- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Americans will celebrate their freedom on Independence Day with a certain irony tomorrow. Not all Americans have the freedom to celebrate the holiday with the traditional festive bang. That’s because many places ban fireworks.

Although about 94 million of us live in states that allow all sorts of fireworks and firecracker use, 43 million Americans live in six states - including New York and New Jersey - where you need a permit to even light a sparkler. California bans some types of fireworks and allows cities to expand what is prohibited. Safety is supposedly the major concern of those who ban our celebratory backyard light-and-noise shows, but their fears are overblown.

Banning personal use of fireworks may actually result in more accidental fires because some of those who try to avoid getting caught set them off in remote fields, causing fires that take longer to discover.

This issue is badly distorted by the media. A search of newspapers found over 300 news stories in the last year warning that fireworks could be “deadly” if used improperly. But the facts don’t show sparklers and bottle rockets to be much of a public menace. Eleven people died in 2006 from the use of fireworks. The average from 1999 to 2006 was just over six a year.


The relationship between fireworks use and deaths has been tenuous at best over the years. Although almost exactly the same number of people died in 1990 and 2006, fireworks use grew almost every year, soaring from 68 million pounds of explosives used in 1990 to 266 million pounds by 2007. Over that same period, the number of injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms fell.

States such as New Jersey that have adopted more stringent regulations or bans haven’t seen significant drops in the number of fireworks-related deaths, in part because there were few such deaths to begin with. During the last three years, states with bans actually had a higher fireworks-related death rate (.018 per million people) than states without restrictions (.014 per million).

Government can protect people from only so much, and if we banned all the products that caused more deaths and injuries than fireworks, there would be virtually nothing left to use. The freedom we celebrate on the Fourth of July doesn’t mean much if we criminalize even the tiny risks associated with fireworks.

John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and our second president, wrote that Independence Day “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” This great day “ought to be celebrated by 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,” he said. Hopefully, American enthusiasm for freedom isn’t fizzling like so many Roman candles this weekend.