Are some prepping activities illegal? Or could they become illegal in the not-too-distant future? A few introductory remarks are needed here. I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice. It is nothing other than a discussion of possibilities and of news stories on what may or may not be illegal, according to those news sources. I’m also not suggesting a fear-and-loathing attitude toward government authority. The question at hand is simply this, might some prudent and reasonable emergency preparations be illegal, or become illegal? The answer is a qualified: “Yes”.
The first example that I ran across in researching different types of preparations for disaster is the collection of rainwater. It is illegal in some states. More specifically, some states regulate the collection of rainwater in such a way that many homeowners would be unable to qualify for its legal collection. I can’t get into all of the specifics of the law, because I am not a lawyer and because laws vary from place to place, and change from time to time. But take a look at this document from the State of Colorado concerning the 2009 change to their restrictions on rainwater collection: Colorado Legislative Council Staff ISSUE BRIEF. Basically, some homeowners can now legally harvest rainwater (whereas before they could not), but quite a few others still cannot legally do so.
In my opinion, it seems unreasonable to restrict the collection and use of rainwater that falls on your own property. One of the main concerns in prepping for disasters is water. It is a basic human necessity, and therefore a basic human right. Also, from a practical point of view, if you don’t have a well, and town or city water fails for some reason, you cannot survive for long without water. What then? Laws are slow to change in response to the needs of the people. Some might say that you break the law and take your chances. I don’t necessarily agree with that point of view. But you can only store so much water, and it is a basic necessity of life. It would be ideal to have plenty of land and your own well (and own septic system). But the ideal is not the norm.
On the question of bartering, I could not find any sources opining that bartering is generally illegal. There was a story recently in the news about a man in Alaska who was cited for illegal bartering, but this was because the bartering of game meat was specifically prohibited, not bartering in general. I think the main concern about bartering is that some bartering transactions might be subject to taxation. If bartering ever becomes a major part of the U.S. economy, the States might push for a broadening of laws and their enforcement on bartering. Taxation and regulation might make bartering much less useful.
I suppose that the biggest issue with prepping and its legality concerns firearms. Know your local firearms laws: Federal, State, and in some cases counties and cities can have a vast array of laws pertaining to guns and ammo. I’m currently reading through a book that covers Federal and Florida State laws on guns: Florida Firearms, Law, Use & Ownership, by Jon Gutmacher. It is scary how many laws exist on guns, and how complex their interpretation and application can be. In some cases, the lawyer-author of that book states that the interpretation of certain firearms laws is in a state of flux, so much so that you can’t be entirely sure if certain actions are legal or illegal. Tread carefully and make sure you are well-informed.
Another area of concern is zoning laws, town ordinances, and homeowners’ associations. Any of these might interfere with your prudent and reasonable use of your own property. For examples, I’ve seen multiple stories in the news, from time to time, about homeowners being cited for having a garden on their own land. Here’s a case of a man who was told his front yard tomato growing was legal, then the town changed their minds and decided it was illegal. I recall another case in the news of a front yard garden that was said to violate a town ordinance on unsightly use of property.
But a more common problem is zoning. If you have a garden, especially in the backyard, you might be OK — although homeowners’ associations can be particularly persnickety. But if you attempt to grow all your own food, your use of the land may be deemed a farm, and be subject to zoning regulations. Are you zoned for agriculture? Can you have chickens or other food-producing animals without proper zoning, permits, and even perhaps some record-keeping? The laws are not designed with self-sufficiency in mind.
Florida recently passed a law banning local restrictions on clotheslines. Homeowners associations and towns (as far as I understand this point of law) can’t keep you from using your own property to dry clothing outdoors. See this article: clothesline bans void in 19 States. There ought to be similar laws banning restrictions on growing food, collecting rainwater, bartering, etc. I suggest a homeowners bill of rights that would be like a castle doctrine for self-sufficiency. You should be able to use your property to obtain basic necessities of life.