Chronicle Editorial

Blow up the fireworks bill





     Those sounds and many other explosions could become commonplace throughout Iowa if a bill in the state legislature gains anymore momentum. Senate Study Bill 3182 was approved on a 10-5 vote last week after it gained bipartisan support during committee debate, and it will now move on to the Senate floor for a vote. If successful, Iowans age 18 and older would be able to legally purchase retail fireworks like bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers within the state's borders. County boards of supervisors and city governments would be able to opt out of the law if it's approved, but the Senate would be wise to quash the bill and move on to more important things during the 2014 session.

     Iowa hasn't allowed the sale of fireworks in more than 70 years, and for good reason. According to an article in the Des Moines Register, most pyrotechnics were outlawed following two disastrous fires in northwest Iowa. Nearly five blocks in Spencer's business district were destroyed in 1931 after a boy dropped a sparkler into a drug store fireworks display and ignited a monumental blaze. Five years later in Remsen, a young girl dropped a sparkler on a pile of gas-soaked rags, which eventually spread and destroyed 20 businesses and left more than 100 people homeless. Ensuing backlash led legislators to draft our currents law which bans nearly everything except snakes and sparklers.

     Proponents of the bill say it's time Iowa modernizes the law. We're one of 11 states that either limit the sale of fireworks or completely ban all kinds. Eighteen states allow "safe and sane" (non-aerial) fireworks, while 21 states allow nearly all consumer fireworks. It would appear we're out of date; an old fuddy-duddy compared to our neighbors. However, a brief glance at data and statistics creates a strong case for keeping things the way they are here in the Hawkeye State.

     According to a June 2013 report from the Consumer Products Safety Commission, six fireworks-related deaths occurred nationwide in 2012. Five of those deaths happened in states that allow the sale of most kinds of fireworks. Of the six, five were caused by legally-purchased means, with one casualty stemming from an illegally-manufactured device. Additionally, the report states around 8,700 individuals were injured that same year due to fireworks. Children 15 years or younger comprised 30 percent of that group, and those age 19 and younger made up 44 percent of the walking wounded. Put simply, fireworks are dangerous and making them readily available only increases the chance for mishaps.

     People claim those that want fireworks will get them regardless – they can just hop the border to neighboring states like Missouri or South Dakota to get their fix. They're right, and that’s the way it should be. Creating a hinderance on the sale of fireworks by making those that want them drive to get them was a conscious decision by lawmakers 70 years ago. If explosives were made so readily available statewide, the rate of fireworks-related injuries and fires would no doubt increase markedly.

     Proponents point towards added tax revenue if Iowa legalizes fireworks. However, we've lived without it during the past seven decades and we'll continue to do so. We just don't need this bill. Fireworks are fun for the Fourth of July, New Year's, and other special occassions, but they're also annoying every other day of the year. Democrats and Republicans should stop this bill with same bipartisan support that streamlined its committee success – not only for the safety of citizens, but for the sanity of those who enjoy a peaceful Iowa night without the interruption of piercing bangs, booms and whistles.