If safety is truly the state’s interest, there are many more dangerous implements that need controlling.

I am as conscious as many, and more conscious than most, of the dangers of treating adults as adults.I have the advantage of obtaining my license to drive at age 44, which enabled me to see more clearly than most people that the highways are full of enemies, assassins and idiots.

Nevertheless, the liberty of all depends almost entirely on the assumption that adults are responsible for their actions; which is why I traveled to Augusta May 1 to testify on behalf of Sen. Walter Gooley’s bill to relax Maine’s restrictions on the purchase and use of fireworks. The thrust of my testimony before the Judiciary Committee was that the existing prohibitions are whimsical, arbitrary and inconsistent.The committee was by turns dazzled, amazed and baffled by my testimony. I think.

My brother-in-law (brevet rank), a master of all things mechanical, ancient and modern, is firmly of the opinion that I am not to be trusted with any tool more dangerous than a screwdriver.I have never challenged his authority to make this judgment.Yet I am entitled to walk into any hardware store, flourish my credit card and walk out with a chain saw, all set to set sawdust and fragments of my anatomy a-flying.

Now here’s my point: the Consumer Products Safety Commission tells us that there were 135,000 chainsaw accidents last year.Compare this with about 7,000 accidents from fireworks. Moreover, chain saw accidents have been increasing over time while fireworks accidents have decreased fairly steadily from 12,000 in 1990, even as fireworks consumption has increased from 67.3 million pounds 1990 to 220.8 million pounds in 2003.

The argument will be made that a large proportion of fireworks accidents afflict children – invoking “the children” being a powerful argument from sentiment for controlling adults. Logically, this argument makes more sense as an argument against allowing parents the custody of their children; New Hampshire, for example, requires proof that fireworks purchasers are 21.

The CPSC calculates that the rate of fireworks accidents for children in under 14 was 9 per 100,000 in 2000. Compare that to 35 per 100,000 for accidents from pens and pencils, and 126 per 100,000 for skateboards. Never mind bikes and trikes; 847 per 100,000, a regular epidemic.

Preparing for my testimony, I walked into the Brickyard Café in West Farmington one day and asked all those present who had operated a chain saw under age 21.All males present raised their hands. Inquiring further, I established one had first operated that tool at age 17, seven at age 14 or 15, one at age thirteen. Jimmy Gilbert, who operates a garage, guessed he was 6 or 7 when he first ran one.

Continuing my research at the Farmington Rotary Breakfast, I established that 18 members had ran a chain saw under age 21; 10 of those under age 15.

The fire marshals stand firmly behind the prohibition. Their experience teaches them that people cause most fires, so it follows that the more the state restricts people, the fewer fires. True enough, the CPSC calculated that 2,532 fires were caused by fireworks in 1997, 0.3 percent of the total. Assuming current figures are comparable, I don’t see how it is possible to justify diverting resources from preventing 99.7 percent of fires in order to harass fireworks purchasers.

In all honesty, I admit that I knew a fellow in high school who suffered a painful injury when a bomb blew up in his hand. It should be noted, however, that it was a real bomb, not a commercial pyrotechnic. This would be clear grounds for abolishing high school freshman chemistry.

In sum, Maine’s fireworks restrictions are either a case of whimsical officiousness or the state has fallen far short of the necessary safety measures and it should go ahead and license chainsaw operators, abolish skateboards and bikes and take steps to keep pens and pencils out of the hands of small children. Maybe they could also abolish silverware while they’re at it.

John Frary of Farmington is a former U.S. Congress candidate and Farmington selectman, retired history professor, and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia. E-mail: [email protected]


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