Fireworks are a Constitutional right

With patriotism at high ebb around the Fourth of July, and the Second Amendment with perfect timing having been confirmed as an individual right to own guns, I believe it is the hour when we the people must assert our ancient right to keep and bear fireworks.

It makes no sense to me that Americans can have all sorts of guns, which they can use to shoot unsuspecting deer and suspecting burglars, yet many of them cannot let off an honest Roman candle or eardrum-assaulting firecracker as a sign of their American exuberance.

As if connected to their history by a long burning fuse, the American people have always loved to blow things up (just ask anyone in Iraq). The history of this continent can be considered as a series of detonations.

What is the first tune a child hears? Yes, "The Star-Spangled Banner," with the words that thrill the American soul: "The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air."

Some may quibble that this refers to artillery but that misses the point. Clearly, Francis Scott Key was much impressed with the pyrotechnic aspects of the spectacle and would have surely asked his British captors to play the "1812 Overture" as an accompaniment if only Tchaikovsky had been born. As it was, some historians believe he called for a folding chair and a few beers.

Yet what have we come to in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Thanks to a web of restrictive state and municipal laws, some of us can only salute our freedom with a sparkler in our hand. Did Patrick Henry (no relation) say: "Give me liberty or give me a sparkler"? He did not, which is why I believe now is the time to shoot a rocket up the rear quarters of the frowning establishment who would protect us from our own considerable folly.

Oh, yes, firecrackers are dangerous all right. Any idiot can blow his fingers off — and many idiots do. But many idiots also shoot themselves or others, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, because they are idiots. Thanks to the Supreme Court, their idiocy is of a superior nature now because it is rooted in the exercising of an individual constitutional right.

If only fireworks lovers could reach the constitutional skies with their bottle rockets! Those who would keep and bear fireworks are being discriminated against. It is dreadfully unfair that young people should have to put a whiff of eau de gunpowder behind their ears to make themselves attractive in the hopes of marrying into the famous Zambelli fireworks family just so they can have the thrill of singeing their eyebrows.

It is absurd that laws in some places restrict fireworks sales for in-state residents but not visitors. People in Pennsylvania, for example, should not have to pretend to be from Ohio — donning Cleveland Browns jerseys and assuming the familiar hang dog look — just to buy something combustible.

But this being America, a remedy is at hand. We can sue. Hurrah for us! Other benighted peoples do not have access to so many attorneys.

Better still, the Supreme Court stands ready to find a new individual right with some nifty reasoning that explains away any pesky words to the contrary, such as "well-regulated" and "militia," as it did in the historic Second Amendment case from Washington, D.C., last month.

Those particular words don’t mean a darn thing now, because Justice Antonin Scalia said so in his majority opinion — and never mind what the people of the District of Columbia wanted. (Kiddies, can you say: "Activist judge"?) Why, James Madison, the amendment’s author, would have been better off deleting them in the first place. He should have written something about fireworks while the ink was still on his quill.

Not to worry. If Scalia and his fun-loving colleagues on the bench can discard as irrelevant some words in an amendment, they can certainly find new meanings in words already at hand elsewhere in the Bill of Rights.

I refer your attention to the Ninth Amendment, henceforth to be known as the Firecracker Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Given the rolling thunderclaps of firecrackers since colonial times, this right of the people to blow up themselves and various mailboxes cannot be denied.

A firework in a tube is not so functionally different than what the founders called a musket. If the court recognizes this, I believe we can add another verse to our national anthem: "Boom, boom, out goes the light (of common sense)."


(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)