This Fourth of July, one thing we can all agree on, regardless of political affiliation, is that it’s a good idea to show some appreciation for military veterans. Practically speaking, that means not being a dick about your firework displays.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, and it’s no secret that backyard explosions can be triggering for returning vets. And so, the past several years have seen an increase in awareness about the PTSD-fireworks connection, along with a corresponding call for people to be more courteous about their at-home fireworks displays. In fact, former servicemen have taken to putting placards in their yards identifying them as veterans and asking neighbors to light off their fireworks respectfully. The problem has gotten so serious that veterans organizations have launched fundraisers and awareness campaigns this year to provide more vets with placards.
“I can tell you that this Fourth of July I’ll be inside my home with the blinds down so I don’t have to see flashes,” U.S. Navy veteran Brian Moore told AZFamily.com in 2014. “I will also have a pair of headphones on.”
On Reddit, a photo allegedly showing a veteran cowering during a nearby fireworks display went viral.
And in 2017, on CBS reality stalwart Survivor, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran with PTSD named Ben Driebergen won the million dollars—after suffering through popping sounds that left him visibly immobile, covering his ears and hiding in the water.
The question remains, though: If fireworks are unavoidable and necessary, how does a good person respectfully blow them up? Here’s a handy guide for how to do fireworks without being an asshole to your neighbors.
Talk to Your Veteran Neighbors
The first step is the easiest and most obvious: Talk to them yourself. If you know a veteran in the neighborhood, approach them and kindly ask if they have any requests regarding your fireworks usage. Or if you see one of those signs in a neighbor’s yard, knock on their door and introduce yourself and ask the same. (The sign is essentially an invitation to discuss.)
It’s possible they’ll say they still want you to celebrate your Fourth of July — they’re veterans, after all — but to keep the fireworks to a minimum, or restrained to a certain area or timeframe so they can safely distance themselves. Or maybe they’ll join you! You never know. Just be a human being and ask.
Don’t Set Your Fireworks Off in a Residential Area
Any veteran wary of running into a group of Chads having a Roman Candle fight—do the kids still call them wizards’ duels?—will likely be spending their Fourth of July inside, in the comforts of their own home, blaring the television in a vain attempt to drown out fireworks explosions outside.
But forcing former Marines into a life of reclusion — especially on the Fourth, when they should be exercising their right as Americans to consume as much beer and calories as time will allow — is pretty shitty. If you live in a residential area, the nice thing to do would be to find a relatively secluded tract of land (e.g., a clearing, a forest, a lake house, an abandoned corporate campus, the Scary Old McCormick Place way down on Hallberry Road, etc.) and set off your bottle rockets there.
Don’t Set Them Off Late at Night
It may be unrealistic to think we can ever completely prevent people from hearing an unexpected fireworks detonation during the day and evening on July 4. But at least do your neighbors the courtesy of not lighting them off after let’s say 9 p.m., when lots of adults are preparing for bed.
But you can at least do your veteran neighbor the courtesy of not lighting them off after, like, 9 p.m., when lots of grown-ass adults (and this tired-ass writer) are preparing for bed.
It’s one thing to hear neighborhood kids screeching during the day as they twirl around and marvel at their sparklers. It’s another to light a string of firecrackers at 2 a.m. and have someone wake up screaming with horrifying memories of machine gunfire.
Maybe Just Don’t Do Fireworks at All
Asking someone not to exercise their inalienable right to (safely and nonviolently) blow shit up on the Fourth seems as un-American as drinking imported beers. But it’s a small act of kindness you can do for your fellow citizen this Independence Day, and Christ, does America need more of those right now.