Fireworks ban is moot

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 5 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:10 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin all have businesses near their borders with Iowa for which our state has no counter: those that sell consumer fireworks.

That’s because Iowa is one of four states that bans sales of any fireworks other than sparklers and a few novelty items. Four states ban everything. And 42 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow some form of consumer fireworks sales and firing them off.

Proposed legislation in the Iowa Senate would change that. And we haven’t seen evidence that some limited change would significantly increase fires or fireworks injuries in our state.

Even though it’s not legal for Iowans to shoot off fireworks such as roman candles and skyrockets, lots of us do anyway after buying them out of state. Unless neighbors file complaints or a safety hazard is reported, authorities generally are reluctant to bring charges.

The bill’s supporters are interested mostly in keeping the economic benefits and sales tax revenue within our borders. And that makes some sense, although the amount would be modest.

The proposal limits sales to those 18 and older. Local governments, such as cities and counties, would retain the ability to ban sales within their jurisdictions if they are seen as a public safety threat. The state fire marshal also could issue restrictions. Drought conditions that elevate the risk of grass fires, for example, come to mind.

Even with the “safer,” more regulated fireworks of today, injuries still happen — the majority are burns to hands, fingers and head, mostly because of users not being careful. Over the past five years, the nation’s emergency rooms treated about 6,000 to 9,000 such injuries per year. Deaths are rare. And on Independence Day, not surprisingly, about 40 percent of the nation’s reported fires are attributed to fireworks misuse, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The dangers of misusing fireworks should not be diminished. Yet Iowans already are shooting them off. If they could buy them closer to home, would the injury and fire counts increase substantially? Doubtful.

Without some kind of national restriction on sales of consumer fireworks, a continued ban in Iowa seems hard to support. And do Iowans really need such “protection” from the state, especially from their own careless mistakes?

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