(This is inspired by and a generalization of the firearms ownership question). Many laws in the US restrict acquisition or possession of a thing. One can have legal title to a physical thing whose possession is restricted in the person's jurisdiction, where the thing is located in a jurisdiction without the restriction. In that case, one would own the thing, but not be in possession of it in the restricted jurisdiction.

I have never seen any US law that specifically restricts ownership, and I suspect that there are none (possibly for constitutional reasons). Is it a fact that there are no such laws? (If there are any such laws, what interests me is whether "ownership" can be construed as an "act"). [An earlier version asked about 'addresses', not it seems clear that it should be narrowed to 'restrictions', since various laws incidentally mention ownership].

  • 1
    What about tax laws? There are plenty of laws that impose taxes or reporting requirements on the owners of various kinds of property, and even more that impose taxes when ownership changes. Oct 21, 2016 at 18:49
  • In the UK you need a firearms certificate to possess, buy or acquire... That seems to cover all possibilities.
    – WS2
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:17
  • @WS2 if someone gives or bequeaths a firearm to you, you'll have ownership of it without necessarily having taken possession of it. Suppose you buy a house with all its contents and later discover there's a firearm hidden in one of the walls? So clearly aquisition and ownership aren't the same. Also, the UK isn't yet a part of the US.
    – phoog
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:29
  • @NateEldredge, I've added that to my queue. I think property tax laws actually are "against the property" and not about ownership, but now I have something to read.
    – user6726
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:58
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    "I have never seen any US law that specifically addresses ownership" - The Fugitive Slave Acts?
    – user662852
    Oct 21, 2016 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


A random example I found is 16 USC 363, which forbids anyone to own a bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park which has been granted a hot water supply, if they already own another bathhouse nearby.

42 USC 2061 says that the Atomic Energy Commission shall be the exclusive owner of all production facilities for special nuclear material (with certain exceptions), which effectively forbids any other person to own such a facility.


A few examples that come immediately to mind:

There are laws that make it a crime to own a large percentage of the stock of a company without disclosing it.

An ownership interest in a "corrupt" organization is a racketeering offense.

It is illegal to own nuclear materials (which are as a matter of law the property of the United States government) or non-prescribed controlled substances or certain disease causing pathogens or a merchant ship without a license. It is illegal to own an operating taxi cab without a license. It is illegal to own certain devices for cheating ATMs and cable/satellite TV systems. It is illegal to own many kinds of ivory without a license, and it is illegal to own Bald Eagle parts without a license, and in some cases to own conflict diamonds. It is illegal to own body parts for transplantation (except to the extent that you own yourself when they are transplanted into you).

Ownership of people is generally prohibited (this is called "human trafficking", "slavery" or "peonage"). Many kinds of ideas are not capable of ownership as intellectual property.

Ownership of many kinds of animals is permitted only with an appropriate license.

There are elaborate regulations governing ownership of legal marijuana businesses, of liquor stores, of casinos, of medical practices and of legal practices, to name a few. Ownership of property necessary to carry on such businesses would be a violation.

Some states prohibit people other than natural persons or general partnerships from owning farms.

Many countries, such as Mexico, prohibit foreigners from certain kinds of land ownership. Many also prohibit foreigners from owning key natural resources like oil.

Ownership of something is frequently a grounds upon which to impose liability on a person based upon that ownership. For example, a car in an accident or real property where someone is injured.

I have never seen any US law that specifically restricts ownership, and I suspect that there are none (possibly for constitutional reasons). Is it a fact that there are no such laws? (If there are any such laws, what interests me is whether "ownership" can be construed as an "act").

There is nothing unconstitutional about such a law although if you owned something at the time that the law was enacted and had to give up ownership as a result of the law, you might be entitled to compensation under the 5th Amendment eminent domain provisions. There are many such laws, as noted above. You could call "ownership" an act in those circumstances, although the question seems to suggest that there is some constitutional or other requirement that laws only prohibit "acts" and that is not the case. Laws make likewise prohibit inaction, although they do so less often.

  • This is a pretty good answer, although in many of your examples it is possession and not ownership that is illegal. For example, I don't think the unlicensed ownership of animals and parts is illegal; only possession. But if you can find a statute that illustrates the contrary that would be very illuminating.
    – feetwet
    Oct 24, 2016 at 16:20
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    For example, Colo. Rev. Statutes Section 35-40-101(2)(c) states that all mountain lions and bears remain the property of the State of Colorado even when lawfully killed or captured. They cannot be owned by a private person. C.R.S. 18-13-111 makes it illegal to own scrap metal without keeping detailed records of its source and sharing this with law enforcement. C.R.S. 18-13-106 makes it illegal to own an unsafe refrigerator dump. CRS 18-4-420 makes it illegal to own a "chop shop."
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 24, 2016 at 16:50

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