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It's been a long time since I've set off fireworks. I don't have to nowadays, as several of my neighbors choose to purchase and illegally fire off starbursts, mortar bombs and other explosives just a half a block or so from my back yard. The explosives never used to be so big. The stuff people are setting off in recent years is almost as impressive as those set off at a professional show.
Perhaps they got bigger after the 2015 change that eliminated the so-called "liar law," which required anyone who purchased legal, consumer-grade fireworks to sign a form promising they would take them out of state within 48 hours. I remember signing the form once or twice, stating I was taking my skyrockets to Pennsylvania.
But I don't like to lie, and I got tired of worrying about the police pulling up in my driveway. Though people don't have to sign a form any more, it's still state law that consumer-grade fireworks must be taken out of state within two days of purchase. I might not worry so much today, as my neighbors seem to always get away with it.
In years past, I've spoken with local law enforcement officers, who've told me it's pretty hard to catch people in the act, but they do issue citations -- a first-time violation is typically a first-degree misdemeanor.
Also, police say a lot of people don't complain so much on the Fourth of July, simply because of the tradition. They say it's the jerk who buys a bunch of fireworks way ahead of time and sets them off all week that really make neighbors mad.
But even if it's tradition, I wonder: On the Fourth of July, probably the most patriotic holiday of the year, why do so many of us think so little of breaking the law?
There are plenty of "minor" laws police commonly deal with, some carrying a larger stigma than others and often indicating personal problems. For example, drunk driving is generally a first-degree misdemeanor, as is domestic violence. Petty theft, like shoplifting small items, is a lesser offense, as is possession of marijuana, though those caught with larger dollar amounts of stolen goods or drugs face more severe charges.
If you speed or dump trash, negligently or otherwise, you pay a fine. People make mistakes.
Why would otherwise normal, law-abiding citizens go out of their way to break the law by setting off fireworks?
Back in the 1960s and 70s, we didn't have back-yard mortars that fired shells with huge chrysanthemum-shaped bursts. If you set off little "bottle rockets," the police would roll up to the curb, get out of their cruisers and start looking for you.
But a lot of things were different back then. Back then, the government drafted young men fresh out of high school to fight and die in Vietnam.
Today, young men and women volunteer to go to war and the same political side that once called draft dodgers "traitors" is the side that argues government can't do anything right.
Perhaps they have it right. Maybe, over the years, our government has shown it can't get it right. After all, it's common knowledge that people are breaking the law every July 4 weekend -- the evidence is exploding in everyone's face. Yet rather than dealing with the obvious by cracking down on fireworks retailers, state legislators decided to make it so people don't have to lie.
This week, patriotic Ohioans will break the law by setting off Chinese-made explosives to celebrate the founding of our government, a nation of laws "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Except for the laws they disagree with.
If you want to show your patriotism, then put up a flag, have a barbecue, and do something nice for your neighbors or someone else. If you want to see fireworks, save your money and go to a show.
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433