The Arizona Desert Lamp

The sacred fire of liberty: a message for the Fourth

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 July 2009

Firework PostcardThis Saturday marks the 233rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a day that John Adams declared:

. . . 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Unfortunately, Arizonans will not be fully joining in such “pomp and parade.” Arizona is the only state West of the Mississippi that bans all pyrotechnic fireworks to her citizens; it joins Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island as the only states to do so in the nation.

Why does Arizona think her citizens so much weaker and in need of paternal protection than those in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado, and 40 other states? Why did Govs. Symington and Hull (both Republicans) both veto legislation that would have restored this liberty to her citizens?

The answer, inevitably, is safety. Benjamin Franklin’s famous edict has all but been forgotten in the urge to protect Arizona citizens from themselves. Their hand-wringing is made difficult by the paucity of finding an actual fireworks menace, when the annual number of fireworks injuries in the United States is barely higher 9,200, and related deaths only 11. In comparison, more people have died from “contact with powered lawn mower,” “fall involving bed,” or falls involving “ice-skates, skis, roller-skates, or skateboards.” So far, this has not led to bans on power lawn mowers, bunk beds, or skate parks. In desperation, the Forces That Be have brought out one Matt Crosbie as the poster child for maintaining the ban:

After the series of explosions, Matt Crosbie forced his way out of the car. When he looked down, he saw the skin peeling from his arms.

Flashes of smoke, flames and burned flesh were the result of Crosbie’s attempt to launch mortar-like fireworks out the window of a moving car days before his high-school graduation. One of the explosives he fired from a cardboard tube bounced back into the vehicle, igniting more fireworks and leaving the car engulfed in flames. [emphasis added]

. . .

Crosbie, who recently joined firefighters to speak out against the bill, said he was inspired to serve as a burn-victim advocate after his rehabilitation.

“I’ve had 30 surgeries, plenty of skin grafts,” said Crosbie, now 23. “I guess you could say I’m scarred for life because of this.”

In other words – because Mr. Crosbie has proven himself incapable of using fireworks properly, it therefore follows that no one in the state can use fireworks properly. If we allow for fireworks in this state, everyone will start firing mortars out of their moving vehicles. Not discussed is the inconvenient fact that Mr. Crosbie managed to obtain “mortar-like fireworks” in spite of the state’s stringent ban. Meanwhile, as stringent budget cuts are debated in Phoenix, law enforcement officers will be on high alert this weekend for fireworks smugglers.

You should be careful – which is a nice way of saying don’t be stupid. Don’t fire mortars out of a moving vehicle. Don’t give your three-year-old a burning sparkler and walk inside. Don’t start bottle rocket fights with the neighbors. Don’t try lighting an M-80 on your kitchen stove.

But it is a distinctly un-American approach to argue, as the CDC does, that “fireworks should be left to the professionals.” This is exactly the same impulse that has been used against democratic impulses and individual liberty for eons – it is no accident that President George Washington, describing government, said that, “[l]ike fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Just as British considered the colonists too immature to handle self-government, so our current government – ostensibly, the one still based in part on the Ninth Amendment – finds us too incompetent to handle sparklers and bottle rockets. In attempting to protect ourselves from the fearsome burn of the sparkler, we find ourselves scorched with mandarin diktats.

Thankfully, HB 2258 – sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs (R) – has made it through the Legislature and onto Governor Brewer’s desk; seeing how she played with sparklers as a child, she will probably have the good sense to sign the bill. This bill allows for the legal possession of sparklers and other small fireworks. It won’t, unfortunately, go into effect in time for this year’s festivities. But it is a good start, hopefully one towards restoring the liberties that most Americans – and all Westerners – enjoy.

The only thing more impressive, more amazing, and more praiseworthy than the epic shows of Disneyland and DC are the small shows staged in backyards and back roads across the country. Far better to celebrate the Fourth by exercising those liberties so painfully won, rather than slavishly following the concern-mongering of the state. Bureaucrats may find such a celebration petty and worthy of scorn; thus have they always viewed the accomplishments of individuals.

This Saturday, the Desert Lamp urges you to follow in the footsteps of those that fought for these liberties. Get drunk, blow things up, and openly question the “swarm of Officers” that tell you otherwise. (Although, really, why just Saturday?)

Fireworks 2

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5 Responses

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  1. A. Hill said, on 3 July 2009 at 5:37 pm

    considering arizona comprises some of the driest land in the united states, i think the potential for fires is a valid concern here. even our official fireworks display is notorious for routinely setting A mountain on fire, and if you were down here in 2003 you’d recall the extent of the damage wreaked by the aspen fire on mt lemmon (some of the north side had to be evacuated because of it, and summerhaven is still trying to recover). that fire wasn’t caused by fireworks, but it does demonstrate just how high the risk of fire is in the summer, and how rapidly it can spread. so for that reason, i can respect fireworks being disallowed here. that said, there’s got to be some sort of a compromise that can be reached; sparklers, for instance, can’t possibly be that much more of a risk than a cigarette, incense, or a barbecue.

  2. Evan Lisull said, on 3 July 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Yet Arizona isn’t the only state with dry land – all other states with extremely arid land have had very loose fireworks laws over the years, and there’s no evidence whatsoever suggesting that Arizona has had less damage as a result. At risk of repeating myself: why does Arizona need more protections than California, which was ravaged by wildfires with absolutely no connection to fireworks two years ago? Than neighboring New Mexico, Utah, or Nevada?

    I never got around to this in the piece, but it’s rather shady how few state-by-state comparisons are offered by the CDC, CPSC, and other such cautionary forces. One would thing that these entities would be eager to trumpet how many more injuries and fires are caused in lenient states rather than strict ones like AZ – yet they never opt to do so.

    Although individually large fireworks are more dangerous, statistics on injuries and damage indicate that it is sparklers and other small fireworks that cause a disproportionate amount of injuries and damage – usually when put in the hands of underage children. In this sense, they are more dangerous. As far as forest fires, it is far more likely that a forest fire would be sparked by an errant sparkler – or cigarette, I suppose – than a more heavy duty firework, on the basis of sheer numbers.

    There’s also the perverse incentives provided by driving fireworks activity underground. When all fireworks are illegal, those that do use fireworks are far more likely to do so in areas outside the purview of local law enforcement, rather than in their backyard. These areas are more likely to be wildernesses ripe for wildfire activity – and the law of unintended consequences strikes again.

  3. Kendra said, on 3 July 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Actually I agree with A. Hill, “I respect fireworks being disallowed here”.
    Arizona has a strong history of dangerous fire outbreaks.
    AZ just recently had a fire that was extremely serious, it changed the landscape of the state forever and former President Bush as well as Gov. Schwarzenegger flew down to provide aid.
    This also has a great deal to do with the budget cuts. If you need to save money, why not with fireworks? California is not the example to follow, they are currently writing IOUs.
    We are also a border community dealing with illegals and smuggling. In an hour one could be in Mexico obtaining large quantities of fireworks.
    Yes, some nearby states to AZ are at an equal increased risk of fires from fireworks.
    Because of all this I think Arizona should be applauded for taking a stand against potential fires. We are one of the only states to do so and obviously it is not a popular move. The right thing to do is not always the popular thing. You are missing the big picture Lisull, this is a smart budget saving and safety first move.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 4 July 2009 at 7:16 am

      While the theory that California’s budget woes result from its lenient fireworks regulations is novel, it is noticeably lacking any sort of evidence. CA is issuing IOUs, but the equally lenient states of North Dakota and Texas have budget surpluses. Considering that there are only 9,200 injuries nation-wide over the course of a year, one would be better off enacting a crusade against swimming pools to save costs. I fail to see how Arizona should be “applauded” for enforcing a rule that has no proven efficiency; one that, as you point out, provides an incentive for smuggling across borders (although I suspect the border with New Mexico is a more popular outlet than Mexico proper). Money and tax revenue that should be in Arizona is instead going to our neighboring states.

      Yet if one is really concerned about the costs of fireworks (which, in the scheme of things, are extremely minimal), then the best thing to do would to be shun the advice of the CDC. Costs to government are accrued not from individuals having sparkler shows in their backyards, but from the gaudy expert-led shows that safety-mongers repeatedly assert are superior.

  4. All that and then some. Tall, dark, and handsome. Bust a nut inside your eye, to show you where I come from said, on 6 July 2009 at 8:27 am

    Of course, the inevitable tie in of Mexico and their illegals. The logic behind the argument is irrelevant to the issue, and further establishes why Brewer should sign the bill.


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