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Editorial: Boom Time for N.H. Fireworks

There is something about the phrase “reloadable mortar’’ that might make a prudent person say, umm, maybe not. But add the word “fireworks,’’ and lots of people say “oooh” and “aaah.” And a few say, “dial 911.”

That’s how it is in New Hampshire, where State Fire Marshal William Degnan said after the July 4 holiday that he would like to see reloadable mortar fireworks banned for personal use because they have caused a number of serious injuries in recent years. It hasn’t been an epidemic — two injuries in 2011, 13 in 2012 and two in 2014 — but the severity of the injuries concerns Degnan. He referred, in a recent Concord Monitor story, to “the pain and anguish that a family goes through when they have an injured family member.’’

Degnan insists the holiday carnage isn’t necessary. “There are still other fireworks they can have that will put on a great show but at a lesser risk of injury,’’ he said.

Reloadable mortar fireworks have been available in New Hampshire since 2011, when the Legislature lurched right and deregulated all manner of things that could be sold to make a buck, including usurious title loans on automobiles. They are so expensive, at up to 300 percent interest annually, that many vehicles are repossessed. In the Live Free or Die state, it’s Live Free and Walk.

Anyway, reloadable mortar fireworks can be safe — when they are used correctly, and are set off by people and around people who haven’t declared independence from sobriety. Explains Degnan, “First of all, the tubes have to be set up on a solid, firm surface so they’re supported. … Then you have to load them correctly. If you put the explosive in upside down, you could blow up the tube and have shrapnel from it, or you could have a tube tip over and fire the explosive directly at the spectators.”

Assessing risk is itself a risky business. The Consumer Product Safety Commission released statistics on emergency room visits nationwide from July 1-7, 2013, that showed that fireworks sent more than 6,000 people to the ER. However, playing basketball resulted in even more emergency room visits, and bike riding was more injurious by a factor of nearly three.

Should we ban bikes? Well, no. Bicycles have a utility beyond that of fireworks, no matter the entertainment value, and they bring more benefit than a fleeting trail of color in the sky. Relative to the danger of mortars, the better question might be: Should we allow rocket-assisted bikes for children?

The names of reloadable mortar fireworks suggests much about their appeal. One company offers a “Lock and Load Kit,’’ an “Air Assault Collection,’’ and an “Aerial Arsenal Shell Kit.” The latter is $449.99, which likely allows for a banging good profit. People who live in war-torn regions of the world might be amazed at our fondness for military-style bombardment as entertainment.

The state fire marshal said that he wishes that all consumer fireworks were banned, but he knows that won’t happen anytime soon. That wildcat is already out of the bag, but the Legislature should take another look at consumer fireworks regulations, and where to draw the line. “There needs to be some sanity brought back to this issue,’’ said Degnan, who has seen the price of recklessness.