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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Commentary

Fireworks control?

Published:

Let us beat the gun-rights crowd to the punch and agree that firearms arenít the only dangerous devices out there in dire need of greater regulation. It seems that certain types of fireworks may need to be added to that list, too.

For those who arenít up on the latest word from the Boston Marathon bombing investigation, it appears some or all of the gunpowder allegedly used in the manufacture of bombs by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came from fireworks. Employees of a New Hampshire fireworks store say the elder Tsarnaev (who died in a confrontation with police) bought about $400 worth of fireworks from the outlet in February.

Whether the bombs could have been made entirely from the contents of the fireworks in question is open to debate. Some in the fireworks industry are skeptical. But in theory, bomb experts say, you could produce a significant blast from using the powder in fireworks mortars combined with a pressure cooker and shrapnel like small nails or BBs.

Why hasnít this possibility come up before? Actually, it has. Remember the Connecticut man who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010? He bought fireworks from a Phantom Fireworks store in Pennsylvania, apparently to use them as a triggering device with the fertilizer, propane tanks and gasoline stuffed in the car.

Fireworks already are federally regulated, but these events ought to raise serious questions about whether the public is protected sufficiently. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sets limits on the ďpyrotechnic compositionĒ of consumer fireworks, but no rules prevent individuals from buying them in bulk, ripping them open and combining their contents.

Are a couple of isolated cases, albeit events most regard as acts of terrorism, enough to justify stricter regulations? Thatís not yet clear, but certainly those alone should trigger a serious inquiry by the CPSC and Congress. We did, after all, enact regulations on the mass purchase of fertilizer after the Oklahoma City bombing. But thatís not the sole reason to pursue revising federal law.

Each year, more than 8,000 Americans are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. In 2010, for instance, as many people were killed by fireworks (three) as died in the marathon bombings.

Whatís shocking is that the pattern shows little sign of waning despite repeated efforts to warn the general public of the dangers of fireworks, legal and otherwise. Indeed, the time of year when those warnings are trumpeted most loudly is the Fourth of July, and thatís also when fireworks-related injuries and deaths remain most likely to occur.

If stricter rules deterred the next domestic terrorist from setting off a bomb, that would be great. But it should be enough to spare teens and others from losing fingers or eyes or suffering other wounds from devices that are better left to the pros anyway.

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