It's time to loosen Iowa's fireworks ban

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After nearly 80 years, Iowa’s ban on consumer fireworks is widely ignored and lightly enforced. Anyone who spends much time outside on the Fourth of July already knows that.

The ban’s biggest impact is on regional travel, pushing Iowans who want bottle rockets to buy them at stands in neighboring states.

It’s time to try a different approach. That’s why we support legislation on the move in the Iowa Legislature that would scrap the ban, with limits.

The bill would alow state-licensed retailers or community groups operating out of permanent structures to sell consumer-grade fireworks — bottle rockets, firecrackers and Roman candles among them — between June 1 and July 6, and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. Temporary fireworks stands could sell from June 13 to July 6.

Under the bill, Iowans would be allowed to light off their fireworks between Jun 24 and July 6, as well as Dec. 24 through Jan. 3, and generally only between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. That’s extended to 11 p.m. on July Fourth and to 12:30 a.m. overnight on New Year’s Eve.

The bill also gives local governments the authority to ban or further limit the sale and use of fireworks within their jurisdictions.

The legislation, which cleared the Senate State Government Committee on an 11-3 vote this week, strikes us as a measured, reasonable effort to provide Iowans access to consumer fireworks. Iowa’s current law, allowing only the sale and use of sparklers and other novelty fireworks, is among the nation’s most stringent.

We understand the arguments and concerns of those who worry that legal fireworks will lead to injuries and fire hazards. But fireworks, like so many other potentially dangerous, legal products, can be used safely when instructions are followed. A Consumer Product Safety Commission inquiry into a sampling of fireworks-related injuries in 2014 found more than half were due to misuse. Sparklers, already legal in Iowa, caused 19 percent of all fireworks-related injuries nationally in 2014, second only to firecrackers at 20 percent.

Fireworks are more tightly regulated now than they were in 1938, when Iowa’s ban passed in the wake of major fires in Spencer and Remsen that had been ignited by fireworks. The bill’s tight time constraints seek to address the concerns of Iowans worried about late-night bombardments. Local officials will have the power to address local concerns. Grants will be created to fund fireworks safety education.

The bill seeks to match Iowa’s law with Iowa’s reality. We hope it becomes law.

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