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Stay safe around fireworks this Independence Day, since the Legislature isn't helping

Jack Lessenberry

As I am sure you’ve noticed, Friday is the Fourth of July, which means that for several nights before and afterwards, many of our neighborhoods will sound after dark like a free-fire zone.

In other words, kids, some of them long past voting age, will be setting off fireworks. A few will hurt themselves, mainly burning their hands or losing a finger. Some may lose an eye.

If the grass is dry enough or a bottle rocket goes out of control, we may have some serious fires. Six years ago, a bottle rocket landed on the roof of a rather nice apartment complex in Toledo, starting a blaze that completely destroyed the buildings.

Nobody died, but a hundred people were left homeless. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the staunchest advocates for gun control haven’t been so-called Ann Arbor liberals, but the police.

Cops are not always known to be liberal on social issues, but they see on a firsthand basis what guns in the wrong hands can do. By the same token, firefighters tend to be the most anti-firecracker.

Firemen, and city officials. When I was young, Ohio had far more liberal fireworks policies than Michigan. But that has changed. Ohio has outlawed almost all consumer fireworks.

But three years ago, our Legislature made them far easier to get and blow up for three days around any national holiday. 

Yesterday, the Oakland Press quoted Royal Oak City Manager Donald Johnson as saying legalizing fireworks is, “the stupidest thing the Legislature has done in 20 years.”

He was reacting mainly to the fact that people don’t tend to observe the three-day fireworks window. Instead, they set them off all summer, scaring dogs and angering residents.

Fireworks also are dangerous. Even the humble sparkler, usually regarded as the tamest of fireworks, burns at 1200 degrees – that’s far hotter than needed to melt glass. Imagine a sparkler accidentally landing on a baby’s arm.

I am well aware that it is fun to make loud noises and blow things up. There’s a little Dennis the Menace in us all, including me. But I knew a kid who lost an eye and part of a finger to a firecracker he held a little too long when we were young.

...any time anyone suggests banning or regulating anything, they are jeered at by free-market types

So I wish we’d make them harder to get. These days, any time anyone suggests banning or regulating anything, they are jeered at by free-market types. They say we want to give up our independence to a “nanny state.” Well, I am completely libertarian about some things. I don’t want government to tell me what to read, watch or think, who to vote for, marry, sleep with, et cetera. But I do want government to protect me from senseless harm, where possible. I want a “nanny state,” if you call it that, that prevents someone from selling me rotten meat.

I want us to pay our nanny to fix the roads, make sure the water is clean, and the drugs are safe. I also would like the government to make it harder for an excited 10-year-old to celebrate American independence by blowing his fingers off.

If this be nannyism, I say embrace it.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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