With the piece de resistance of pyromania – Independence Day – nearly upon us, it’s that time of the year when thousands of New Yorkers make their annual pilgrimage to Pennsylvania where they can legally purchase recreational explosives that will illegally be used to supplement their July Fourth festivities back home. It’s ironic that New Yorkers have to tiptoe around the law – which prohibits the sale, possession or use of fireworks – before and during a holiday that celebrates personal freedom.
It’s time that we changed the 103 year-old law and allowed people to have some fun.
Last year that nearly happened – albeit it in limited fashion – when the state legislature approved a bill that would have allowed the sale and use of handheld or ground-based party explosives (aerial displays would have remained a no-no). Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the end for future legislative attempts; over the years numerous bills have been resubmitted annually before finally receiving executive approval and - as we’ve seen with his recent about face on marijuana - the Governor’s mind can change. But, going forward, it would be nice to see rockets and Roman candles added to the list of permissible items.
The economic benefit would be astounding. The abbreviated list that would have been allowed under last year’s bill would have resulted in $50 million in sales per year. $2 million would have gone to state coffers in the form of sales taxes. If larger and more exciting displays were allowed as well, both of those numbers could double. Instead, dollars are being spent in neighboring states before the fireworks are brought home.
More important than that, though, is the fact that we would glean social benefit. If someone wants to celebrate a holiday or special event and, in the process harms no one, let him do it. Why should we take away something that’s joyous and entertaining to people? Those New Yorkers who now break the law are subjected to harassment by neighbors and police and they could face a potential penalty that is 15 days in jail and/or $250 in fines.
If the state allowed the sale of fireworks, there would still need to be some limits. This goes back to my interpretation of personal liberty -- also briefly mentioned above -- that one can do as he chooses as long as the rights of others aren’t affected. The first such right would be property rights. As we saw last July in Buffalo, a family lost their home and a second, vacant home went up in flames when illegal fireworks struck them. The second right is the right to peaceful existence. You wouldn’t want someone blowing off explosives in a populous neighborhood on a week night when people are trying to sleep for work or school.
To mitigate such concerns we should rely on the most primal form of rule: local governments. It is best left to the towns, villages and cities to best determine when and where fireworks can be used. Aerial displays should be outright banned within all densely-populated areas -- hamlets, suburbs, mobile home parks, cities, etc -- due to the proximity of homes and the risk of unintended fires occurring as they did in Buffalo. But, the people living in those areas shouldn’t be excluded from using the safer ground displays and noisemakers on the holidays. Likewise, those who live in rural areas should be allowed to launch the most-impressive rockets since there is no risk of igniting another’s’ home. Locally-determined limits could also be imposed on when fireworks could be used. Most towns have noise ordinances, so the control of such boisterous activity is not something new. Common sense exceptions could be granted for use of fireworks on specific holidays (Memorial Day weekend, July 4, Labor Day weekend, New Years Eve, and maybe even most Saturdays).
We can certainly make Independence Day much more festive and colorful in New York by eliminating Big Government – and empowering Small Government – recognizing that in 46 other states people can pursue the right to ignite small scale explosives on their property…and their parties are better for it!
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 11 June 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers