Time To Make Fireworks Legal Again

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/07/04/time-to-make-fireworks-legal-again/

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

—- Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776


He was famously off by two days — why, we’ll get to below — but John Adams’s recommendations about how Americans should celebrate independence have been right on for 241 years.

“Shews,” games, sports, guns, bells, and bonfires have all been used to mark the occasion. But nothing says Independence Day like “Illuminations.” At the first Fourth of July celebration, on July 4, 1777 in Philadelphia, citizens of the new country lifted their spirits during an otherwise dark period of the Revolutionary War with “a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons,” representing the 13 original colonies, now states.

For most of our history, citizens have been able to celebrate in this manner on their own. But not always without peril.

In 1943, Massachusetts outlawed fireworks. The bill was passed around the same time that bonfires were banned in order to keep night skies dark so that German bombers would have a tougher time attacking American cities if they were so inclined.

But supporters of the ban also cited safety. And they kept looking for opportunities to expand their zone of safety.

In 1974 the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission tried to ban fireworks nationwide. This startling overreach was a few days from going into effect when a backlash prevented it from happening.

It was a low point for pyrotechnics. Vietnam was ending badly; Watergate had crippled the president and added to public cynicism; patriotism was waning; we seemed to have lost our way. Fireworks were so downtrodden that a Washington Post headline from the era could claim that the fireworks industry was headed toward “oblivion.”

The Bicentennial of 1976 is credited with saving fireworks, as Americans came out in huge numbers to see nighttime displays over cities and towns and were wowed the way people have always been wowed by them.

Fireworks opponents cite injuries and deaths from fireworks. Many seem to think that merely mentioning the figures and telling the stories wins the argument.

Let’s give them their due:  Fireworks are dangerous. Terrible injuries have occurred and do occur from them. No one should handle them who doesn’t know anything about them, and no children should handle them without adult supervision.

But merely citing safety doesn’t win an argument. Statistically speaking, one of the most dangerous things you can do is get in a car and go for a drive. Yet no one talks about banning driving. Access to driving is necessary for commerce, daily activities, and happiness. It’s also part of our culture.

At their best, safety laws and regulations are about minimizing risk in a reasonable manner while still respecting freedom.

Banning fireworks for all but the people whom government authorities choose to give permits to isn’t reasonable, and it doesn’t respect freedom.

It also doesn’t respect our culture. As anyone who has ever stuck a stick in the sand and lit off a Roman candle over the water can tell you, there’s nothing like celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks. It feels a little like reading the Declaration of Independence to George III himself.

But nowadays that ability comes only to people who drive to faraway places like South Carolina to buy some legally, or who visit a dealer closer by who sells them illegally, or who gets them from someone who did one of those things, also illegally.

Local police rightly ignore the vast majority of fireworks displays by individuals this time of year … but no one should have to have special connections or make illegal deals to get fireworks, and no one should have to risk legal problems when setting them off.

Everyone ought to have that opportunity, and it ought to be legal to do so. It’s time to repeal the ban.

Oh, and John Adams’s Second of July reference above? July 2, 1776 was the date that the Second Continental Congress voted for independence. Two days later, on July 4, Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence as amended. That’s the date that went on the Declaration of Independence, and it’s the date we’ve all been celebrating ever since.

With fireworks.