One of life’s bigger mysteries is how we, rightly, are so concerned about sales of guns, knives and even oven cleaner, because of their obvious criminal use, but are oblivious to the open offer of kilograms of explosive material to anyone with a couple of hundred quid in their pocket.
Yes, the time has surely come to recognise the reality of fireworks: they are and always have been dangerous and antisocial, and, now, will sooner or later be used to make an improvised incendiary bomb. In the wrong hands – and there are plenty around – they can be turned to evil use, for some perverted cause.
It would be ironic indeed if an industrial quantity of rockets and Roman candles and Catherine wheels were to be used to attack Parliament, given the origins of Guy Fawkes night. Far from impossible though.
I mention it because our MPs place such a premium on their own security that raising the possibility of a 21st-century gunpowder plot might make them use their imagination for something more useful than sexual fantasising. A gigantic firework bomb could be chucked out of a passing car outside the Houses of Parliament, no bother.
Every supermarket I’ve visited in the last few weeks – since Halloween exploded, if that’s the right term, into a major festival – has a huge display right next to the entrance of boxes of exciting looking fireworks. Even Waitrose – it’s that bad. There are regulations about selling them to kids, and some types are banned outright, but they’re still not that difficult for the determined yob, or terrorist, to get their hands on.
They are then free to exercise that misguided ingenuity the British are rightly known for to find new anti-social uses for them. Obviously you can use them to torture a cat, terrify puppies, damage a car by exploding them underneath, chucking them around the street at bystanders, or commit arson and destroy property and lives, but there are all sorts of novel things that could be invented.
I don’t really think I want to see them let off at petrol stations or inserted into a vehicle’s fuel tank, or otherwise used for low-level terror or worse. It’s a risk we can easily eliminate if we weren’t so sentimental about this tradition.
I know nothing about chemistry or ballistics, but I think I could quite easily learn all I need to make an improvised incendiary device to maim people with a morning spent on the net. Then I can buy a few £75 boxes of gunpowder, aka display fireworks, and set about setting fire to a department store or a leisure centre, or leaving the firework bomb to blow up in a car parked outside a Labour MP’s office, say, or a religious place of worship. No shortage of soft targets.
None of this is particularly far-fetched. Remember the shoe bomber? Or the underpants bomber? Or all those attacks with no more than a lorry, car or van driven into pedestrians? Fireworks are a much more obvious and promising weapon: no wonder there are already laughably weak guidelines for retailers on selling fireworks to people who seem nervous. The danger has been acknowledged.
So the free availability of gunpowder – otherwise known as lethal explosive chemicals – has to end. We can carry on with a few officially sanctioned or organised displays at New Year, bonfire night or Diwali, but that’ll be about it. We can act now or we can wait for more horrific injuries one day. All those pretty patterns in the sky are just not worth it.
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