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Tilly: Don't tread on my fireworks

BY ZACH TILLY | FEBRUARY 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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A few years ago, my sister and I may have made the four-hour roundtrip from our hometown in Illinois to the Indiana border for the sole purpose of buying and smuggling back home a small number of relatively tame fireworks for the Fourth of July.

I can’t confirm that happened for legal reasons — I may have dreamed it — but such is the extent to which some go to get their hands on illegal fireworks in the name of a little bit of moderately dangerous fun.

In Iowa, the days of illegal fireworks may be coming to an end. On Monday, a piece of legislation emerged from a subcommittee in the state Legislature that would lift the state’s ban on such delights as firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles.

Currently, the state allows only sparklers, the O’Douls of combustible party enhancers.

This potential expansion of our right to consume explosives is tremendous news. Sure, the average number of hands-per-Iowan would likely dip a bit below two, but that’s a small price to pay for fun for the masses. As long as we can avoid a glut of disgusting Missourian fireworks emporia along our southern border, things will be great in a firework-positive Iowa.

After all, firework prohibition is a quintessential nanny-state infringement on my liberty.

Wait … “nanny-state infringement on my liberty” … I’ve heard that someplace before.

It seems that I feel about fireworks the way many Second-Amendment fan boys and girls feel about guns: I like them because they’re fun, and they don’t seem that dangerous unless they’re abused.
See, I’ve had some wonderful experiences with fireworks. A surprising number of my late-childhood memories involve my friends and I throwing bottle rockets at each other.

My support for legalizing access to this stuff is based nothing more than I think they’re fun. I haven’t considered the safety, the increased risk of fires, and so on — I don’t need to. My connection is emotional and immune to reason. Besides, I know that fireworks don’t hurt people, people lighting off fireworks in their hand or tying a bunch of them together and throwing it at somebody hurt people.

So — as an on-the-record gun-control advocate and someone who hasn’t had the pleasure of firing a full-on gun — I am, in some ways, a total hypocrite. That’s not to say that I think fireworks and guns are equally menacing to society, but I am certainly susceptible to the same kind of logic-proof, knee-jerk “Don’t Tread on Me” righteous indignation that I’ve ridiculed in the gun community.

So I apologize for that. We all stick up for the stuff we like, and I, like any American worth his salt, like fireworks.

The lesson here, though, isn’t that “but it’s fun” is a somehow a good argument because of its universality. It’s actually a very bad argument.

The lesson is that we are all more vulnerable to being blinded by our experiences than we think, and we’re all stubborn to give up things we like in the face of a logical argument.

Never mind that two Iowa towns nearly burned to the ground before the consumer-fireworks ban went into effect in the 1930s. Never mind that the state’s doctors think lifting the ban would lead to an increase in injuries.

Just give me the fireworks and leave me alone.


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