Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 8, 2003

On the lily-livered anonymous rants of a fireworks freak

Well, here I go, wading into a topic that will surely generate a lot of heated responses – and maybe even an anonymous letter wishing that horrors will befall me. For the record, if I should receive a threatening letter similar to those that others who’ve dared to use their freedom of speech to voice an opinion on the fireworks topic have garnered, I’ll promptly turn it over to law enforcement officials.

But despite the danger that I’ll get cowardly correspondence from a disturbed dimwit, I’ll admit that I think there’s some merit in the argument that the city should ban safe and sane fireworks. I also think there’s merit in the argument that it shouldn’t.

No waffling there, eh? Actually, I think my lack of strong position reflects the fact that the status of safe and sane fireworks is an open question that needs a thorough review and reasoned debate.

Either way, the interests of community groups that use the sale of safe and sane fireworks as fundraisers are beside the point, and shouldn’t be a factor in the debate. The key question in the safe and sane fireworks issue is this: What trade-offs are Gilroyans willing to make in the pursuit of public safety?

It’s an important debate that’s a microcosm of the controversy that’s been swirling in this country ever since airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field: What freedoms are we willing to relinquish to be safe from terrorism?

Gilroy Fire Chief Jeff Clet, who advocates a ban of safe and sane fireworks, has a valid point: “It’s always going to be more difficult to enforce when you have legal fireworks mixed with illegal ones,” Clet said after a wild Independence Day that saw half a dozen vegetation fires and two house fires. “When they’re all illegal, you just get less users.”

There’s little doubt that the distraction of safe and sane fireworks being set off all over Gilroy provides cover for the folks using the really dangerous illegal fireworks, making the jobs of firefighters and police officers more difficult.

Sadly, this a country that’s willing to give up liberty for safety in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (The USA PATRIOT Act is Exhibit A supporting that statement, and the super-sized version Attorney General John Ashcroft is promoting is Exhibit B.) If we’re willing to relinquish many of our fundamental freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism, why is it so controversial to trade the minor freedom to use safe and sane fireworks for the increased safety of fewer fires in a tinder-dry region and season, easier enforcement against users of the unsafe and insane fireworks, and fewer accidents causing injury and possibly death?

On the other side of the debate, opponents of banning safe and sane fireworks point out that the fires on July 4 were caused by illegal fireworks, not legal ones, that banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks will not prevent the use of illegal fireworks and will punish those who are obeying the law. And those are also valid points.

And as a curious side note, it’s my guess after perusing recent Dispatch opinion pages that many of those who oppose banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks most likely support the USA PATRIOT Act. I wonder how those folks reconcile the two seemingly contradictory positions.

For now, I can see both points of view – and I look forward to reading reasonable responses from people on both sides of the issue who have the courage of their convictions to sign their names to their opinions.

I don’t know what the right answer for Gilroy is, but note that the rest of the Santa Clara County has decided no fireworks of any kind are appropriate. We enjoy many benefits of a climate that boasts a long convertible, gardening and swimming season, including a several dry months that make July 4 fireworks an especially risky proposition. Maybe on that basis alone, the no-fireworks-of-any-kind-in-the-hands-of-civilians position makes sense.

I do know that it’s an important debate for the community to have, and I hope the lily-livered anonymous rants of a creepy fireworks freak won’t squelch it.

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