As night follows the day: after Devon Staples, 22, killed himself by lighting a firecracker on his head in Calais, Maine, his mother weighed in with the hope that there will now be stricter laws governing the use of home fireworks.
While some may see Staples’ unfortunate accident as a nominee for the Darwin Awards, his mother, Kathleen Staples, sees it as a call for stricter laws regarding who can and cannot handle explosives.
“At least it’d be a little bit more than, ‘Here you go,'” the grieving mother told the Associated Press. “That’s an explosive. They didn’t just hand me a license and put me in the car.” …
Staples’ mother is now calling for lawmakers to consider safety training courses for anyone who wishes to work with or handle fireworks. Although she said her son thought the firework was a “dud,” meaning it wouldn’t go off, State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas believes that to be unlikely because it had already been fired and he “can’t imagine someone would anticipate that it was a dud.”
I have the deepest sympathy for Kathleen Staples, whose loss is by no means a joke. I also have sympathy for Fire Marshal Thomas, having to respond seriously to excuses about why a grown man would put any firecracker on his head and light it, under any circumstances.
Consider that Devon Staples was old enough to do everything for which you have to attain an age of majority: vote, drive, buy liquor and cigarettes, sign a contract, buy a gun, borrow money, serve in the military, function as an independent adult in the legal system. He was handling a device approximately as challenging as the gas burner on a stove, which 9- and 10-year-olds were considered competent to handle 60 years ago.
A case could be made that Maine was starting from behind the curve, having apparently legalized home fireworks only in 2012. To anyone from west of the Alleghenies, that screams “nanny-state legacy” to begin with. (It’s sometimes hard to figure out what, exactly, is the nature of the crusty independence for which New Englanders were once considered famous.)
But the Pavlovian “we need more laws” reaction to a highly recognizable instance of random stupidity is a sign of our times that needs to be taken down. If more laws could fix us, we’d be fixed by now.
Was there something — some systemic arrangement — that could have averted the death of Devon Staples? Sure. The same thing that has been averting deaths by firecracker for generations of Americans: learning to handle home fireworks from your Dad.
The MSN piece on this ends with a poser:
So was Devon Staples’s ill-fated decision a call for better firework safety regulation or a failure to heed common sense?
Perhaps the real question is whether we’d know common sense today if we found it dead in our lunch box.