Ah yes, the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. A good excuse to have a cookout, drink some alcohol if you are of age, and enjoy fireworks (or even produce fireworks). All three things I mentioned are the highlight of Independence Day for some of us.
The fireworks, unfortunately, are actually the lowlight for one very important sector of the population—military veterans and gun violence survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To make matters worse, our nation doesn’t do enough to help military veterans and gun violence survivors who experience PTSD as a result of the fireworks.
In the words of a veteran of the United States Marines who put up a fireworks courtesy sign on a previous Independence Day, “It’s the loud noise of the fireworks that can be a trigger. It sounds a lot like a bomb or explosions.” In other words, these fireworks remind people with war-related PTSD of the awful, even deadly, memories of being in combat in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Korea. They also remind many gun violence survivors of awful, even deadly, memories of they or their loved ones and/or themselves being shot at. The fireworks that are fun for some of us make the lives of others a living hell for a night.
What makes this injustice especially awful for me is that the United States makes a big deal of supporting our troops and gun violence survivors alike (as we should), yet we don’t seem to pay attention to the needs both groups on Independence Day. If we really had actions to go along with the “support our troops” or “support gun violence survivors” rhetoric, shouldn’t we, as individuals, be more sensitive to those who experience PTSD as a result of the fireworks?
My question, of course, is a rhetorical one, because the answer is, “Yes, we should be aware of these things!” But how can we, as individuals or as a society, take measures to be sensitive to the needs of people with PTSD?
I humbly offer a few suggestions for individuals, and a potential suggestion for state governments to consider.
One suggestion for individuals is to simply not set off fireworks if you can’t do so legally! The professionals are best at setting off fireworks and doing so safely, anyway. In addition, by refusing to set off fireworks you will lessen the amount of distress you cause to any military veterans from war-related PTSD or gun violence survivors from PTSD related to gun violence.
Another suggestion is more involved and costly, yet also potentially useful: if you have a family member or friend who has PTSD that gets triggered by the fireworks, consider searching for a 4th of July destination that is devoid of fireworks (not just firework shows, but fireworks from individual citizens). I have no idea how easy it is to find a 4th of July destination that has no fireworks, but the mere gesture of searching for a place without fireworks to help your family member or friend is extremely kind. Furthermore, if you are successful in finding such a destination for your family member or friend unless you are looking at international destinations, you would make the person’s life so much better.
My final suggestion is one for government. Namely, maybe state governments should consider hosting fireworks-free 4th of July celebrations in destinations far from fireworks (like maybe state parks, depending on location). Such celebrations would be fun, yet at the same time provide refuge for military veterans with war-related PTSD, gun violence survivors with PTSD, pets, babies, and people in general who don’t react well to fireworks (because there are actually many people and animals who don’t react well to the fireworks).
All of these suggestions are better than the status quo, which is one where we set off fireworks without thinking about those who are harmed as a result of others’ celebrations. Hopefully, individuals and/or governments will start to follow these suggestions, and in the process show that we truly “support our troops” and “support gun violence survivors,” including those with PTSD.
Note: Next week, I will publish my post on Friday instead of Tuesday.
 While my focus is on Independence Day in the United States, the issues I express here are also relevant to people with gun violence-related PTSD around the world.