Baby, you’re a firework

…but you can’t light one

Artwork: Pat Bagley

By Sarah Sidlow

July 4 is coming, and that means we’re gearing up for a weekend of grillin’, chillin’, and callin’ the cops on the neighbors when they set off fireworks.

Why? Because in the state of Ohio, at least for now, it’s illegal to set off fireworks.

Legal refresher: “novelty and trick” fireworks, like party poppers, trick matches, and glow worms (look them up) can be discharged by people without a license. Ohio citizens are allowed to buy fireworks in the state, but they aren’t allowed to set them off. In fact, Ohio revised code says fireworks purchased in Ohio must be moved out of the state within 48 hours of the purchase.

And yes, there are criminal penalties for those who violate the fireworks law. First-time offenders are normally charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. If they plead guilty or are convicted, they can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and fined up to $1,000.

But lawmakers are seeking to change that—because, they say, a statewide fireworks ban just isn’t working. Instead, they’re calling for a set of guidelines that would allow people to light consumer-grade fireworks on their own property.

Those guidelines include: forbidding people from shooting off fireworks under the influence, ensuring fireworks sellers also sell safety goggles, and setting aside a 4 percent fee at the retail level to be allocated for firefighter training, and inspection and enforcement of fireworks manufacturers and sellers. Lawmakers say this would standardize laws across the state while simultaneously allowing flexibility at the municipal level.

Supporters argue this common-sense approach to fireworks will ensure a higher level of safety and oversight, while recognizing that citizens are going to light fireworks anyway. They also say that maybe legalizing the practice will reduce the allure of illegally setting off fireworks just because it’s illegal.

But there are those who argue that roman candles and backyards just don’t mix—and they’re taking their testimony to the state floor. Many have heart-wrenching stories: families caught in house fires caused by illegal fireworks, and emergency-room doctors treating bystanders with burns, broken bones, and other injuries. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2015, nearly 12,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms were related to discharging fireworks.

Fireworks are explosives, they argue, and should be handled by professionals who have undergone the appropriate training.

Moreover, just because someone lights fireworks on his or her own property doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the entire neighborhood. Plus, if enforcement was an issue before, who’s to say these guidelines will make it any easier to keep people safe? Fireworks can’t be unlit—nor can officials force someone to put on safety goggles. And while safety education is a step in the right direction, many worry that encouraging the use of fireworks will only end in tragedy.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Debate Question of the Week: Should Ohio legalize the use of fireworks?


Red, white, and boom!

Make America great by making fireworks legal

By Don Hurst

In my younger days when I served the great city and county of Denver, Colorado, as a patrol officer, there were a few holidays that always just sucked to work. Thanksgiving: so many people get stabbed. Forced togetherness plus dysfunctional families plus readily available carving knives equals felonious assault. New Year’s Eve: the streets turn into a more chaotic version of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and at midnight, bullets rain from the heavens thanks to the morons who celebrated the New Year with semi-automatic gunfire.

None of that equaled the pain of working on the Fourth of July.

Oh my God. There is nothing quite like the aggravation of the endless string of fireworks-related calls of service. They start with a wild goose chase initiated by an anonymous complainant to find a firework that went off somewhere in a 10-block radius. Then there are the frantic citizens jumping in front of my car to wave me down. Instead of a kidnapping, a bank robbery, or even a cat stuck in a tree, it’s just a 20-minute rant on those hooligan kids celebrating America down the street.

All the while, real crime continues to happen. Drunk drivers careen down the streets. Drug dealers take advantage of the thin police presence to peddle meth (which is way worse than fireworks). Cops can’t actually fight crime when they are bouncing around the city chasing fireworks complaints.

Then there is what happens when cops confiscate fireworks. I recall a block party that I had to shut down. People booing and heckling from their yards. Belligerent adults yelling because I’m “stealing” their fireworks. Children sobbing in the streets as if I arrested Santa Claus for flying a sleigh without a proper license.

I hadn’t been surrounded by that much hostility since my convoy broke down in Mosul. Those people didn’t like me, but I definitely felt less rage from the Iraqis than the Americans.

I understand that fireworks are dangerous. For the record, I actually hate them. Since I’ve been shot at more times than I wished and have a blind Corgi with anxiety and bladder control issues, sudden, unforeseen booms are not a favorite in my household.

There’s no getting around the fact that fireworks are dangerous. They explode. They hurt people. They can cause fires.

So do a lot of the bottles in my cleaning closet. I made my son clean his bathroom this weekend. For giggles, I read the contents of the cleaning products. With all the warnings on the labels I’m terrified that social services will boot my door down and take my child from me before I can finish this column. Just hit up YouTube to witness the kind of fun you can have with toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil.

It’s not the government’s job to legislate all risk from our existence. We don’t need the state to hover around us like an overprotective parent armed with a life vest and an EpiPen. Even when the hovering comes from good intentions.

A lot of people do visit the emergency room because of fireworks. The Consumer Safety Protection Commission reported 8,000 novelty explosive related injuries from June 19 to July 19, 2015. How are we not extinct as a species?

Safety advocates try to claim that if we made fireworks illegal we would have saved those 8,000 people from the emergency room. Not true. Jeff Goldblum said in the movie “Jurassic Park” that life finds a way. Well, so does stupidity.

If it’s not fireworks, it will be something else. Road flares. Bonfires. Hover-boards. Parkour. Chain saws. Nail guns. Jump ropes. Again, I direct you to YouTube to feast your eyes on the multitude of ways that Darwinism plays out in modern life.

To the people who get injured through no fault of their own, I hear your screams. But that stupid neighbor was going to get you eventually. Perhaps not with a firework, but with something. An improvised, compressed air marshmallow gun can transform sugary, innocent gooiness into a lethal projectile. Safety is an illusion.

Don’t worry. The law does protect you. Negligent acts that harm others or destroy property are still crimes even if fireworks are legal. Celebrating America is not an affirmative defense for burning down a house.

Besides, there is just something American about fireworks. Our nation’s revolution altered the course of global history. We put a man on the moon. We helped stop the Nazis. We invented the airplane. Overall, our freedom has made the world a better place.

Why celebrate the anniversary of our independence with all the vivacity of a Catholic school library? Our country’s achievements are bold, loud, and sometimes brash. We should celebrate it as such.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.


It will go boom

More fireworks means more injuries

By Victor DeLaine

It’s not complicated. When fireworks are illegal, fewer people buy them. Fewer children’s hands are blown off, fewer homes burn down, and fewer people are killed. If you make them legal, more people will buy them. More kids will lose hands, more families will lose homes, and more people will lose lives. See how that works?

Put some numbers on it. As of 2015, Newsweek reported that fireworks caused an average of 230 emergency-room trips every Fourth of July. Of those hurt or maimed, 47 percent were kids under 20. Nineteen percent of the injuries were to people’s eyes, 36 percent to their hands. Seventy-four percent of those injured were men (duh!). In 2014, Fourth-of-July fireworks killed nine people.

And put some faces on it, too. Sure, some of the maimed are obese, tattooed backyard bullies or drunken frat boys answering cleft-between-the-buttocks dares destined for YouTube immortality. But not all of them. Rowdy Radford, 15, of Sargent, Texas, qualified for none of these when, last year, a breeze blew a flame into his massed bundle of sparklers before he was ready, igniting a burst that blinded him, ABC reported.

The casualty list the year before included Javonte McNair, 13, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Four days after Independence Day, a fun-looking red cylinder of gunpowder blew Javonte’s prepubescent hand off and sent a spray of shards into one of his eyes, destroying it, NBC reported. He said he didn’t think it was lit.

So here are a few questions for you would-be decriminalizers of fireworks. How many more deaths and maimings, how many more blindings, burnings, and blowings-off will happen when you legalize more things that go boom? What important societal goal, what worthwhile purpose do you think you’ll be advancing at the cost of all that carnage? Increased sales-tax revenue? Fatter campaign contributions from dealers importing fireworks from China or Taiwan or God-knows-where? Or just extra backyard fun?

Some will argue with a straight face that legalizing fireworks will not increase their use and, therefore, will not make our ERs or morgues any busier on the Fourth. The appeal of fireworks, the theory goes, lies in the glamour of their very illegality, so to make them legal would be to make them as humdrum as, say, frisbees or croquet sets. Whoever came up with that silly argument, however, must not spend much time around men. We grunting Neanderthals love fire and are fascinated by the rockets’ red glare whether those rockets are illegal or not. That’s why (legal) fireplaces and (equally legal) backyard barbecue grills are reserved for the man of the house. Understanding the finer points of legality and illegality is a frontal-lobe function, whereas the craving to set off explosions resides deep in the male brain stem. That explains not only why men play with fireworks, but why men take such pleasure in breaking wind noisily. Massive detonations are our way of announcing to the world, in Bronowski’s words, “I am here. I am Man.”

It’s a matter of economics. Making fireworks illegal increases the price both in dollars, by depressing the supply, and in risk, by empowering your neighbor to call the cops when your fireworks disturb his sleep. Lifting those criminal sanctions, by contrast, will increase the supply by clearing the way for more sellers than there are now, selling bigger, noisier explosives than they sell now, to a broader public than can lawfully use them now. And when the price curve goes down, you don’t need a degree in economics to figure out where the demand curve will go. Legal fireworks are cheaper fireworks, and the cheaper they are, the more they will sell.

Anticipating that decriminalization would inevitably mean more maimed young’ns, legislators urging this “reform” have made a token nod to safety by proposing to require fireworks dealers to offer protective goggles for sale, as well. But that idea is laughable. The only people who would wear goggles while setting off fireworks are the same dweebs who wear bicycle helmets. Men like that are too busy reading poems or looking at flowers to be interested in fireworks anyway. But, that said, even effeminate milquetoasts might try their inept hands at fireworks if they were legal, to the grave detriment of a wider spectrum of bystanders than are already at risk today. Legalization carries a blessing of sorts, an official approval that matters to some people, that persuades them that something is better, safer, more fit for backyard family fun than it really is.

There’s a good reason why practically every state once made fireworks illegal. They did it because they saw it as their duty not to maximize tax revenue, but to protect the safety of citizens in general and children in particular. Do not invert those priorities today. Do not legalize fireworks.

Reach DCP freelance writer Victor DeLaine at VictorDeLaine@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Don Hurst
Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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