7.3.18. -- Guest OP-ED by Daniel Pravda
Fireworks UNfreedom on the Fourth of July
For the last decade or so, my friends and I have enjoyed the hell out of lighting off our own fireworks, which is, of course, illegal. We make the roughly five-hour drive to South of the Border (bueno!), as South Carolina is the closest place to buy real fireworks. Not only does Virginia and most other states shit on citizens' personal freedom, they also, like idiots, lose money in the process.
According to the US Product Safety Commission, four people died as a result of fireworks in 2016: "Three of the four fatalities...were related to reloadable aerial devices, and one was associated with manufacturing homemade devices." To put into context, there were more than 38,000 firearms deaths in the same year, according to Time, and the CDC reports that more than 88,000 Americans die per year due to alcohol. So adults are free to buy guns and drinks, but fireworks are somehow too dangerous for the people. WTF?
It is especially infuriating that fireworks are illegal on so-called Independence Day. Yes, cops often look the other way on July 4th itself, but that's not good enough. Americans should obviously have the right to light fireworks in the same way we choose to own guns, drink booze, smoke cigs, and eat burgers and pizza and ice cream, ya know, things that are supposedly bad for us.
Every year, my crew parades down to the neighborhood park, each carrying a bag or box. We have a couple guys do the actual lighting, while the crowd stands well off to the side. We are careful with where we place fireworks, how we fire them, and in what order. Although we have had a couple run-ins with the police, we (knock on wood) have never had an injury. Some cops are cool, and tell us just to clean up (which we have always done anyway), and some have threatened charges and booted us from the park.
And then there's the money. We tend to spend about $300 a year on fireworks. Add at least one tank of gas, lunch, and stops for snacks, drinks, and whatever else along the way, and we're closer to $400 per year. I remember when Virginia had lottery and North Carolina did not. North Carolina finally got on board when it realized how much money Carolina residents were spending on lottery in Virginia. The Post and Courier, a South Carolina newspaper, reports that Americans spent $885 million on fireworks in 2017. This will, without a doubt, clear ONE BILLION DOLLARS within the next few years. What cut of this does Virginia receive? Zero. Nada. Nothing. I wonder how much money Virginia wastes with this ban.
Of course, money is not the most important issue here. Freedom is. This is so simple: people should have the opportunity to decide for themselves to buy and enjoy legal fireworks. Not any of that crappy, non-exploding junk they try to market as fireworks on the Eastern Shore and other locales, those don't count in the same way non-alcoholic beer doesn't count.
Why is it ok that cities, towns, and even neighborhoods can get and use fireworks legally, but civilians, ya know, regular people, cannot? Are government fireworks folks immune to safety issues? No. Are government fireworks folks explosive experts? Most often, no. And who pays for city fireworks? The taxpayers! Do we really need local governments controlling our Independence Day entertainment? I'm going with no.
For those of you who have never fired off your own real fireworks, it is a totally incredible experience. They are not only exciting, they are also beautiful and mesmerizing. Yes, there may be some risk involved, but risk is everywhere. Should scuba diving and surfing be banned, as those are risky activities? How about football? People states that eight high schoolers died from football in 2013. BAN FOOTBALL! Oh wait a second; these people CHOSE to play? Sad, sure, but it was their decision to make, and, if possible, the law should stay the hell out of people's personal business.
In "Letter From Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King, quoting St. Augustine, declares, "An unjust law is no law at all." He goes on to say that people have an obligation to break unjust laws. Although civil rights issues certainly eclipse that of legal fireworks, the principle still applies. When the law trespasses on the people, patriotic acts of defiance often help highlight and solve the problem.
Until the Commonwealth legalizes fireworks, we will continue to break this unjust and stupid law. The ban completely ignores the risks inherent in many, many legal activities in America. The illegality of fireworks is simply unacceptable in a free society. Just stop with the bullshit that in a country with lots of guns, booze, drugs, etc., the issue is safety. The real issue is freedom, or lack thereof. That means let individuals decide for themselves, or have we lost that too?
Happy Fourth, everyone! As we do every year, we will exercise our powers of critical thinking and our expressions of freedom. We should not have to worry about being busted for fireworks. Let freedom boom.