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Tom Crawford: Lawmakers have to defuse an explosive issue
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With the legalization of fireworks this year, Georgia residents had a blast over the Fourth of July weekend — literally.

It seemed that there were more fireworks being detonated, over longer periods of time, than ever before as Independence Day was celebrated.

The blowback was swift. Complaints exploded all over the Internet and legislators who supported the fireworks bill were hit with a barrage of protesting emails and phone calls.

“I’ve received a lot of hate mail,” said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, one of the advocates of legalization.

Mullis, a Civil War buff who lives near the Georgia-Tennessee line, for years has watched his constituents cross the border to purchase fireworks in advance of New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July. He argues that the money spent on bottle rockets should stay in Georgia, since the fireworks are going to be detonated here anyway.

But even Mullis acknowledged there will probably be some revisions in the fireworks law.

“You have to give a new law a chance and see what needs to be adjusted,” Mullis said. “It can have unintended consequences, so we’ll go back and adjust this accordingly.”

The new law provides that fireworks can be detonated legally between 10 a.m. and midnight, but the legal hours are extended to 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, July 3, July 4 and Dec. 31.

In many locales, there were complaints about the continuing explosions of fireworks during that period from midnight to 2 a.m. Those who have dogs and cats, in particular, were upset about their pets being traumatized.

“The recently enacted fireworks law is a new height of idiocy by the Georgia legislature,” said a typical Facebook post. “They are talking about having to euthanize traumatized animals at the shelter! Good grief. Does the Second Amendment now cover loud explosives anytime anywhere?”

Tim Ryles, who was the state’s insurance and fire safety commissioner in the early 1990s, was also critical of the extended detonations.

“I am not against fun, but I have had about all of the firecrackers I can take for the rest of the decade,” Ryles said. “Aside from the noise at different hours of the evening, the dogs need Prozac.”

Ryles added: “For the Ocilla legislator who spearheaded the sale of firecrackers without limiting their use to certain times of the year (July 4 and New Year’s Eve), a belated thank you for your gift to the fireworks manufacturers. May your campaign coffers be infused with money and your Christmas gift box be supplied with plenty of boom booms for all the family.”

He was referring to Jay Roberts, the primary sponsor of the fireworks bill. Roberts, however, is no longer a lawmaker. He resigned from the House several weeks ago when Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him planning director at the Department of Transportation.

Even with all the explosions, there were no reported deaths from fireworks in Georgia during the Fourth of July weekend. That was not the case in other states, however.

Devon Staples, a 22-year-old Maine resident who was drinking while he celebrated the holiday, placed a reloadable fireworks mortar tube on his head and ignited it. He was killed instantly by the blast.

In Columbus, Texas, a 30-year-old man named Justin Bartek and some friends were detonating fireworks at a popular fishing spot when Bartek tried to fire a tube-type explosive called a Medieval Knight off his chest. He was critically injured and died after being rushed to the hospital by paramedics.

Jason Pierre-Paul, a professional football player on the verge of signing a $60 million contract with the New York Giants, damaged his hand so badly in a fireworks accident that he had to have a finger amputated (the contract offer was cut off as well).

“I know I’ll get criticisms for this, but you can’t fix stupid,” Mullis said. “Alcohol and many things don’t mix well.”

These fireworks incidents illustrate one of the most basic rules of politics and human behavior.

The law of unintended consequences holds that the actions of a person or a government will usually have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.

That was certainly the case with Georgia lawmakers and those individuals who thought it would be great fun to launch fireworks from one of their body parts.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.

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