, such as how to handle truckloads of canned string passing through on Interstate 84.

``There could be a black market before you know it,″ said a disgusted Brendan Duff, 18. ``You’ll have people on the street whispering, `I got the stuff.‴

The council ordered Kelley to rework the law for a Feb. 12 vote. Now, as written, it bars canned string and smoke bombs from all public areas and on days of carnivals or parades. On other days, Kelley says, it ``probably″ wouldn’t be illegal.

And the law authorizes Southington’s 58 officers to ``take any and all actions reasonable and necessary″ to ferret out Silly String, including searching stores.

All of this is quite preposterous to Bob D’Agostino, whose Waterbury distributorship wholesales the product to Southington and much of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

D’Agostino unloads 30,000 cans each year under the brand name Fun String, many to vendors at the Apple Harvest Festival, and he’s adamant: String doesn’t spray people _ people spray people.

``Americans don’t take responsibility for anything anymore,″ D’Agostino said. ``If kids aren’t disciplined by parents to know you’re not supposed to squirt someone driving a motorcycle, it’s not the product’s fault.″

To be sure, the ordinance has its supporters. Ardelle Pelletier, who belongs to a local beautification association, came home from the parade with sprayed shoes and pants. She backs the ban and says her friends do, too.

``It’s an invasion of space,″ she said. ``We take pride here in keeping things clean.″

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