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How did you sleep last Friday night? Did you have a trembling dog whimpering close to you while bang after bang after bang sounded outside your windows well past midnight? Chances are, if you live in Michigan, you did. I wouldn’t call what was going through my mind, as I wedged my head between a couple of pillows to muffle the noise, warm patriotism.
Thanks to a three-year-old law, the American celebration of independence has turned into a cacophonous free-for-all in Michigan. The fair legislators of my home state have, under the influence of the libertarians, eliminated restrictions on fireworks on July 3-5, and turned the streets of our cities on those days into something sounding like a war zone. This is freedom? Where’s my freedom from being aurally assaulted?
The Fourth of July was awful. Organized professional fireworks exhibits had raucous amateur competition. I drove by an entire street Friday night closed off for shooting fireworks. It wasn’t closed by some civic authority, it was simply closed by a band of citizens who’d commandeered the street and were letting their nationalistic pride run amok. It looked like Lord of the Flies or something out some sort of anarchic, apocalyptic movie.
What does any of this have to do with celebrating the birth of America? It’s the worst of America, a frightening combination of excess, noise and violence.
Dr. Peter Bast, an ophthalmologist, the medical specialty for disease and surgery of the eyes, shared these thoughts: Since the State of Michigan legalized exploding projectile fireworks I have developed skepticism for the weekends before, during, and after the 4th of July, ranging from mild irritation to serious anger depending on my call schedule. I can accept trauma resulting from dangerous work or a car wreck (snapped off drill bits, pneumatic nail guns, face vs. windshield, etc.), but it is perversely tragic when celebration turns into injury. Picture a family on vacation having fun on the beach at the height of Michigan summer. In a split second, the fun is over, the family is in the ER, a gauze bandage wrapped around the bloodstained face, a sickened expression washing over mom and dad when I tell them their 15-year-old will certainly never see normally again, provided I am able to salvage his eye (bottle rocket, point blank range). Firework injuries almost always happen in your face – literally – and the damage is usually permanent. Almost always it involves a kid.
I doubt our society is progressing under libertarian impulses. The thing libertarians forget is that the default position for some measure of the population is always stupidity. It’s why we have laws and regulations on things ranging from food standards to speed limits. We need to be protected from each other. I would like to ask our legislators in Lansing to please restrict our freedom to maim our children, terrify our pets and irritate each other.
And noise pollution isn’t the only kind of pollution happening. As smoke filled the sky Friday night I overheard a child ask his mother, “Where does the smoke go?”
“It just disappears,” she told him.
How I wish that were true.
Lawmaking is an inexact science. Can we admit we have made a mistake? Please, Lansing, roll back the law and return some sanity to Michigan.