Tuesday, July 3, 2007

'Bonfires & Illuminations'

In it's annual Fourth of July tradition, The New York Sun renews its call for the repeal of New York's ban on fireworks, to which I'd add a hearty hear-hear:

The Declaration of Independence, signed 231 years ago tomorrow, shines brightly to this day as a beacon of liberty in a world still too oppressed. So why, we ask in our annual Fourth of July editorial, are New Yorkers forced to celebrate in the dark? The Founding Fathers believed that the Fourth of July should be celebrated with "bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this day forward ever more." Yet at this end of the continent, we New Yorkers live in one of only five states that completely outlaw personal use of fireworks. The state has had a ban on the books in one form or another since 1965.

Although safety is often cited as a justification for such laws, personal responsibility seems to have more bearing on safety than the fireworks themselves. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, a trade group, consumption of fireworks, measured in millions of pounds, increased 870% between 1976 and 2005. During the same period, injuries, measured in injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks sold, fell 90.1%, so that last year there were only 3.8 injuries reported per 100,000 pounds sold. Fireworks account for only about 0.01% of the 70 million personal injuries suffered by Americans each year. Ovens are at least four times as dangerous.

New York's ban seems even more insulting when one considers the completely unnecessary burden it puts on law enforcement. Already this year the New York Police Department has seized 29 cars carrying illegal fireworks, arrested 91 people on charges related to trafficking and possessing illegal fireworks, including six on felony charges, seized 721 cases of fireworks, and given out 61 summonses and six juvenile reports.

An NYPD spokesman, Assistant Chief Michael Collins, attributed significantly fewer arrests and seizures this year to increasing awareness of the NYPD's heightened enforcement measures. The city's enforcement efforts on fireworks read like something more worthy of a counterterrorism program. This year, the police department has worked with surrounding jurisdictions to track down traffickers and used checkpoints at the bridges and tunnels to search vehicles for fireworks as they enter the city. In addition, on Monday Police Commissioner Kelly said, "We are very openly monitoring activities in other states."

What kind of message is that sending to the youngsters of this city? George Washington would have been disgusted. We don't blame the police commissioner or the police; they don't write these laws. They are sworn to enforce them. The legislature owes them other priorities. On this Independence Day holiday, Americans are indeed in danger. But the danger comes from those terrorists who seek to destroy our liberties, not from the means ordinary New Yorkers would like to use to celebrate the country's founding, the very way for which the Founders themselves called. The signers of the Declaration of Independence took a great risk in affixing their names to that parchment. There's absolutely no reason for Albany to spoil our national holiday by preventing New Yorkers from taking their own risks to celebrate that achievement.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, given the population density in the NYC area & the absolute, utter stupidity of some fireworks users, at least a partial ban (banning anything but firecrackers & sparklers) makes sense. If these Darwin rejects were only taking themselves out, I'd be the first to applaud, but they affect many other people as well because of the proximity of individuals, homes & autos.

A neighbor in my old building lost everything she owned when she left a window open while out (thinking it was a high enough floor) one hot, humid Fourth. An errant bottle rocket ignited curtains and the blaze spread throughout her apartments, destroying everything. Inncocent bystanders have been injured by errant bottlerockets, M-80s etc. in the past. Cars and homes have suffered fire damage.

My old building had a nice balcony. One day shortly before the 4th, an errant bottle rocket came up into the balcony area & exploded, narrowly missing me & a guest. Thereafter, the balcony was off limits from when the firework season started (mid June) until it ended (mid July). Forget the freedom of enjoying a relaxing rest on one's balcony.

During that same period, people used to drive with car windows rolled up lest an errant bottle rocket, M-80, etc. end up in the car. Forget that freedom of enjoying a nice summer breeze in your automobile.

People going on about a "nanny" state whinge about how their right to blow stuff up on is being infringed. Well, what about the right of others not to be blown up? What about losing the use of a balcony during a prime summer month when one should be able to enjoy it? Or more seriously, being injured or losing your home to someone else's carelessness? What about the rights of others to lounge outdoors on a beautiful summer day without the threat of explosives? Or the rights to enjoy a nice breezy summer drive?

Now in less population dense areas, allowing more types of fireworks may make sense. But not here. Personally, I've found the fireworks crackdown at least limits the explosives to one day a year and I can actually enjoy the rest of the summer without fear of injury or property damage.

tom said...

I can appreciate these anecdotes, and the risk of fireworks generally. However, I suspect you're being somewhat hyperbolic -- was your balcony really under attack from late June through mid-July? Did people really opt to keep their car windows closed simply for fear of an errant bottle rocket? Where, may I ask, do you come from?

But like every risk, simply because it exists doesn't mean a government ban is the right solution. While I'm neither an attorney nor a policeman, I suspect it's against the law to direct fireworks toward private homes and/or cars. If it's not, why not outlaw "using fireworks in a reckless/dangerous manner," as opposed to fireworks entirely?

I would also note that fireworks in New York are illegal, yet they're everywhere, as you seem to agree. How can that be? Because where demand surfaces, so follows supply -- in this case, at the service of a black market. Who runs such markets? Who distributes? Who supplies? Who patronizes? Likely criminals, or those associated. The psychological effect of possessing contraband, as opposed to innocuous, patriotic explosive devices, likely leads to them being used in a manner befitting of their described origins.

You write, "People going on about a 'nanny' state whinge about how their right to blow stuff up on is being infringed. Well, what about the right of others not to be blown up?" Again, I am pretty sure it is already illegal to "blow someone up." Banning fireworks does nothing to further protect anyone, and likely only encourages more irresponsible usage.