It's Time to Admit Humans Can't Be Trusted With Fireworks

By Holly Brockwell on at

Imagine for a second that fireworks aren't a thing.

Now imagine someone announces a plan to start selling portable explosives to anyone over 18, no background check required. Does that seem like a good idea? In an age where you literally can't get on an international plane with a bottle of water, shall we let people just walk into a shop and walk out with tubes of gunpowder? Would this idea ever get past the first hurdle if it was implemented now?

I doubt it. Not because we're some kind of invasive nanny state, but because it is deeply irresponsible to let literally anyone of age buy explosive pyrotechnics on the high street.

Being over 18 is not a measure of being a sane, responsible human being. There are plenty of smart, mature 16-year-olds and equally, there are plenty of completely reckless, stupid 25-year-olds. Age checks don't accomplish anything, and besides, it's easy enough to circumvent them if you want to: half of the people injured by fireworks last year were under 18.

The fact is, it makes absolutely no sense to allow members of the public to buy fireworks. They're not useful or necessary, and they cause enormous amounts of harm to innocent people and animals every damn year.

I'm not saying we should ban fireworks altogether. There are plenty of well-run, responsible displays that people can go and see, or watch for free from their windows. But random people putting on their own displays with no safety oversight, idiot teenagers throwing fireworks at each other in the street (this happens on my estate every year), people being hit by badly-aimed rockets, animals terrified by the noise and worse (I can't bring myself to go into what people have done to animals with fireworks, but suffice to say it would ruin your faith in humanity for life) – none of that needs to happen.

It seems completely insane to me that in an age where the NHS is stretched way beyond breaking point, where fire stations are closed for lack of funding and ambulances are wrecked by drunken idiots, that we think it's worth some pretty whizz-bangs to allow unrestricted sale of explosives for home use. That anyone could think it's worth the cost to the emergency services, not to mention life and limb.

I'm not alone in thinking this. Manchester's Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, has called for firework sales to the public to be banned to prevent anti-social, terrorising behaviour. This was after residents of an estate in Tameside were scared to leave their houses because a bunch of idiots were throwing fireworks around outside. Not that they're especially safe inside their houses either: fireworks have already caused two fires in York alone this week, and Bonfire Night hasn't even happened yet.

Similarly, some doctors have called for firework packaging to show the graphic and "life-changing" (in the worst sense) injuries that they cause. Which, honestly, just sounds like a way to make your local troublemaker think he's even more of a badass for chucking pyrotechnics around (and it is usually a he – 80% of people injured by fireworks injuries are male).

It is, of course, illegal to set off fireworks in the street. It's also illegal to set them off between 11pm and 7am except on Bonfire Night, where the cutoff is midnight, and New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year, when the cut off is 1am. But that doesn't stop people, does it? Just like it being illegal to shoot someone doesn't stop people doing it, and therefore we have to have strict rules about who can buy guns.

A rocket can reach 150 miles an hour. A shell fired from a mortar (literally what some fireworks are) can reach 200 metres in the air. Do you want any idiot to have that to hand? Think of the people you went to school with. Or people who play music out loud on trains, people who take photos with iPads, people who do 'pranks' on YouTube. Do you trust them with a load of gunpowder and a lighter? Do you trust them with it near your home, your pets, your children, your eyes?

Doctors have stated that the amount of maimings caused by fireworks is actually rising: the number of people going to A&E with fireworks injuries has more than doubled since 2010. As the president of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) puts it:

"We are extremely concerned about the continued misuse of fireworks, particularly by those under the age of 18 away from organised events.

Although packaged in a jovial, toy-like fashion, people forget that when using fireworks, they are handling explosives which can cause extremely serious injuries that may require extensive reconstructive surgery."

BAPRAS wants those aforementioned injury warnings (they're pretty grim) added to firework packaging, but since similar warnings on cigarette packets have actually made some people more positive about smoking (sigh, humans) that doesn't seem like the way to go.

Besides, it's not just people who buy fireworks who are impacted by them. Graphic warnings won't do anything to help the innocent bystanders hit by rockets, people whose houses burnt down, terrified animals or soldiers with PTSD.

You know what would help? Well-organised, responsible displays by people who know what they're doing, and no one else. Fireworks are cool and pretty, and there's no need to ban them. But let's maybe stop selling them to any old random with a fiver, because if you think about it for more than two seconds, it is absolutely bananas that we ever did.

Main image: Josephine Pedersen via Flickr CC