"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof…"
Hold that thought -- at least until next year.
That was the message of countless mayors, governors, fire marshals and legislators these last few months leading up to this great nation's annual orgy of pyrotechnic excess -- the fourth of July. Many officials would prefer that it not go off with a bang this year, or even a few loud pops. And they are not alone.
The New York Press's George Tabb expressed genuine dismay that Mayor Bloomberg -- one of this year's few non-prohibitionists -- is allowing fireworks displays on the Fourth in a city where residents currently get the jitters over low flying planes and cars that backfire. Sure, he used to love fireworks displays, but "with every other smart New Yorker" Tabb will be heading for the hills this weekend.
Nor is such firework-related Apocalypticism limited to big cities or former terror targets. The extraordinarily dry condition of much of the country has led many states and counties to institute outright bans or to severely restrict the sale and use of the naughty noisemakers.
Colorado issued a ban of the sale or use of all fireworks, including the so-called "Safe and Sane" variety - e.g. non-projectiles that don't produce much of a boom. Even the libertarian-leaning New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson considered an outright ban and told the residents of his state to be very, very careful. State and county lands have been declared off limits and existing anti-fireworks laws in places from Los Angeles to Los Alamos will be enforced with greater vigor than ever before.
The anti-fireworks crowd claim to be motivated by the real fear that One Misplaced Match could do untold damage, and for many of them that is no doubt true. But there's also an another undercurrent that seeps through in the news coverage of their calls for restraint or an outright ban: the idea that, in an era when safe and environmentally friendly laser shows are quickly replacing fireworks ones, the use of fireworks is unnecessary and irresponsible.
Well yes, concede fireworks proponents, but so was the Boston tea party. College-age Pennsylvania writer Evan McElravy wrote recently that he and friends will not "be hoodwinked by this soft-headed, un-American tripe." Possessing a "sterner constitution for loud noises than those sissies back east" he claimed that fellow Pennsylvanians will not be intimidated by the threat of terrorists or wildfires. In perhaps the most memorable phrase of the whole debate, McElravy said, "If we lose the right to get plastered and burn our eyebrows off, the terrorists will have won."
In spite of it all, the pyrotechnic enthusiasts may carry the day this year. Several states, such as Ohio, are allowing the sale of fireworks as long as buyers promise to wink, wink, nudge, nudge, detonate them elsewhere -- in states other than where the noisemakers were purchased. Many Indian reservations, being exempt from the regulations of the nearby communities, sell all kinds of wonderful explosive concoctions. In fact it may be that banning the sale of fireworks in some localities creates a nigh-irresistible financial incentive for the remaining dispensers to keep them available.
Besides economics, fireworks have one other thing going for them: a residual patriotic fondness. Even places such as Los Angeles that are cracking down have allowed that youthful offenders can be let off with a warning. And many police officers, as I have witnessed in the past, are apt to turn a blind eye to an activity that they themselves enjoyed as children and learned to connect with love of country along with Mom and apple pie.
Indeed, in the ongoing war over fireworks, the rockets' red glare may prove brighter, and more resilient, than anyone imagined.
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