Are bills regulating fireworks there to protect stupid people from themselves?

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Yes. But don’t assume you know a stupid person when you see one.

Our governor just vetoed a bill passed by our Pointy Headed Republican Legislature which would have significantly reduced regulation on dangerous fireworks in the state, allowing everyone access to explosives that are currently banned.

Which reminds me of a story.

When I first moved to the Twin Cities, I was told by people at the University that there was only one Saint Paul neighborhood to live in. All other neighborhoods were inadequate. The same exact people who told me that then later said things that confirmed that they were judgmental dicks, for the record. Anyway, I never did move to that neighborhood (though almost every other faculty member who was hired around that time seemed to) but a colleague who came from Harvard about that time did, and I remember being over at her house for Fourth of July that year. So this is a neighborhood of extra smart people who all moved there because it is the place where the Intelligentsia live. And now it is Fourth of July so they are being all Neighborhoody and stuff, because that is what one does in the Twin Cities, and this means a neighborhood display of fireworks.

The street we were on had a rise to the front lawns, so every house had an extra stairway on the lawn, plus the hill face or ha ha wall in front of each house, so there was a theater like configuration. People could sit on walls, porches, or steps, and they did just that, broken into little units by the driveways that went past the houses into the back yards (an unusual feature for a city with alleys) just like we were in a real theater.

Being suspicious of fireworks (a sense that I developed as an unsupervised youth with a pretty well developed knowledge of chemistry and unfettered access to chemicals) I took Julia, who was very little at the time over to the edge of one of the driveways and sat her down there to watch. Thus, we had an escape route at our back.

It came time for the illegal neighborhood fireworks display. First there were packs of firecrackers lit off all at once. Then a few rockets, first smaller, then larger. Finally, a small Roman Candle or two. Then, the big Roman Candle.

And when the guy lit the candle, he turned to run away from it, and struck it with his foot. The large tubular object was tossed to the ground spinning, and while it was still spinning it started to go off.

It was like a game of Spin the Bottle combined with a game of Russian Roulette. The firework-fire coming out of the candle increased the rate of spin, so as the Roman Candle fired every second or so, it shot in a different direction, sometimes up the street, sometimes down the street, but mostly into the crowds on either side of the street.

I tossed Julia behind the wall next to the driveway I had chosen, but could not drag myself away from watching. Dozens of people sitting on the hills and steps at first let themselves get sprayed with fire for a couple of spins, then they all realized that this was not part of the show. Parents threw themselves on top of children, others sprang to their feet and ran. There was a great deal of screaming and yelling. The guy who had knocked the thing over was dancing around in the middle of the street trying to get close to it, leaping over the brimstone every time it shot in his direction. Eventually he got close enough that he put his foot on it, and with his other foot pointed the candle down the street where he held it in place until it was done fire-working.

The smartest people in the Twin Cities, living in the neighborhood where all the University Faculty, a s well as the Faculty of Several Other Institutions of Learning that are in the neighborhood, had just done the dumbest thing I’ve seen a group of people that size ever do.

And I’m only exaggerating a little.

So, dear reader, please do no think that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is patronizing any particular group of people in the North Star State by vetoing the Republican Fireworks Bill recently passed by the State House. As we say up here in Coon Rapids, “You don’t have to be from Coon Rapids to be an idiot… Folks down in Saint Paul are just as dumb as we are!”

OK, we don’t really say that, but I think you get the point.

One might ask why the Republican controlled legislature can only manage to do dumb-ass things like pass a Zimmerman Law (they did that earlier in the year) or relaxations of fireworks restrictions (as they just did) while job creating bonding bills and other important legislation languishes. We are very lucky to have a Democratic Governor who can veto these stupid bills. In November, we plan to get a Democratic Legislature as well. Then we can get to fixing things.

Here’s Governor Dayton’s statement about the veto:

“I greatly respect the care with which the legislative authors crafted [the bill]. especially their willingness to listen to and incorporate the concerns of people with differing views….

“Much as I would like to reward their efforts and to satisfy the many Minnesotans who want greater latitude to buy and use fireworks legally in our state, I cannot do so. Most Minnesotans are responsible enough to ignite and explode those inherently dangerous devices properly and safely. Unfortunately. some are not.”

Source: Minnpost

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23 thoughts on “Are bills regulating fireworks there to protect stupid people from themselves?

  1. Our city banned use of fireworks inside the city limits when a stray bottle rocket hit the house of a member of the city council.

  2. Our current governor has just signed a bill that allows for the sale of a wider variety of fireworks. Apparently we (the state) were losing too much money to Indiana – huge numbers of people were driving to the state border simply to buy exotic items and bring them back. Now they’ll simply be able to drive to the parking lot of a big box store and buy them from some guy selling explosives out of a pickup. Before this you could get little bottle rockets in state but not anything bigger. Sounds like what the folks beneath your governor want to do. (Of course, “we” also just repealed the state’s helmet law for motorcyclists: it seems that too was keeping untold millions of dollars out of the state, as it kept hordes of vacationing bike riders out. Now, as long as you can demonstrate you can ride a motorcycle, and you have $20,000 – that’s actually the amount – of extra insurance to pay for your treatment in case you suffer a serious injury in an accident, you can ride helmet free.)
    Disclaimer: when I was a kid, 60s era, we ALWAYS, and I mean year around, had several big containers of firecrackers, M80s, and cherry bombs, just sitting around. I have no idea where they came from, but if I had my work done I was free to blow stuff up, as long as
    1) It wasn’t a farm building
    2) It wasn’t livestock
    3) It wasn’t me or on of my companions in mischief

    in that order. The closest I came to getting hurt: taking apples that had fallen from our trees, poking two holes in them, putting a stick in one, a firecracker in the other, lighting the cracker, and whipping the apple through the air. The closest I ever came to being careful with them was not being stupid with the big boomers.

  3. Yes, it is the same. Apparently Wisconsin has lax fireworks laws.

    When I was a kid, it was Canada. We’d go up there and get our fireworks, which for us consisted of nothing other than firecrackers. My father was not into fireworks at all, but going over the border to get them was still fun for him.

    Except that one time when we got caught.

  4. Speaking as someone with only a tech school background but lots of college grad friends, you guys(college grads) are not as smart as you think you are. Spending four(or six or twelve) years on one subject does not make one skilled at all the others.

  5. i don’t know how other Vets feel about 3AM fire cracker action but it really sets me off.

  6. “Of course, “we” also just repealed the state’s helmet law for motorcyclist”

    One problem (with the helmets usually used) was that the biking helmet was MORE dangerous than no helmet, since the neck cutout was too low and just about happened to fall on the top of the spine when your head was knocked back and thereby broke your neck for you.

    This has been taken into account with most designs now.

    For pushbikes, the benefit is still fairly nonexistent for road cycling. Off-road you’re more likely, through no fault of anyone, to fall off. But on the road, you’re likely only to fall off because something hit you. The helmet doesn’t stop you being crushed under a car.

    And above about 10mph the helmet doesn’t have enough structural strength to withstand a collision with something hard.

  7. I dunno. I probably would’ve voted against the fireworks bill as a legislator, but I definitely would not have vetoed it as a governor. Maybe made a speech about “…and I’ll be even happier to sign the bill our next legislature passes that replaces these restrictions”. I just don’t see the compelling interest that drives an executive override here.

    Pragmatically, I also think it’s likely to hurt at the ballot box. More nanny-state “we know what’s best for you” regulation just feeds the trolls. Particularly when it’s an executive blocking “the will of the people”.

  8. The compelling interest were recommendations from all the relevant health and safety agencies.

    He also vetoed various bills passed by the Republicans which were all about “we know what is best for you” but related to important things, so I’m not worried too much about this being a factor hears hence. This would only be the will of the people if the people were represented in the legislature.

  9. Wow @ #6 – I might have agreed with you few years ago. But more recently a friend was riding his crotch rocket around a bend at better than 60 mph when his front tire blew out. He went horizontal skydiving into a stand of pines. He broke some ribs and his leg but was rescued by some camo-clad county boys who just happen to be nearby hunting.

    Coming to from the impact the first thing he sees is a couple of country boys leaning over him. He claimed the theme to “Deliverance” ran through his mind. Undeservedly because instead of making him ‘squeal like a piggy’ they gently loaded him into the back of their truck and hauled him off to a hospital.

    By rights he should have waited the hour it would have taken an ambulance to get to him back in the woods because spinal damage doesn’t take kindly to movement unless it is strapped five ways to Sunday on a sturdy back-board. Good thing his spine was relatively undamaged.

    The truth of what saved him became clear when his wife got the helmet he was wearing. Based on the partial penetration and scrape in the visor a branch would have impaled his head through an eye. Even without the branch there it is likely he would have had his skull crushed when his head hit the tree. As it was the impact split the helmet shell completely in two and reduced the energy absorbing plastic foam to powder. He ended up with a serious concussion and scrape on his forehead.

    It took a half-dozen screws and steel rods to hold his leg together and twelve weeks for him to get back to light work. Another couple of months to start walking without a limp.

    This is a guy who only wore the helmet because his wife made him wear it. He figured it wouldn’t make a difference. Now he won’t ride without one.

    Helmets save lives and they save taxpayers money when the rider doesn’t have to get disability or long term nursing care.

    On the topic of fireworks I’m a bit ambivalent about regulation or deregulation. Damn near every kid in my neighborhood growing up messed with fireworks and/or bomb making. A little black powder and a … There were a few close calls but other than ringing ears and flash burns we emerged unscathed. Mess around with that stuff now and ATF shows up and carries you off to Gitmo. Wasn’t seen as a big deal back then. Different times.

    The only person I’ve seen get hurt with fireworks was a drunken neighbor who wanted to prove the diminutive ‘lady finger’ fire crackers we were messing with were weak. So he made a fist, stuffed a cracker into it, and lit it with his cigarette. He spent the next ten minutes, with tears in his eye, insisting that ‘it didn’t hurt’.

    He disappeared from the party after a bit and reappeared several hours later with his hand heavily bandaged. A few days later he removed the bandages and entire inner surface of his hand, palm and fingers, was swollen out of proportion and colored a livid mix of deep blacks and blues. His wife confided that they would just have to wait and see if feeling and function would return to his fingers. He was in the navy so medical care was covered by taxpayers.

    Then again, it is pretty hard to protect stupid people from themselves. There are just too many ways to hurt yourself. I can see laws to try to knock off the worse of the rough edges. John’s fuel-air bomb with fifty pounds of propane, road flares, and ten pounds of powder was, after the fact, clearly over the top. People heard it in the next county and it was a minor miracle nobody was injured.

    There needs to be some limits and controls even if it just to get it on record that some things are serious hazards. Where you draw the lines, and how rules are enforced, is up for debate.

  10. @Wow:
    The gear study, from the George Institute in Australia

    Also, a bicycle helmet is meant to protect your head when it accelerates six feet to the ground and then suddenly stops. The compression of the foam lengthens the duration of deceleration so your brain does not bounce off the inside of your skull thru momentum(and some times off the opposite side of your skull if the hit is hard enough to get a “bounce”. It is very good at this. It is not designed to protect your head when a bus runs over it. No helmet, bike, moto, or auto is.

  11. Our governor just vetoed a Republican bill that would require a Physician to be present during the administration of a morning after pill. The Republicans were micromanaging a basic medical procedure to require an added cost and added bit of trouble that no one in the medical profession who is not a quack thinks is necessary.

    These decisions are not about, and should not be about, some arbitrary pre-determined fetish of too much or too little government involvement. They are, rather, about not being an idiot.

  12. I think the laws against selling fireworks are more for the protection of the children, pets, and neighbors of stupid people, aren’t they?

    Chuck Nelson @4– In my experience, more educated people who really know their jobs (like, say, chemists) have huge respect for less educated people who also really know their jobs (like, say, plumbers.) If someone claims he’s smarter *because* he has more education, you can be pretty sure he’s faking it.

    On the other hand, saying stuff like, “scientists don’t know everything” (and therefore creationism is just as ‘true’ as modern biology)is a pretty good indication a person really isn’t very bright– regardless of how many years he was in school.

  13. “Also, a bicycle helmet is meant to protect your head when it accelerates six feet to the ground and then suddenly stops.”

    Except it doesn’t.

    It’s not nearly strong enough and your head is least likely to be the bits hitting ground first.

  14. “I might have agreed with you few years ago.”

    All generalisations are false to some degree.

    Except that one above, there.

    But the number of accidents that were NOT saved by bicycle helmets vastly outnumber the accidents saved by helmets, which are nearly as many as accidents caused by wearing them (either by bad design or false sense of security).

    And the fraction of people put off cycling multiplied by the expected benefits of cycling on health EASILY tip it the other way.

    By all means, wear a helment.

    Especially for children, get them to wear one (if only because YOU will be mortified if they even graze their head in a fall and as the adult it IS your fault).

    But don’t make them compulsory.

    And make sure that people know they are of limited use in an accident.

  15. PS I recall there is enough energy in a four foot fall to break your neck.

    Bike helmets don’t protect the neck.

  16. Wow –

    I got diverted into some road construction (bicycling) and wiped out sideways really badly, hitting the top of a jersey barrier with my temple. The helmet was trash but it did its work. (Greg: Mass Ave, porter sq)

    Another time I got cut off by a van, and was thrown backwards (all those spinning tires and metal) like a high veloocity pro wrestling body slam to the pavement. Another helmet gone; that wrecked up my back but my head was fine. (A few months physical therapy for that that sequed into weight training that I commuted to by bike.)

    Yes bike helmets don’t really protect the neck but their bulk makes up for that in collisions with non-protuding surfaces like pavement and car hoods.

    I think these were both Bell racing helmets.

  17. Yes, and motorcycles can’t have mufflers, because other vehicles won’t know they’re there.

    Boy, I sure wish there was some actual *science* that could tell us if helmets are effective at reducing mortality and morbidity due to vehicle accidents.

  18. “For pushbikes, the benefit is still fairly nonexistent for road cycling.”
    “Also, a bicycle helmet is meant to protect your head when it accelerates six feet to the ground and then suddenly stops.”
    Except it doesn’t.
    It’s not nearly strong enough and your head is least likely to be the bits hitting ground first.”
    Wow, on this subject you clearly have no clue what you are talking about. Are there instances where a helmet will not help? Yes, just as there are instances where air bags are of no help. But the data that show helmets have minimized, and in some cases prevented, head injuries are well known. There is a good reason cyclists who ride without helmets are referred to as “organ donors”.

  19. Iam a DEMOCRATE and thats one thing our Gov in TEXAS did right…. He needs to make a bill for casinos and expand the hours and days open on the liquor stoers………

  20. Yes, you can try to protect morons from themselves. But is that a reason to deprive the rest of us from having fun? Punks just don’t do it. And sparklers just don’t do it. So, just how far can you go to protect idiots?

  21. And speaking of unsafe fire practices.. does anyone know which states implement regulations for use of pyrotechnics indoors? In reading today’s news on the horrific fire in a nightclub in Brazil, I naively thought this type of thing couldn’t have happened here in the US- sadly it did in Rhode Island.

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