Ban Imbeciles – HOS

Editorial: We need a ban on imbeciles, not on the fireworks they use – 11 Nov 2007 – NZ Herald: New Zealand National news

Finally some sanity over Clark’s proposal to ban fun at Guy Fawkes. the Herald on Sunday reckons we should ban imbeciles not fireworks.

[quote]Whenever a politician – or anyone else – utters the word “ban”, it’s a sure sign that an overreaction is in progress. That is certainly true of the suggestions aired during the annual fireworks season. Prime Minister Helen Clark said last weekend that fireworks sales could be banned if “people were going to carry on being absolutely ridiculous”. Her remarks were reported after a series of incidents, some of which disrupted her own domestic repose; she said that her leafy Mt Eden neighbourhood was like “downtown Kandahar”.

The gratuitous tastelessness of that particular comparison was regrettable, but the PM was issuing a challenge. And it’s worth noting that, even if only incidentally, the country called her bluff. Acting national fire commander Paul McGill said this year’s was the quietest Guy Fawkes night since records began in 1996. The number of callouts was down 40 per cent on last year, which was itself down 40 per cent on 2005.

Those figures need to be seen in context. Guy Fawkes fell on a Monday this year and on the weekends in the previous two years, so it is likely that a higher proportion of this year’s backyard pyrotechnics took place before November 5. But the numbers are down dramatically and Guy Fawkes celebrations this year passed almost entirely without incident.

That may seem a hard assessment to swallow for those injured. But it is important to maintain a sense of perspective. Between 15 and 20 tonnes of fireworks will have gone up in smoke this season and only a very small handful of incidents took place. The most chilling of those involved a small child who was being kept at a very safe distance when a malfunctioning firework flew into her pram and it is understandable that her mother is keen on a ban. But reacting to individual events is always a bad way of formulating public policy.

Of course the safer use of fireworks, evidenced by those Fire Service figures, are not a response to the PM’s admonitions. People, to use Clark’s vague term, read the papers, assess the danger and act carefully.

And there’s the nub of the issue. Clark’s “people” may indeed carry on being absolutely ridiculous; but most “people” don’t. We don’t need to ban fireworks; we need to ban imbeciles. And, every day, the conduct of human affairs proves the vanity of that aspiration, desirable though it is.

We live in an age of anxiety, in particular about our children. Parents are afraid to let their children walk to school even though the statistical chance of their being abducted is incalculably small, and playgrounds are stripped of equipment from which children may fall. In the process, we create a climate of risk-aversiveness that does more harm than good. “People”, including and especially children, learn safety by doing dangerous things. They learn responsibility by having to choose not to be irresponsible.

A ban on private use of fireworks would be silly, and not just because accidents, as we saw at Alexandra Park, Auckland, can happen at public displays. Seizing on the objects that stupid people use stupidly makes no more sense than banning cars, knives, glass containers and matches – all of which are implicated in mayhem. The Clark administration, which has a busybody reputation, does not want “Let’s stamp out fun” as a campaign slogan. Better to be grateful that so many of us are sensible people.[/quote]

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