In this question I will give an example of a law that effectively bans the import of (and makes attempted import without prior approval a crime) certain goods that can be freely bought and sold on national market. The effect is that the goods are hard to find and cost 10 times more than in countries where such a ban does not exist.

The actual question is: how common is this scenario in free/democratic countries? Is it common, or is the below example just a legal anecdote that ideally needs to be fixed by lobbying/pushing the law makers in the right direction?

In New Zealand, people over 18 can freely buy and sell air pistols. No firearms license is required (unless you are younger than 18).

However, if Bob wants to buy an air pistol from say Amazon, he needs to apply to the Police for a permit to import. The most amazing/amusing thing here is that, unlike real, non-air guns (e.g. a regular rifle, an application to import which can be considered just by any "member of the Police" who "must" grant it if certain criteria is met as per section 18(2,3)), an application to import an air pistol (which is "restricted airgun") has to be considered by the Commissioner (the head of the NZ Police themselves) who only "may" grant it, and only if there is a "special reason" to it (section 18(4,5)).

The law does not elaborate on what "special reasons" are, but the Police still has its idea. In a nut shell, if Bob simply wants to practice target shooting with an air pistol at his rural backyard, or control the population of rats threatening his duck flock, he is out of luck: import is effectively banned for him. But he still can just buy the same thing locally — if he is lucky enough to find it.

Now, there is more to it. Say Bob, who routinely buys stuff from Amazon, sees there an air pistol he wants for only $50, new, whereas locally he can find it only for no less than $500, used. He orders it without hesitation, thinking that if he can freely trade and use it locally, surely there will be no troubles buying it from overseas. He has no idea that there is section 16 which, in its previous version could send him to jail for 1 year (in the current version they've added "without reasonable excuse" which now could possibly save Bob from becoming a prisoner). Bob's Amazon order arrives at the customs which, upon not finding a matching import permit, forfeits it by way of transfer of title to the Crown. Bob loses the money — getting punished for not being clairvoyant enough to expect that such a law could exist. Moreover, he should be thankful that no charges get laid against him.

Apparently, the legislative intent here was to limit the number of air pistols in the country: if they were as accessible as they are in the world, the number of crimes involving them would have gone up. However, managing the risk of unlawful use just by keeping the prices 10 times higher (as opposed to either completely banning trade/possession or applying the same "special reason" threshold as for import) does seem like a very odd, peculiar solution.

  • Nitpick, requiring a firearms license for air pistols would mean that it's not a firearms license, but a projectile weapons license, as air pistols are not firearms. Of course, the US has such stupid terminology too, because we don't technically consider cap-guns to be firearms even though they very much are... Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 1:58
  • @AustinHemmelgarn Air pistols aren't weapons either (although neither they are toys), so I don't even know how a licence for them would be called. Just "arms" licence perhaps.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 2:12
  • The use of ban in the title is somewhat deceptive. What you are talking about is not an outright ban, but a ban-by-permit.
    – Just a guy
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 2:29
  • @Justaguy I simply opted to not specify what kind of ban it is in the title to keep it short :) In the body I do elaborate though.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 2:34
  • @Greendrake This is not a ban. To ban the import of something means to prohibit people from importing it. These guns are not prohibited; they are licensed. As you say, the license is set up in a way that effectively bans their import. I take your point about space, but would anyone say NZ bans cars just b/c they are require them to be licensed?
    – Just a guy
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 2:45

4 Answers 4


The import of slaves into the United States was banned in 1808, although slavery itself and the buying and selling of slaves remained legal on a Federal level until 1865.

There were, of course, many many violations of the law against importing new slaves.

  • 1
    Amazingly, this outdated example seems to be the only one relevant so far.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 1:55
  • @Greendrake What about food? Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 11:11
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    @user253751 You tell me, I don't know.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 11:14

This is not as uncommon as you might think, but will probably depend highly on the locality.

Neighboring countries may have different standards or weapons laws.

On the German / Polish border, certain products may be bought freely in Poland, but may not be imported into Germany.

In the area of weapons, polish laws differ greatly in the area of knifes

Firecrackers standards also differ, so in the period before New Year random custom checks behind the border are often encountered to prevent certain types of firecrackers from being imported.

The same for some types of fertilizers, so in the springtime random custom checks will occur more often when the planting season starts.


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    In your examples, can the products that may not be imported still be freely traded inside the country? Because if they can't then the import restrictions are sensible and therefore your examples do not address the question.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 9:40
  • You cannot buy something like a polish firecracker in Germany, at least not legally. They contain more explosive material and are considered unsafe following german standards. Therefore this example is not answering the question
    – Manziel
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 9:52
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    So there is a range of firecrackers that can be freely bought and sold in Germany but still can't be freely imported, correct?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 10:59
  • 1
    The so called "Polenböller", firecrackers that are quite dangerous but legal in Poland and illegal in germany is pretty famous.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 15:45
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    @MarkJohnson: Unless I mistaken of the StackExchange's formatting, Greendrake is the OP, so I don't think they are being "holier than the pope in 'judgment'", but rather explaining what they themselves meant.
    – sharur
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 16:36

A current ban, though one I know little about, is China's waste import ban. It is apparently a total ban on the import of the listed wastes. I have to imagine that domestic trade is still free, as otherwise recycling could not exist within China.

The ivory trade might fit as well, though it is enforced around the world rather than the pocket ban you seem to want and may no longer fit. Imports of ivory are nearly completely banned in most countries though at the least China allowed domestic trade but no international trade in ivory. The domestic trade was legal until 2015, so it is not a current example. It is possible that other countries with substantial ivory sources still permit the domestic trade but I do not know.


It's common for countries to have restrictions on the import of foodstuffs that are available locally, with enforcement such as confiscating from travellers half eaten meals.

As an example, cheaper US beef and chicken can't be imported into the EU, and there are people lobbying the UK to maintain this import ban in the post-Brexit trade deal with the US

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    This answer might be true, but it's very brief. Do you think you'd be able to expand on it a bit, and elaborate on (for instance) why these laws are put in place, along with maybe an example or two with relevant citations?
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 16:51
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    All food bans that I know of are related to agricultural and health laws, and don't constitute absolute bans. I can buy NZ lamb in a US store, but I can't bring it into the US in my luggage. This is not the class of cases the OP is asking about.
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 23:38

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