“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin
When we become adults we no longer need our parents to make critical decisions in our lives. We are free to fail, free to succeed, and yes…even free to be flat-out stupid.
Adolph Hitler’s pursuit of a ‘more perfect world” included a government campaign against smoking and the individual right to bear arms….among other things.
Freedom, however, does not come without risks and costs, especially when it comes to our rights to wallow in pure stupidity.
But what line should our government draw between an individual’s desire to exercise his or her inalienable right to stupidity and the protection of other citizens from those stupid choices?
The Biddeford City Council is just half an inch away from enacting an ordinance that will prevent residents from using fireworks anywhere in the city.
The council’s decision follows on the heels of a recent reversal in state law that now allows the sale, use and distribution of fireworks. But the new state law also stipulates that individual communities may set their own standards regarding the use, sale and possession of fireworks.
By allowing individual communities to establish their own fireworks ordinances, a resident of Bangor could –theoretically — have more freedom than a resident of Biddeford.
Some animals, apparently, are more equal than other animals.
Laura being stupid with sparklers, in direct violation of state park policy
My wife, Laura, is a member of the city council’s Policy Committee. She and other members of the committee voted unanimously in favor of the city’s ban on the use of fireworks.
When asked why she voted in favor of the ban, Laura explained that the majority of residents who testified before her committee supported the ban. Furthermore, she said, the local ban was adamantly supported by both the city’s police chief and the fire chief.
It makes sense to me that government officials, such as the police and fire chief, would want to ensure public safety by having greater control over public activities. In a sense, this is the fundamental and appropriate role of government: to provide for the public’s general welfare.
For example, the city is not infringing upon its residents’ Second Amendment rights by enforcing a policy that limits the use of shotguns in certain parts of the city; nor is the city infringing upon its residents’ First Amendment rights by limiting public comments at city council meetings to five minutes.
Reasonable people can agree that individual rights have some limits. Your freedom of speech does not allow you to scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.
But then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and what do we do about all the stupid people and their stupid choices?
It is a slippery slope with grave consequences that should be weighed carefully.
On July 4 1978, I violated state law, local ordinances and the core elements of common sense by using a Roman Candle — a type of firework device that launches brilliant shots of exploding matter into a brilliant, although brief, display of color and sound.
I was 14 years old, and I nearly blew off my testicles by holding the tube improperly while sitting on the front stairs of my childhood home.
I lit the fuse and pointed the tube across the street, toward the parking lot of the Armory building on Franklin Street in Saco, then the home of 133rd Engineering Batallion.
Fortunately, there was an adult present who saw that the fuse was pointed toward my crotch.
“Hey, turn it around!” he screamed just before the tiny balls of fire began jettisoning toward my own tiny balls of fire.
Obviously, I survived the incident and learned a valuable lesson about protecting my genitals.
Under today’s standards, however, I would have been prosecuted by the Department of Homeland Security for firing upon a federal facility, and my parents would have been charged with child endangerment.
But it all turned out fine. For better or worse, my testicles remained in tact, and I went on to make many more stupid choices.
Stupidity is the cornerstone of innovation, and it’s a trademark of America and our willingness to take risks, make mistakes and ultimately succeed.
Imagine strolling on a North Carolina beach in the early 1900s and watching as two brothers played with a “flying machine.” How stupid! Those men think humans can fly like the birds!
Go back further in history. How much sense did it make for a bunch of disgruntled farmers to take on the world’s most powerful army in a rebellion against a mighty throne?
And what about the stupidity of Columbus, and his epic failure to find a new route to India?
Acts of stupidity and risky behavior provide us with tremendous value and opportunities. More importantly, our right to be stupid is inextricably linked to our pursuit of happiness.
Therefore we ought to be damned careful as we set out to create a utopian society. After all, Adolph Hitler was one of the world’s most outspoken critics of smoking.
In fact, Hitler went after the smokers long before he set his sights on private gun ownership and the Jews.
Thus, whenever government infringes on our God-given right to be as dumb as a door-knob, it ought to include much deliberation and considerable thought and debate about the unintended consequences of such legislative endeavors.
Defining stupidity is nearly impossible. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you think the government should tell you what is okay to eat? Do you think the government should dictate who you can marry? Would you prefer that the government provides your health care, your housing and your food? Can you imagine the consequences?
How dependent are you prepared to be? How much of your liberty are you willing to sacrifice for your security?
Fireworks have become a symbol and trademark of our liberty. They define our brilliance, our diversity and our strength as a nation. They remind us of the explosions that had far greater consequences more than 200 years ago.
It would not be hard for the city to set some reasonable guidelines for the use of fireworks. We could establish acceptable hours of use. We could set policies that include where the use of fireworks is permissible, such as a required 20-foot setback from a neighbor’s property.
In America, you have the right to define the course of your life, and that means you have the right to be stupid.
If we don’t stand for stupidity, then what will we stand for?
The Biddeford City Council will hold a second reading on its proposed fireworks ordinance on Tuesday, April 3.