Like most libertarians, I like to complain about nanny-state regulations, especially on July 4th. And like most red-blooded Americans, I like to blow stuff up, which makes anti-fireworks regulations especially galling. I’ve noticed at least two libertarian bloggers complaining about anti-fireworks laws, and in my gut, I want to agree with them. If drunken fools blow their hands off, that’s their problem, right?
The problem is that exploding fireworks is not a purely self-regarding action; arguably, it’s not even close. The primary danger – and I realize it’s not a problem everywhere in the country, but it’s definitely a problem in Southern California – is that fireworks can start fires. In dry areas, that can lead to out-of-control conflagrations that destroy hundreds or even thousands of homes, not to mention taxing the efforts of firefighters, filling the sky with black soot, reducing air quality, sometimes shutting down highways and inconveniencing large numbers of people.
I hate to admit it, but I think regulating fireworks, and even implementing an outright ban in especially fire-prone areas, is probably a good idea. Will people flout the regulations, leading to smuggling and black markets? Yes, but I still suspect the gains exceed the losses (though I’m open to evidence showing that my concerns are out of proportion to the problem). We can’t eliminate the risk entirely, but we can at least reduce it substantially.