Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 3, 2013

Legalization of fireworks could spark revenue boost for West Virginia

By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— It’s mid-summer in southern West Virginia and fireworks light up the wooded landscapes. First a sizzle and a pop, then a bang. The rocket propels skyward and explodes. A fiesta of colors dance in the twilight.

It is not a professional fireworks display by any means. The explosions of colors are small and subdued compared to what one would witness at a “real” show. But it’s still impressive, especially for a private event put on in a backyard in rural Mercer County.

lll

Yes, we’re one of those families. Living in an isolated region of Mercer County — the lone house on top of a hill — we celebrated the Fourth with all the pomp and circumstance the holiday deserved.

On the days leading up to the event, we played with sparklers and those bizarre  “black snakes” — black bits of a chalky-like substance that smoked and morphed into a long, black ash with the touch of a match. We cooked hot dogs on a stick while gathered around a fire, and turned burning, marshmallow globes into tasty s’mores.

On the Fourth of July we headed to Hills Department Store, the place to go for the best fireworks display in town.

The lights that exploded above the Green Valley region were magical. Sparks of red, white, blue and silver would dance in the sky, then twinkle as they floated to the ground. Reclining on car hoods and resting in lawn chairs, spectators would “ooh” and “aah” at the magical sight.

Munching a bag of Hills popcorn paired with a Coca Cola from the cooler in the back seat, we would spend an hour looking up at the darkening sky emblazoned with a multi-color light show.

Was there any better way to spend a holiday iconized by the colors of our flag and the spirit of Americana?

lll

As our family grew and changed so did our holiday. Children became adults, with families of their own. And Independence Day, once spent at Hills or on the sand at Myrtle Beach, became a time to celebrate family ties at a barbecue at the homeplace.

Burgers and hot dogs were cooked on the grill while little ones ran rampant with sparklers in hand. The dinner was a precursor to the main event — a fireworks show put off by Dad, the older brothers and a nephew with a penchant for pyrotechnics.

The fireworks set off during our holidays were not purchased in the great state of West Virginia. They are not sold here, so family members traveled south each summer to purchase Roman candles and rockets for the backyard display. We never felt like criminals, but we were breaking the law. Fireworks legal in Tennessee and Ohio are criminalized in the Mountain State.

It’s almost funny that an explosion of powder 20 feet in the air is just cause for a statutory offense.

lll

Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, is attempting to decriminalize backyard fireworks in the Mountain State. He introduced a bill last week that would allow state residents to buy and set off rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers, cakes and shells.

Yes, he wants to make “the good ones” legal in West Virginia.

“These are the big bangers, the stuff that everybody goes to Tennessee ... and Ohio to buy and bring back to West Virginia,” he told a Register-Herald reporter last week.

The state fire marshal’s office opposes the legislation based on safety concerns. And it’s a point Hall understands. “That would be a good policy for their office. They should have a stance all the time that they oppose anything that’s potentially dangerous due to fire. They’re just looking out for the public.”

But some say national statistics show that the use of fireworks has become safer over the years.

“People are already using fireworks here,” Hall said. “That’s not the issue. It’s not like they’re not already here. I’ve got neighbors that put them off. Everybody does. They’ve been doing it for years. This would bring West Virginia up to our competitive states. It’s another thing we’ve been stubborn and hard-headed about. This is another way for our businesses to capitalize on another market.”

lll

Hall makes a valid point. Drive through rural areas of Mercer County on July 4 and you will see these fireworks being set off throughout the region. Knowing they are all purchased out of state, one has to wonder about all those potential tax dollars going up in smoke.

Certainly these fireworks do not belong in the hands of children, but when used by responsible adults they can certainly add a spark to family barbecues and other events.

As the Declaration of Independence was being finalized in 1776, John Adams wrote the following to his wife, Abigail: “... I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

It might be nice to have a few more “illuminations” lighting up the Mountain State this coming Fourth of July.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.