Local govs should strike a balance on fireworks

Cedar Rapids Public Safety Spokesman Greg Buelow opens a confiscated firework at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department in this June 2016 file photo. A law passed this year in the Iowa General Assembly allows for these and more fireworks to be sold in-state beginning June 13.  (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Public Safety Spokesman Greg Buelow opens a confiscated firework at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department in this June 2016 file photo. A law passed this year in the Iowa General Assembly allows for these and more fireworks to be sold in-state beginning June 13. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

Even before Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill lifting Iowa’s ban on the sale and use of consumer fireworks, local governments were crafting their own fireworks ordinances.

A provision in the new law allows them to do so, and we supported that local control. Still, we urge Corridor communities not to rush in considering the proper balance between public safety concerns and Iowans’ desire to more freely celebrate Independence Day and the New Year on their own property, using fireworks sold legally in their communities.

We think a good example of a community getting it right is Marion, where Fire Chief Deb Krebill and Police Chief Joe McHale have recommended allowing the use of fireworks from June 24 to July 8 and on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Those periods are shorter than what’s allowed in state law, but still seem reasonable. Krebill and McHale told the Marion City Council recently that a full ban on use would be impractical and difficult to enforce, considering fireworks will be offered for legal sale in Marion.

Less reasonable is Johnson County’s plan to place a moratorium on the sale of fireworks and continue a current ban on their use in unincorporated areas. And it may go too far, legally. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, a leading backer of the new law, notes that it doesn’t permit local limits on sales, only use.

Cedar Rapids’ fire officials plan to recommend a ban on the use of fireworks in the city, even as their sale will be legal under state law. Other communities, as The Gazette reported this week, are weighing possible ordinances.

We understand concerns over safety. But we don’t share the view that allowing Iowans to buy legal fireworks sparks a danger necessitating blanket bans and sweeping moratoriums. Although we concede there will be some problems caused by fireworks, we think Iowans, overall, can safely handle this small expansion of personal liberty.

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Iowans have been buying fireworks in other states for years and shooting them off here with little fear of penalty under Iowa’s old law. Injuries do happen, but, nationally, trips the emergency room tied to fireworks pale in comparison to other recreational activities. Used with care, according to directions, fireworks can be safe.

Full bans don’t work, as the old law showed. Limited use coupled with stepped up enforcement outside of those periods is a better strategy under the new law.

Marion‘s approach is balanced, realistic and reasonable. Other Corridor communities should follow its lead.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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