Every time the Fourth of July rolls around, people’s minds naturally turn to firecrackers — at least those of us who are kids or kids at heart. I guess it has something to do with celebrating the nation’s independence, which many of us believe can only be accomplished with a bang.
Of course, the organized fireworks displays offered in Mount Airy and other communities are cool and quite visually stunning. Yet nothing rivals going into the backyard with an armful of firecrackers, bottle rockets, etc. and some matches to enjoy a homemade exhibition of pyrotechnics.
There’s just a certain thrill involved with lighting a firecracker and quickly moving away to watch the sight and sound of the resulting explosion.
The only problem is, it is illegal to sell “decent” fireworks in North Carolina and has been for as long as I can remember. A visit Thursday to a local fireworks dispensary temporarily set up under a tent in a parking lot confirmed this.
Though the place had “TNT” signs splashed all over and products in packages adorned with bright lights and splashy colors, the bottom line is that nothing could be found there which blows up or flies into the air. Basically, in North Carolina any firework device that explodes, spins, jumps or leaves the ground in any manner is verboten.
That leaves us only with fountains, sparklers, flash-makers and noise-makers, which might be fine if you’re 2 years old. But once you’ve been to the “other side” and experienced good fireworks, having to settle for those that are El Lame-O is like telling a person who has driven a Ferrari that he must ride a tricycle.
The main thing I have to say about the matter is, “Thank God for South Carolina,” that forbidden land of Sodom and Gomorra — and great fireworks!
Ever since I was a small child, I always have gotten a tremendous rush when crossing the state line into South Carolina. You immediately begin seeing all the signs advertising fireworks — “real” ones, thank you very much. Then when you arrive at a fireworks store, walk in and see the rows and rows of beautiful items at your disposal, it’s hard to keep from breaking down and weeping with joy.
Consequently, leaving South Carolina can cause a corresponding feeling of depression, especially when you see the dreaded sign sadly reminding northbound travelers that their “last chance for fireworks” is at hand.
But does this suggest that no backyard firecrackers are ever heard in North Carolina? No. It effectively means that residents of this state can still have their firecrackers and bottle rockets by simply journeying to South Carolina or having a friend pick up some for you while down there.
Most everyone I know in my neighborhood has their own firecracker “stash” that they tap into not only on July 4 but when the clock strikes midnight for the start of New Year’s Day.
On each of those occasions in virtually every section of Mount Airy, one can walk outside and hear what amounts to a war zone of firecrackers. And those sounds certainly aren’t coming from the tired sparklers and fountains that are sold here.
My question is, if everybody has relatively easy access to good fireworks anyway (thanks to our friends in South Carolina), why shouldn’t North Carolina just go ahead and legalize them? It certainly would keep a significant amount of needed revenue from leaving the state while creating jobs on the retail end.
It might be different if North Carolina was an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where leaders could pretty much guarantee that prohibitions on certain items are enforced. But that wasn’t the case in North Carolina with lottery tickets (thanks to our friends in Virginia) and the same goes for firecrackers now. Since vehicles aren’t routinely stopped at the border and searched for fireworks contraband, one basically can bring in all that will fit into the trunk.
“But what about the dangers from firecrackers?” the Aunt Sallys among us might ask as they tremble and wring their hands with concern.
Well, we’re all able to get good firecrackers anyway, by taking a trip to South Carolina, so North Carolina’s stance does not guarantee safety for its residents. Plus, I have had a close association with “good” firecrackers for 45 years, and never have I seen or heard of anyone getting their hand blown off by one. I must admit that I have suffered minor burns to the fingers from time to time, but nothing that a good squeeze from an aloe plant can’t cure.
Nor have I heard of any occasion around here where illegal fireworks have sparked a forest fire or some other calamity.
I’m sure there have been occasions somewhere of firecrackers or bottle rockets causing injuries and other problems, but the point is these are not commonplace. And it must be argued that whatever bad situations do occur are the result of irresponsible behavior by users and not the fireworks themselves.
I just think that with society being more mobile than ever, it makes sense for North Carolina to finally allow its residents access to a decent array of fireworks within our own borders.
Maybe someday the state’s lawmakers will wake up and smell the gunpowder.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1924.