Clark County’s inability to stop the use of illegal fireworks — even building a website that ended up highlighting its own impotence — was a fitting tribute to Independence Day.
If you were here last Wednesday, you saw, heard or felt some of the tens of thousands of illegal fireworks set off in the Las Vegas Valley. If a firework leaves the ground or makes a loud popping sound, it’s illegal in Clark County.
But such pyrotechnics are easy to obtain in nearby areas, such as Pahrump.
Last year, the deluge of reports the Metropolitan Police Department received about illegal fireworks shut down its call system. This year, Clark County decided to build and promote a website, ISpyFireworks.com, where you could tattle on your neighbors for launching illegal fireworks. And Las Vegans loved tipping off Big Brother. The site received around 25,000 tips, but police issued just 50 citations — a reminder for gun control proponents that banning something doesn’t make it disappear.
The effort didn’t reduce either calls to police or the number of illegal fireworks. The non-emergency line received 1,300 calls, an increase of 350 over last year.
“It was the worst I’ve seen it in 21 years,” said Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski. “It was wall-to-wall fireworks.”
People thumbed their noses at the government and dared officials to do something about it. That has a timely historical parallel. The American colonists broke away from the British Empire 242 years ago when their leaders signed the Declaration of Independence. The British government wanted to impose taxes and other conditions that the colonists found intolerable. But the colonists wouldn’t kowtow and defied the most powerful nation on Earth.
John Adams, writing on July 3, 1776, envisioned celebrating Independence Day with “Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” So it was. The next year, there were official fireworks celebrations in Philadelphia and Boston. Fireworks — and guns, for that matter — weren’t just left to the professionals in early America. James Heintze, a researcher from American University, found merchants in the 1780s selling numerous kinds of fireworks, including “rockets, serpents, wheels, table rockets, cherry trees, fountains, and sun flowers.”
The concerns about the danger of fireworks were present early on, too. In 1786, Charleston, South Carolina, banned fireworks because of the risk of a building catching fire.
But the fire danger from fireworks — and everything else — has decreased dramatically in the past two centuries. A ban on rocket-type fireworks could still make sense if you live somewhere that’s vulnerable to forest fires. That’s not the Las Vegas Valley.
Fireworks are also relatively safe, despite government fearmongering. In the latest data available, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found that an estimated 11,100 people visited the hospital with fireworks-related injuries in 2016. Ninety-two percent received treatment and were released. That’s an injury rate of 3.4 per 100,000.
If Clark County officials are so concerned about keeping people safe, they should turn their attention from fireworks to violent crime. In 2016, Clark County’s violent crime rate was 450 per 100,000.
Yes, fireworks are loud and that can be hard on pets and veterans suffering from PTSD. But it’s one night a year, and people are participating in an American tradition that goes back to the very founding of our country. There’s room for compromise. Clark County should allow currently banned fireworks between 4 and 10 p.m. on Independence Day. That would allow people to celebrate and let police crackdown on violators who launch into the night.
If the British had made similar concessions when it came to taxation without representation, the Fourth of July may not have ended up as a day worth celebrating.