“If you light it, we’ll write it,” warned the MassPike’s electronic message boards regarding the use of illegal fireworks this week. It’s the Fourth of July, and Massachusetts, along with New York and New Jersey, are still holding out against letting residents use fireworks unless they’re professionally licensed. It’s a principled stand because fireworks are dangerous, and a nuisance besides, but it hardly seems practical anymore.
When New Yorkers can drive to Vermont to get sparklers, or Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania to get the full monty of fireworks, how effective can a law banning them in this state be? Granted, not everyone is determined enough to take such a trip, but judging by the sound of pyrotechnics in the air the last few nights, plenty of people obviously have — and they’ve probably re-sold or given them to their friends.
Much as we think fireworks should only be handled by pros, we’re not about to suggest that police knock themselves out trying to track down scofflaws. After all, celebrations of July 4 last only a couple of days, and there truly are more dangerous violations of law taking place during a holiday weekend such as this.
In fact, rather than fight this rising tide, New York should join it by legalizing sparklers and small fireworks. The Legislature passed a bill two years ago that would have done so except in New York City (a reasonable exception), but Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed it. The bill also would have banned sales to minors and given municipalities with crowded urban neighborhoods the option of imposing their own bans.
Statistics indicate that fireworks aren’t as dangerous as they used to be: There has been a 27 percent drop in fireworks-related injuries over the past two decades, probably as a result of federal testing standards imposed back then. The statistic is all the more impressive given that sales of fireworks between 2000 and 2005 alone rocketed 86 percent.
They do create a nuisance for people (and animals) who dislike loud noises, but since the merriment is going to take place anyway, New York should resign itself to the fact, legalize them and make a little money by taxing vendors.