Musings On The Debate To Change The Laws Governing Fireworks

Tina Tucci is a Blogger, Digital Nomad and Research Nerd.


Debating Fireworks

e-petition 201947

As a lover of animals and fireworks; I read with interest the debate on e-petition 201947 relating to fireworks.The petition wishes to “Change the laws governing the use of fireworks to include a ban on public use”. 

If you are interested in the debate, the transcript is available here

When I first considered working with Star Fireworks, I questioned if it was morally responsible to promote the sale of fireworks. Turning to Google, I learned that in the 2005 bonfire night season there were 182 accidents requiring hospital admittance and zero deaths, (during the debate they confirmed that from 2005 - 2017 the numbers have remained stable). Comparing this statistic to the accidents and deaths reported by many sports I concluded, fireworks were a relatively benign form of entertainment. 

Bill Grant the conservative MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock does not agree. During the debate, he stated: " even one life-changing incident is one too many." While a natural reaction to the injury of a child, is this logical? Where else do we apply such high standards? Can you imagine the uproar if we applied this standard to Pubs or Soccer Matches?  

As much was made of the number of horse deaths caused by fireworks, we could ask ourselves how much pain and suffering is caused by riding and jumping horses. A quick search reveals that between 2010 and 2017, 38 riders and 222 horses have been killed in accidents on Britain's roads. 

If you spend any time around a horse riding school, you will soon see the qualities horse riding develops in children. It would be hard to meet a more determined, healthy and responsible bunch of kids. However, how do we weigh this against the real danger of spinal cord injuries and the stress many horses experience on being loaded into a horse box. 

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The natural response of a horse when startled by thunder or a loud noise is to run. When we stable horses we deprive them of the opportunity to relieve stress.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

For 16 years, I shared my home with four beloved rescue dogs. True to statistics two were scared of thunder and fireworks. As I lived in Florida the lightning capital of the world - the storms were quite a problem. We used thunder-vests plus the occasional herbal remedy, as soon as the thunder or the fireworks ceased my dogs were as happy and goofy as always. Perhaps I was lucky having dogs with short attention spans. While it was distressing to see their fear, I noticed it helped if I stayed calm. During those years I stayed close to home on the months we could expect tropical storms or fireworks.

As a responsible dog owner in Florida, I was inconvenienced by the amount of anti-dog legislation. Finding a park where you were allowed to walk your dog often involved a 20-minute car ride. Home insurance companies raised our premium as our gentle Chow mix was considered a dangerous breed. 

Imagine my joy on returning to the U.K and seeing dog's in the pubs and parks. However, due to our British love of pets, we are often blind to the danger our dogs present to children. There have been 17 deaths due to dog attacks since 2005, and an estimated 200,000 people bitten. Dog poo carries diseases that can pass to humans and children are especially at risk. Dog lovers will insist that irresponsible owners are the problem, which brings us back to the debate. Much of the input from constituents were complaints about aggressive, anti-social youths running amok with fireworks. In each case, they were breaking laws we already have in place. Will additional legislation provide solutions, or will it have unintended consequences?

Andy Hubble, Creative Director at Star Fireworks and a consultant on safety to the firework industry; was engaged by the industry to consider the probable outcome of the changes requested in the petition. Andy concluded that any further restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks would lead to a sharp rise in unregulated, untraceable sales and illegal imports into the country from Europe. 

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Andy Hubble

At BBC broadcasting house for an interview prior to the debate.

His view is shared by Dave Mathias, Explosive Liaison Officer at Devon and Cornwall police.

Mr Mathias said, "the current legislation is robust and allows for effective control by police." He added, "the current legislation also works to deter the illegal sale of fireworks out of the back of vans and at car boot sales, something that could increase if people’s enjoyment of fireworks and access to them is further restricted. It’s my view there should be no changes to the current legislation or controls regarding the importation, distribution, sale and storage of fireworks as the regulations and control are currently fit for purpose. It’s also believed the illegal and inappropriate storage of fireworks may be a further result [of changes to current laws] thus causing potential danger to public safety.”

While there are many reports on the health and social benefits of dog ownership, we rarely hear about the social benefits of fireworks. I was pleasantly surprised on working with the firework industry to discover how many displays are organised to raise funds for charity. Often schools and scout groups depend on fireworks from the local shop for their annual fundraising event.

The events I attended were well organised and the kids and parents bonded over the need for common sense and safety. It felt like a healthy dose of reality for kids often glued to fantastical computer games. The joy and sense of community we experience, when watching fireworks with friends and family, seems to be in our DNA. A residue from our primaeval origins when the night sky was a riot of entertainment and portent. 

During the debate, I felt there were broader issues at stake, namely;

  • how do we measure and balance the social costs and benefits of activities that we engage in purely for enjoyment?

  • have the proponents of this petition examined their positions for personal bias and prejudice?

The petition certainly brought together some strange bedfellows; Animal Protection groups and the National Union of Farmers joined hands to report on the cruelty of subjecting livestock to the noise of fireworks. Again it is peculiarly British to believe in the bucolic life of farm animals. As of July 2017, there were nearly 800 livestock mega-farms in the UK.  There is a pertinent article in the Guardian  on the cruelty these animals experience. I would say that the noise of fireworks is low on the list. 

I am especially puzzled by a snippet from the argument of Sue Elan Jones MP, the leader of the petition committee;
"Last November, a fascinating piece on the BBC website noted how, in the American state of Delaware, someone can get a shotgun without a licence but it is totally illegal for an individual to buy a firework. It struck me as interesting that the right to bear sparklers is governed by tougher laws than the right to bear arms."

How does this contribute to Sue Elan Jones case? Between 2010 and February 2018 there were 148 school shootings in America. Gun violence is a cancer destroying American society. The legislation in Delaware is the direct result of that other American Cancer; money in politics. Can any sane person believe that sparklers should be legislated against while the ownership of automatic weapons is not?

Since 911 on both sides of the Atlantic, we have given up liberty in the name of safety. To quote Benjamin Franklin;
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
While you may not believe that the right to purchase fireworks is essential liberty how do you feel about the right to own a dog, eat meat or ride a horse? 

The beauty of the internet and petitions is, it is easier than ever for citizens to become involved in our democratic process. However, with that access comes responsibility. Before we petition for increased legislation shouldn't we look dispassionately at our sacred cows and ask the following questions:

  • is this an evenhanded piece of legislation

  • will this situation be improved by legislation

  • where do I put my enjoyment/income before the good of others

  • Should my beliefs be imposed on others

  • would time and money be better spent developing the qualities of compassion, responsibility and self-reliance in our children

In the case of this petition, the response of Government was telling;
"Government takes the issue of firework safety very seriously. There is legislation in place that controls the sale, use and misuse of fireworks; we have no plans to extend this further" read more here.