The Fireworks Dilemma: Your freedom to be stupid is important

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

We’ve all seen the story by now of the 22 year-old Maine man, Devon Staples, who died over the Independence Day holiday weekend by “accidentally” launching a firework. From the top of his head.

The NY Daily News described it as a “freak fireworks accident.”

Sorry, Save Jerseyans. That’s bullshit. Reporting in this country has devolved to stunning levels of lazy and stupid. This wasn’t a “freak accident.” Dying from a lightning strike when there isn’t a cloud in the sky? That’s a freak accident. Blowing yourself up by placing a firework on your head while holding a lighter? That’s just dumb.

I hear you; speaking ill of the dead is the last thing I want to do. My question: what recourse do we have but a frank, direct conversation when the Left uses the dead to manipulate the living?

On that note, I’m shocked Trenton hasn’t reacted with responsive legislation? Stupid is practically a religious obligation under the Dome. Maybe it’s the humidity sapping the usual paternalists’ initiative?

That, and there’s not much left to do. New Jersey’s anti-fireworks law is already among the strictest in America. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 21:3-2, it’s unlawful for any individual in New Jersey “to offer for sale, expose for sale, sell, possess or use, or explode” fireworks or explosives. What’s considered a firework or an explosive? The short answer: everything. Anything from a Roman candle or skyrocket to a sparkler or toy pistol could land you in legal trouble next July 4th; one Sparta man made the news this year for running afoul of local police for a 15 year-old private display.

FireworksLet’s be fair: I completely understand why the mother of this 22 year-old young man from Maine is calling for stricter firework laws on the books. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, so I’m not going to be “that guy” jumping to conclusions or making unfair assumptions about her parenting skills. She’s grieving, and grief is anything but rational.

The rest of us, including our elected representatives, can’t excusably divorce ourselves from rationality and ignore the cool logic of the situation: this is the FIRST and only fatality in Maine since that state legalized fireworks sales back in 2011. Nationwide? In 2013, for example, we saw only 8 deaths. Out of over 300,000 million souls. Far more Americans have died over the past few years from lightning strikes and, if I may be so bold, minding their own business in gun free zones. More human beings die every year from snake bites, scalding water and falling out of bed.

The anti-commercial fireworks folks are pushing a solution in search of a problem.

But let’s grant, for argument’s sake, that fireworks can be dangerous. Like guns, knives, baseball bats, swimming pools, hand-held kitchen blenders and a million other items that Americans possess or use on a daily basis. Did we really fight a war for independence to be babied and babysat, 24/7? Like the citizens of an Orwellian hellscape? And have government step in every time something scary happens? Even some arch-liberals like John Kerry, though unable to put all of the pieces together, acknowledge that “the right to be stupid if you want to be,” as he plainly put it during a 2013 European trip, is as sacrosanct as any other enjoyed by citizens of a democracy:

People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another,” he added.

“The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be,” he said, prompting laughter. “And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be.

“And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for,” he added. “The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.”

Now, Secretary Kerry and I won’t often agree where to draw the line. I may even accuse his political party of gross hypocrisy on the issue. Yet the plain meaning of his words are undeniably true, and it applies to far more than the exercise of free speech.

Our government can not and should never assume the role of a parent. Tolerance is as inseparable from the American character as is the notion that a free life is the only kind worth living. “Give me liberty or give me death,” Patrick Henry famously declared. We’re a nation built by adventurers, settlers, rebels, dreamers and risk-takers. Sure, a government flunky could wake Devon Staples up in the morning, pay for his coffee (with our money), tell him what to wear and even hide his kitchen knives all in order to protect him, to the fullest extent possible, from harm to himself by limiting the consequences of his actions.

Think “free tuition,” Bernie fans. Obamacare, too. Or simply posting horrid stuff on social media and expecting an employer not to see it. Some millennials think they want this. They think we ARE this.

The trouble is there’s no such thing as perfect protection from outsiders or oneself. Stupid is incurable. Stupid is unstoppable and, as was the case with Mr. Staples, unpredictable. Stupid is often subjective. Who gets to decide which of my activities are dumb, and when/how I get to do them? And what kind of life is that, anyway? What is God-given free will worth if we’re not going to use it? A life with bumpers in your bowling alley lane is really more like going through the motions.

For what it’s worth, I don’t want to live in a country where fireworks cease being a symbol of independence and, instead, represent just another form of repression of the human spirit. Do you?

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3 thoughts on “The Fireworks Dilemma: Your freedom to be stupid is important

  1. Unless the instruction on fireworks package unambiguously says “do not launch from top of your head”, the manufacturer is in a sea of trouble. It’s always someone else’s fault, and the jury are 12 people too stupid to weasel out of jury duty. Boy, we do need tort reform.

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