The Fourth of July celebrations have come and gone. Meanwhile, on June 19, PEDIATRICS – Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, released a report on “Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States.” The complaints about illegal fireworks continue loud and clear, even a week after the Fourth, both in traditional media and on social media. But the reaction to the report on childhood firearm injuries barely gets a peep. The divide between which of these two events received news headlines and public discussion on social media and which one didn’t is deafening.
Headlines in local media about illegal fireworks included: “Fireworks spark anger” and “Loud and crazy holiday.” People using social media are calling for local legislative hearings on the effects illegal fireworks are having in neighborhoods and the repealing of county resolutions allowing the use of certain types of fireworks. Yet, there was no local news coverage of the 1,300 children aged 0 to 17 killed by firearms (this includes suicides) and the 5,790 who are treated for gunshot injuries each year in the United States. No one that I know of is calling for local legislative bodies to investigate firearm- related injuries and deaths in children in our area. Something is wrong with this picture.
On any given day in America, 20 children are killed and/or injured by firearms. On the day the Childhood Firearm report came out, a four-year-old boy in Pennsylvania got ahold of a gun and fatally shot himself in the face. This story received four sentences in the local paper where the tragedy occurred. The illegal fireworks complaints received front page newspaper coverage and lead story status on television newscasts. What am I missing here? Have we allowed the National Rifle Association to control the media to the extent that an average of four firearm-related deaths a day of children under age 18 gets little or no coverage in the news? Or, have we become so used to these tragedies that we have lost the need to report on them anymore?
Don’t get me wrong. I have issues with the use of illegal fireworks. People start setting them off well before July 4th, and continue to light them long after the 4th is over. They set these off late into the night causing angst to both humans and pets. Many people are injured while using fireworks. The rockets and candles shot into the air can land on roofs and start fires or settle on cars and damage the finish. The loud booms can affect our veterans who served in war zones and find it difficult to deal with the sounds of fireworks. Spent fireworks are left on sidewalks and in streets causing a litter problem that has to be cleaned up, usually by those who did not set off the fireworks. I would like to see the county legislatures that have allowed the use of legal fireworks hold hearings to gather public input on the unintended consequences the law has had in these counties.
My observation, here in Albany County, is that the use of illegal fireworks has increased since the County legislature authorized the use of ‘legal’ fireworks. Not only has the use gone up, but the size and type of illegal fireworks being shot off have grown. The thin 10-unit Roman candles have grown into boxes holding as many as a dozen cannons shooting candles into the air. The boomers have become so large and loud that it sounds like a cannon is going off. These boomers have rattled windows in our older houses and caused some people to jump out of bed thinking there was a gas explosion or similar incident, like a gunshot.
Even though I am no longer a Common Council member, I still received many complaints from former constituents about the use of illegal fireworks and asking for police intervention. I propose, since it was Albany County that approved the use of legal fireworks, that the county reimburse the city for costs related to APD intervention on the use of illegal fireworks and for the cost of cleanup by the Department of General Services of the litter left behind from the lighting of fireworks. I’m sure that if we made the county financially responsible for the policing of illegal fireworks through the Sheriff’s Department and the picking up of the litter by the county works department, then the county will take the concerns of its residents seriously and do something about illegal fireworks that their authorization has caused to proliferate in the cities, towns and villages.
However, I also don’t think that rescinding the county law authorizing the use of legal fireworks will have a significant effect on the use of illegal fireworks. Fireworks have been around forever, and it doesn’t look like they are going to go away anytime soon. What I am concerned with, though, is the lack of public discourse on the extremely high rate of children killed and/or injured by firearms in America. According to the research done for the Childhood Firearm report, 91 percent of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 among all high income countries worldwide occur in the United States. Why? And, why does the use of illegal fireworks garner headlines and the death of a child by a gun get little or no media coverage?
When I posted the Childhood Firearm study on my Facebook page, I had a whopping four replies. When I looked at just one Facebook rant on illegal fireworks, I counted 23 replies in a couple of hours. Why is it that a week or so of illegal fireworks use incites so much outrage, but the fact that the majority of children killed by firearms are shot with a handgun (75 percent) barely raises a whisper, let alone a headline in the news media. Why is it that almost 20 children a day, 365 days a year, are killed or injured by firearms in America, yet the United States Congress can’t find a few minutes in its schedule of multiple vacations (they call them “breaks,” like the: ”summer” break, or the Presidents’ Week break) to investigate ways to make children safe from gun violence? Why is it that, because in most cases of unintentional firearm deaths of children, the shooter was playing with a gun, trigger locks and locked firearm storage units are not the law of the land? Childhood deaths and injuries from firearms is a public health epidemic. Let’s take the necessary steps to both find the cause of the epidemic and then implement the necessary steps to control this epidemic as we do for other epidemics like the Zika virus. Our children deserve no less.