Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's clear to me that we have a fireworks problem in the city of Madison.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as apt as the next guy to come within inches of losing a limb when a good gust of wind blows up and knocks over that mortar tube on the Fourth. And while we're putting out the ensuing grass fire with blankets pulled hastily from the trunk, I'll be the jackass laughing the loudest too.

I think the city's recent flirtations with stepping up fireworks ordinance enforcement are as ridiculous as Kris Kross, and I hope they're just as permanent.

Madison's fireworks *problem* is that some of our populace and leadership is so out of touch with what FUN is that they think a ground shower actually constitutes a firework and should be outlawed as such. Yes, not only does the statewide ban on anything that explodes or flies into the air apply in Madison, but a city ordinance prohibits fireworks that shoot sparks into the air as well. Those aren't even fun!

How seriously does Madison take fireworks enforcement? That depends who you ask. Apparently, the city council took it seriously enough at one point to levy a $424 fine against anyone criminal enough to celebrate our nation's independence by blowing up a small part of it. But the massive fine became the subject of a fairly heated debate at last night's city council meeting.

On the other hand, in spite of all the administrative hype, it seems the men and women on the ground, the police, aren't nearly as concerned about fireworks as the policy makers. From my experiences with some of my very favorite folks in blue, I'm pretty sure that most of Madison's finest enjoy the smell of spent black powder and burnt asphalt as much anyone. Put in their position, I'd be hesitant to hand out a fireworks ticket for four bucks, let alone four hundred.

So the whole charade last night really just struck me as way over the top. After much rigamaroll, the council voted to reduce the fireworks fine to $225, a compromise to the $150 Lauren Cnare wanted it reduced to.

$424, $225, $150... hell, $50 dollars is more than you should ticket someone for shooting off bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. When we're discussing the actions of adults enjoying themselves with armament that's readily available at any shack along the interstate, lay the hell off.

Zach Brandon, who I otherwise have a great deal of respect for, made the argument that, "I want them (people who like fun, apparently) to get a very serious fine because one of those could tip over and hit a child, hit a house, start a fire."

Yes, and the candles on a birthday cake can catch on the drapes and burn a house to the ground. And a baseball hit from a sandlot can clobber someone in the cranium and put them into a coma. And an errant frisbee thrown to a friend can go through a woodchipper and come out in a spray of shrapnel that scars a dozen people. That doesn't give the city council or anyone else the right to regulate birthday cakes, baseballs or frisbees.

And frankly, if someone's kid catches a mortar to the face, it's probably the parents' fault for letting their kids get too close in the first place. Who brings toddlers to a backyard fireworks party anyway?

As for bottle rockets, I'm almost convinced it's scientifically impossible to be injured by one. Do the math. This past Fourth of July alone, I shot off well over 300 bottle rockets in the span of an evening with my friend Parker. I've probably shot off closer to 5,000 in my lifetime. I have shot them at other people. I have been shot at with them. I have fought small wars with them. I have been hit by them. I have stealthily dropped a gross (that's 144) of them into a campfire when no one was looking, then laughed gleefully as the civilian equivalent of shock and awe played out in front of my eyes.

In brief, I have at times in my life been as irresponsible as it is possible to be with fireworks, and the worst fireworks-related injury I have ever seen was a three-day bruise I got on my arm or a cut my friend Ryan got on his thumb.

Did we deserve even a $225 ticket back then? Hell yes we did! We were being irresponsible jackasses. And if the Madison City Council wants to write an ordinance about being an irresponsible jackass with fireworks, they have my blessing.

But for the love of everything that explodes, lay off and let those of us who have now progressed to some degree of maturity and responsibility enjoy one night a year where we can blow shit up.

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