OPINION

Farewell fireworks ban, hello hyperbole

A pile of confiscated fireworks at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department on June 28, 2016. Fireworks that leave the ground or explode are illegal in Iowa. Only sparklers, snakes and caps are allowed. Although it is legal to possess fireworks in Iowa, the city of Cedar Rapids does not allow possession of illegal fireworks in city limits. Violators may be fined and/or have their fireworks confiscated. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
A pile of confiscated fireworks at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department on June 28, 2016. Fireworks that leave the ground or explode are illegal in Iowa. Only sparklers, snakes and caps are allowed. Although it is legal to possess fireworks in Iowa, the city of Cedar Rapids does not allow possession of illegal fireworks in city limits. Violators may be fined and/or have their fireworks confiscated. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

So there are days under Iowa’s Golden Dome when you’ll hear soaring oratory praising the infinite wisdom of Iowans, we the hardworking, thoughtful and first-in-the nation occupants of America’s sensible heartland.

On other days, we’re a bunch of drunks about to blow off our fingers.

On Tuesday the Iowa House voted 56-41 to drop Iowa’s nearly 80-year-old ban on the sale and use of consumer fireworks. The bill, which Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign, would permit us to buy and light bottle rockets, firecrackers, etc., for limited periods leading up to to the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

Backers talked about giving Iowans the same fireworks freedoms enjoyed by residents of most other states. Iowa’s current law is among the nation’s most restrictive. Even so, countless Iowans flout it by purchasing fireworks in neighboring states.

Opponents, however, predicted mayhem.

“Accidents happen because parents forget about their children,” said Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, who insisted inebriated parents wouldn’t notice young kids wandering off to play with explosives.

“People plus explosives plus beer is rarely a good idea,” said Rep. Bruce Bearinger, D-Oelwein.

Scores will be burned, maimed or worse, opponents argued. Fireworks will be the scourge of children, pets and veterans. Rocket remnants are toxic waste. The smoke will cause cancer.

You’ve heard of “deplorables?” Iowa’s about to be menaced by explodables.

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“What we legislate against are stupid ideas and stupid people who make bad choices and bad decisions,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.

A fine replacement motto for “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain,” perhaps.

Look, I have no doubt lifting the ban will cause problems. But the problems ought to be put in a less hyperbolic perspective.

Yes, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, 10,500 people did sustain emergency-room-level fireworks injuries nationally in 2014. And in 2013, 531,340 people were sent to the emergency room by bicycles. Toy-related injuries totaled 254,200 in 2015. Inflatable amusements injured 17,377 people in 2013 and ATV-related injuries topped 97,000 in 2015.

Among the types of fireworks causing injuries, sparklers generally rank first or second. They’re legal in Iowa.

So some people will be stupid. Many, many more will use fireworks properly and emerge unscathed. Polls show a large majority of Iowans want the ban scrapped. They can’t all be drunk.

There was no hyperbole in the Marion City Council chamber Tuesday afternoon. The bill allows local governments to limit or ban the use, but not the sale, of fireworks. Fire Chief Deb Krebill and Police Chief Joseph McHale told the council they could live with allowing use for up to a week before and after July Fourth and New Year’s.

McHale said, under the current ban, the city issued just three citations in five years. A new local ban would be just as tough to enforce. “We would rather have an ordinance that’s manageable,” he said.

Mayhem? We’ll see. But I think we’ll manage.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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