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Breaking the law is not the way to celebrate the Fourth
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July 4, 1976 taught me lots of things, mostly to be more patriotic.

Our country was celebrating its Bicentennial, its 200th year since declaring Independence from England and it was a big deal. Patriotism was at an all-time high. I was 15 and had entered and won a local essay contest on America and its freedoms. The effort was worth a savings bond but I had to read it in front of a crowd in front of the old Coronet store on North Second Street in Oakdale, where I lived at the time. Apparently my essay impressed the judges assembled by the veterans group conducting the contest.

Forty years later the Fourth of July holiday - specifically the prolific display of illegal fireworks - also taught me a lot of things.

July 4, 2016 taught me that people are extremely inconsiderate of their neighbors. The explosions of M-80s and other explosives started July 2 and ended late into the morning of July 5 when getting sleep for work following three days off work was critical.

The illegal fireworks weren't just a Ceres problem. A resident of Keyes posted on Facebook: "Wish people would stop with fireworks already. My dog is scared and we gotta be up for work in less than two hours. It's 2:25 a.m. already. Please be nice and stop. Thank you." My sister-in-law in Oakdale posted: "So annoying. How do so many people get their hands on illegal fireworks??? Our poor doggies are so stressed out."

It's unconscionable to me that people would make ANY noise after 10 p.m. let alone 2 a.m. but we have many people in our society who now think only of themselves.

July 4, 2016 taught me that people - probably the ones who complain how they live paycheck to paycheck -have money to burn. This surprises me in a county where unemployment is higher than most and where disposable income is lower than most places in California. There's a good chance that in a community where about 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches, that some welfare money - the money that came from the pockets of working Americans - is being spent on both legal and illegal fireworks.

July 4, 2016 taught me how people disregard the law. Most folks know that anything that explodes or leaves the ground is an illegal firework and they know the reason the state bans them. Fingers can and are blown off, property can be damaged, shake roofs and grass fires can be ignited and pets and babies freak out. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 11 Americans died in 2015 using fireworks and an estimated 11,900 people were taken to the hospital with fireworks-related injuries.

I know firsthand how dangerous firecrackers are. Firecrackers were legal in the 1970s and I had a negative experience with one. As a kid I was lighting them and throwing them. One apparently had too short a fuse. I pulled it back to throw and it exploded my fingers apart and blew within inches of my right ear. My fingers felt as though they were smacked with a ball-peen hammer and my ear was ringing excessively for hours.

I enjoy fireworks and opted to check out the ones in Ripon this year but I didn't have to. I heard reports of all the illegal aerials exploding in my neighborhood. If we're going to have a law - and there is a great reason to have the law - then let's enforce the law.

Law enforcement has just succumbed to this "it's out of control so we can't do anything about it" and seems to let it happen. Years ago we heard the local law preach about "zero tolerance" with illegal fireworks. Despite 64 calls for service between 7 p.m. on July 4 and 3 a.m. on July 5, which included complaints of 13 illegal fireworks, alarms set off by blasts, loud parties, Ceres Police issued zero citations for setting off illegal fireworks. According to Ceres Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes, citations come about difficultly because an authority has to physically see the lighting of the illegal firework. The cities are hoping to change the state law. He also noted that it's usually not safe to approach parties which outnumber one and are "liquored up." That in itself is a concern because we've all seen how an alcohol-fueled rage can be directed at authority.

Police Chief Brent Smith said the Fourth seemed to be the loudest one ever and the skies were filled with illegal fireworks. Just as an empirical observation, these illegal fireworks parties are growing in intensity and brazenness with each year - in my opinion because nobody gets hit with a fine and nobody is made an example in front of his adoring neighbors and family members. Most violations of California's fireworks laws are misdemeanors. The penalties include up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. However, if you possess large quantities of dangerous fireworks, prosecutors could charge you with a felony, punishable by up to three years in state prison and fines up to $50,000.

Sacramento City Fire spokesman Chris Harvey noted that illegal fireworks are coming from Nevada and Mexico. It makes sense that a growing immigrant population knows where to buy them in the "homeland" and smuggle them across the border.

Isn't it ironic that blasting off illegal fireworks is often seen as the definitive way to celebrate our great American freedoms? If those who are shooting illegal fireworks spent a fraction of their time getting acquainted with the Constitution and electing people vigilant in protesting it, or beefing up on the Voter Guide each election, we'd be celebrating our freedom in a significant way. Sadly, most Americans are exuberant about the sparkling lights and shrill shrieks from Piccolo Petes but then abdicate citizenship duties on July 5.

I'm concerned about the younger generation being so dismissive of our country's founding and becoming ignorant of our bedrock constitutional rights and how many are willing to dismiss them for the "welfare" of those who aren't willing to work for anything. Generally speaking, we seem to have a public school system that has failed to do its part. Multinationalism trumps Americanism. Borders are dispensable, national sovereignty insignificant to leftists in education.

Gallup found last week that patriotism is at an all-time low. Only 52 percent of Americans say that they are "extremely proud" to be Americans. In 2003 it was 70 percent.

It might be worth noting that this fall in patriotism fallen dramatically under one presidential administration. Some believe it's due to the constant apologizing for America's past whenever he travels overseas. Because acts of domestic terror are occurring more frequently and people sense there's an unwillingness of our president to step up actions to curb radical Islam? Or is it because patriotism is equated with being some kind of uneducated redneck or right-wing nut by those on the "enlightened" left? Why do I say left? Look at the Gallup poll. The poll suggests that 68 percent of Republicans are "extremely proud" to be Americans while 45 percent of Democrats say the same. According to the poll, only 34 percent of young adults and 36 percent of liberals told Gallup they were "extremely proud" to be Americans.

Left or right, it's ridiculous to puff out the chest of patriotism and stay oblivious to national politics or current events. How many times have we seen late-night talk shows quizzing people on the street about a photo of the vice president with most unable to tell the interviewer his name? How sad it is to watch Mark Dice pose spoof questions on Southern California beaches to test Americans' ignorance or get them to agree signing petitions to ban the sale of Bibles in book stores, or ban salt as a "dangerous food additive."

A New York Times survey noted that only about a third of Americans could name one member of the U.S. Supreme Court. But I bet the same could ID Lady Gaga by sight, or give the name of Selena Gomez's of Justin Bieber's latest hits. If Americans have no clue who sits on the highest court, how can they understand the importance of the cases they review and the importance of the makeup of the court? The kind of government we have right now may be owing to the types on the beach who cannot name the Nation's Capital and who it was named after; or those who agreed with Dice's silly proposition that guns should be banned because Lee Harvey Oswald killed Jesus.

Patriotism isn't in the fireworks. It's in the free exercise of citizenship and each of us has a responsibility to do our part. Obeying the law, including the fireworks law, is part of it.

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