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Laws without enforcement are just suggestions



Neither safe nor sane each Fourth of July

I doubt if there is any law on the books that is more flagrantly and routinely violated every year by otherwise law-abiding residents of our community than the city’s restrictions on fireworks.

Under the “Safe and Sane” fireworks law, the only things that can legally be set off are ground and hand-held sparkling and smoking devices, cylindrical fountains, flitter sparklers, illuminating torches, smoke devices and wheels.

That leaves out bottle rockets, cherry bombs, black cats … pretty much anything that bangs. Any explosion you hear not coming from a sanctioned fireworks show is illegal. City law also restricts fireworks sales from June 20 to July 6 and only to those age 16 and older who are not intoxicated at the time of purchase.

Violation of any of these provisions can result in a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. But, there is safety in numbers, and your odds of winning the Powerball lottery are probably greater than your odds of getting cited for breaking fireworks laws in Las Cruces.

I live in a quiet neighborhood where the loudest sounds are typically from children playing or dogs barking. But each year at this time, my neighbors are neither safe nor sane, at least as defined by the city. The late-night explosions typically start several days before the Fourth of July, and continue for several days after. All with complete and absolute impunity.

Which is why the city’s failure to get a drought ordinance passed in time for this year’s holiday really won’t make much of a difference. If it had been passed, the order would have required all fireworks to be set off from paved or barren areas, with a source of water available.

Obviously, those are both really good ideas, but the ordinance would not have been enforced. Laws without enforcement are mere suggestions, and anyone with common sense would already know to do those things.

I don’t blame the police. If residents of our community decide en masse to violate the law, there’s not much they can do about it.

The real problem is with the state Legislature, which prohibits cities from enacting outright bans. Those living in Las Cruces don’t have to travel far to purchase fireworks that violate our “Safe and Sane” provisions. As long as illegal fireworks are easily available, they will continue to be used illegally and often irresponsibly.

For me, it’s a nuisance. I’ll be awakened in the middle of the night and mumble obscenities at the inconsiderate jerks down the street before rolling over and going back to sleep.

For dog owners, it can mean long nights trying to calm terrified terriers.

But those impacted the most each year are military veterans who associate explosions with combat, not celebration.

None of which will matter. The blasts from firecrackers will begin several days before the Fourth and continue for several days after, just like every year. They will be heard deep into the night, just like every year. And on the night of July Fourth they will be absolutely inescapable, just like every year.

I won’t waste print space appealing for people to be considerate of their neighbors. They won’t be.

I would simply note that you can’t knowingly, intentionally violate the law and still consider yourself a law-abiding citizen. Not in that moment, at least. Crimes committed with impunity are still crimes.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.